At The Movies
Telling The Truth
"Shattered Glass" provides an accurate account of what went wrong
with a very talented — but very flawed — journalist.
Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles
n spring 1999, filmmaker Billy
Ray asked Charles Lane to
retrace one of the strangest treks
in modern journalism.
In May 1998, Lane — then editor of
The New Republic — had made the
same trip with Stephen Glass, a young
rising star at the magazine.
At 25, the Jewish Glass was drawing
attention with juicy stories such as the
"First Church of George Herbert Walker
Christ." But Lane had begun to worry
that the writer's outrageously colorful
pieces were too good to be true.
The day before, a reporter from
Forbes.com, the online edition of the
well-known business magazine, had
phoned about irregularities in Glass'
May 1998 story "Hack Heaven," set at
a computer hackers' convention.
Forbes Adam. Penenberg and his edi-
tor had interrogated Glass about the
fishy materials he had provided to back
up the story, including a fake-looking
Web site. The solicitous, self-effacing
Glass had finally said he might have
been duped by his sources.
But Lane had a different suspicion.
On that day in 1998, he insisted the
writer drive him from The New
Republic's Washington, D.C., office to
the Bethesda, Md., site of the hackers'
Glass drove slowly and appeared to
be improvising as he led Lane to a
horseshoe-shaped lobby in a nonde-
script office building, an unlikely set-
ting for a convention. Lane questioned
building personnel — and learned the
facility had been closed the day of the
An ensuing investigation revealed that
Glass had partially or totally made up at
least 27 out of his 41 New Republic
pieces, including "Hack Heaven." He
had fooled fact-checkers with bogus
items such as faux notes and voicemails.
Five years before Jayson Blair, he
emerged as one of the most extravagant
frauds in journalism history.
No wonder Ray took extra care while
turning the debacle into a film,
Shattered Glass, a more intimate riff on
the journalism thriller epitomized by
All the President's Men.
Although the taut drama is officially
based on a Vanity Fair expose, Ray con-
ducted his own interviews, culled dia-
logue from transcripts and even asked
Lane to re-create the Bethesda trip.
"I insisted that we drive at the same
speed, in the same lane, park where
they parked and walk where they
walked," he said.
He also studied materials provided by
Penenberg, whose meticulous fact-
checking first exposed Glass. "Billy
approached this project as a journalist
would," Penenberg said.
Stephen Glass reacts to "Shattered Glass.
home. "And like a horror film, I could-
I was fired in 1998 from my job as a
n't watch whole chunks of the movie;
writer at "The New Republic" and dis-
I'd stare at the ground."
missedfrom several freelance assignments
While the drama "gets things right in
for having fabricated dozens of magazine
very many ways," Glass said, it neglects
articles. I deeply regret my misconduct,
to describe why he fabricated: his des-
and the pain it caused
— author's note from Stephen Glass' "The perate need for approval.
"I would invent a story or invent an
aspect of a story ... and then I would
see that people liked my story, and I
hen disgraced journalist
would confuse that with their liking
Stephen Glass saw Shattered
me," he said.
Glass last month, he felt he was view-
He explored these motivations in
ing "a personal horror film."
and in his 2003 novel, The
"It was [like] watching very good
Fabulist (Simon & Schuster; $24),
actors play out the very worst moments
of my life," he said from his Manhattan about a fabricating reporter — also
Director Billy Ray and actor Hank Azaria on the set of "Shattered Glass."
Azaria portrays Michael Kelly, Glass' mentor and editor of "The New Republic"
from 19964997; Kelly, as editor at large for the 'Atlantic Monthly" was killed
while on assignment in Iraq in April 2003.
The filmmaker — an avid newspaper
reader from age 8 — understands
something about Glass. Both grew up
in affluent, heavily Jewish suburbs (Ray
in Encino, Calif.; Glass in Highland
Park, Ill.), where parents expected chil-
dren to succeed.
"My family talked a lot about how
Jews have always used education as
their ticket," the director said. "The
mindset is that you have a responsibili-
named Stephen Glass — who braves
Like the real Glass, the fictional one
retreats into a world that includes just
his parents, his brother and girlfriend.
One place the real Glass found com-
fort was the Jewish community; several
months after his disgrace, he anxiously
ventured to High Holiday services at
his childhood Conservative synagogue.
"People knew all about the horrible
sins that I had done, and here I was
and what would they think of me?" he
said. "[But] no one said a negative
Glass said he began reading Torah
commentary and met with rabbis, who
described how a transgressor can
rebuild his life. In The Fabulist, the
main character also seeks solace from a
rabbi and reconnects with his religion.
ty to yourself, to your family and to the
Jewish community at large to achieve,
to bring pride and certainly not to fail."
Glass, now 31, attended the
University of Pennsylvania; Ray, 39,
spent a less-than-srellar year at
Northwestern's prestigious journalism
program. "[One teacher] kept saying to
me, 'You are never going to be a journal-
ist,' because she felt my writing was too
undisciplined and flowery," he said.
In Glass' 2003 novel, based on his.
own experiences, the main character
seeks solace from a rabbi and
reconnects with his religion.