the Goliard

December 2003

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Shattered Glass

Shattered Glass is the true story of a rising young journalist who gets on with the New Republic magazine and finds it easier to fabricate stories on popular culture than to actually get out and dig them up legitimately. Stephen Glass (at right), portrayed with sort of lip quivering pathetic effectiveness by Hayden Christensen comes to realize early in his journalism career something that most of us here at the Goliard already knew which is that writing can be much more fun if you don't have to be accurate, truthful, and accountable. The difference that caused the problem in his case of course was that he chose to write for the snooty Republic and we choose to work here. What makes his story more interesting however is that he got away with it for quite some time and managed to slip almost thirty feature articles past the crack staff of editors and fact checkers, not to mention the readers themselves who, it would seem, with a simple google or two, could have raised enough questions to bring him down. And the fact that he got away with it by setting up bogus answering machine messages and constructing decidedly amateur looking web pages to throw off any cursory investigations into his sources would seem to call to question the credibility of big time journalism. Actually though, it seems more to be a classic case of the benefit of the doubt being given to someone who seemed to have it all and therefore would have no reason to cheat. Things all fell apart for Glass however when a burgeoning online outfit finally began sniffing around one of his stories and found that none of the people mentioned or companies involved in his feature on computer hacking seemed to exist. Peter Sarsgaard, Chloë Sevigny and Hank Azaria turn in fine supporting roles as Glass's editors and co-workers that have to come to terms with his dishonesty and Rosario Dawson (picture does not quite contain nudity unfortunately) is completely underused in some token minor role.

While the film gives a good glimpse into the inner workings of big time magazine journalism, the story really boils down to the basic tenets of the institution and the director, by interplaying Glass speaking to a apocryphal journalism class about his experiences in the business throughout the film, nicely juxtaposes the dreams and realities of becoming successful. And while not in the same league obviously as something like Absence of Malice or All the President's Men, Shattered Glass strives to be that type of film in that the touchy decisions that face journalists on a daily basis, as far as the law and ethics inherent in the work are concerned, are what drive the plot along.

Another interesting aspect to the story if not the movie is that once all this originally broke, Stephen Glass was fired of course and then simply dropped out of sight. In the film he was claiming to be going to Georgetown law school at night to the consternation of his co-workers and, we at least, figured that this was just another lie he was telling. Apparently though, he was actually attending law school perhaps because he alone knew that he might someday be in dire need of legal advice. In any event, he graduated apparently and has resurfaced on the national scene recently to grant interviews and publish a novel entitled The Fabulist (see the bitter reviews in the National Review and the Wall Street Journal) which is reportedly about a guy named Stephen Glass who gets fired for fabricating stories. We have not read the book which by it's very presence seems to highly annoy legitimate journalists all over the country, but by all accounts it is not nearly as well written or interesting as some of the fiction Glass was writing for the New Republic that got him into the whole mess. A strange tale indeed and if not a great film, at least a good one and interesting for anyone who has dabbled in the writing profession at any level and especially for those of us who struggle with the line between fiction and fact on a daily basis.

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