I’m not sure where I was when the whole Stephen Glass scandal at the New Republic went down, but I had only the faintest memory of it until watching Shattered Glass last night. I knew he was a journalist who had committed some serious ethical breaches, but I would have been hard pressed to distinguish between Glass and the other recent notorious journalist, the New York Times’ Jayson Blair. (I still don’t know much about the latter, but am now pretty interested in finding out more.)
In any case, I really liked the movie. Part of it was my amusement at how similar the fledgling writers played by Hayden Christiansen, Chloe Sevigny, and others were to the handful of real-life budding journalists I know. But more importantly, the story was just incredibly compelling. If I hadn’t known it was an account of an actual media scandal, I might have said it was altogether too outrageous and preposterous. How could any journalist, no matter how green or overly ambitious, think he could get away with writing articles that were partially (or even entirely!) fictionalized? The story that led to Glass’ downfall,”Hack Heaven”, described him meeting a teenage hacker hired to work for a large software company after successfully infiltrating their files. Turns out not only was the hacker a fictional character, but even the software company was a product of Glass’ imagination. And that was only the start of the fictions and the trail of lies and deceptions he then perpetuated to cover his tracks. I guess it just perplexes me, with my rudimentary knowledge of journalism, editing, and fact-checking, that a writer could have the audacity to publish such a piece. Even if his editors didn’t catch the lies, wouldn’t someone, somewhere in the readership know enough to call him out on it? Or am I giving us all too much credit?
Anyway, I’ve been sufficiently intrigued by the whole thing to do a little more reading on the subject this morning and I’m even finding myself curious to read some of the pieces that are still online. I suppose I should ask myself why I’m more interested in reading these false stories than say, actual, fact-checked pieces in the New Republic (which I have never once looked at). And I’m having a bit of a moral dilemma as to whether it would be okay to read Stephen Glass’ “novel” based on the story, The Fabulist. The reviews on Amazon largely skewered it and of course, I don’t really like the idea of buying a book from an author who is well-known primarily for fleecing the public. Maybe a used copy would settle those qualms? I find myself morbidly curious about how one tries to redeem oneself and reestablish a career after such public ignominy.