Before Jayson Blair shook up the journalistic establishment by creating
fictional articles for The New York Times, there were several other prominent
cases. In the 1980s, Janet Cooke won a Pulitzer Prize for an article about an
eight-year-old heroin addict that was a complete fabrication. In the 90s,
Stephen Glass penned numerous columns for The New Republic that later
turned out to be the creation of his imagination. No one ever made a movie
or TV show about Cooke (even though she wrote a screenplay), but there are
plans for a drama based on the Blair fiasco (as well as the "ripped from the
headlines" episodes of TV's LAW & ORDER). Glass, however, has the dubious
distinction of serving as the subject of a big screen drama, SHATTERED GLASS,
written and directed by novice filmmaker Billy Ray.
In the last thirty years or so, there really haven't been that many
successful films built around journalists. Perhaps the one everyone points
to is ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, which detailed the leg work done by
Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on the Watergate
scandal. Subsequently, there was the occasional dramas like THE PAPER
or ABSENCE OF MALICE. With the rise of the celebrity culture since the
1980s, journalism has been suffering. It's no secret that fewer people are
actually reading newspapers and weighty magazines so for a first-time
director to tackle such a tale is either foolhardy or brilliant -- or a little of
both in Ray's case.
The script, inspired by Buzz Bissinger's Vanity Fair article, traces the
trajectory of Stephen Glass' rise and fall at The New Republic. Fresh out of
college and supremely ambitious, Glass (superbly played by Hayden Christensen)
exudes charm and charisma, doling out compliments to the staff and generally
ingratiating himself. During story pitch meetings, he regales his colleagues with
seemingly tall tales then coyly announces "I probably won't use it," knowing full
well that the editors will want the story. Through his duplicity, Glass manages
to circumvent the magazines labyrinthine structure of editors, fact checkers and
lawyers. More than half of Glass' magazine pieces (27 out of 41) contained
fabrications. (The film doesn't even delve into whether the other freelance pieces
he provided for George and Rolling Stone, among others contained any factual
Glass managed to hoodwink the majority of his co-workers, including his
editor and mentor, the late Michael Kelly (played by Hank Azaria). It was only
after Kelly was fired from the magazine and Chuck Lane (the excellent Peter
Sarsgaard) was promoted that things began to unravel. Glass wrote a piece
about computer hacker hired by a startup company that drew the attention of
Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn), a journalist for the online edition of Forbes.
When Penenberg could confirm several key facts (like the existence of both
the California-based computer company and the hacker), he contacted Lane.
Kelly allowed Glass leeway in his work, but Lane proved to be more of a
stickler for the details and his dogged pursuit of the truth eventually leads
to the denouement.
SHATTERED GLASS raises serious issues about the veracity of all
reportage. While most journalism has a slant (despite all the disclaimers
to the contrary), one would hope that the facts one is reading are correct.
As the Blair case recently proved, even the most prestigious bastion of
news can fall prey to the cunning and deceit of one individual.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, sexual references
and brief drug use
Running time: 103 mins.
Viewed at the Angelika Film Center
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.