Shattered Glass (2003)

“A complete whopper”

The career of Stephen Glass, wunderkind of American journalism came crashing down in May 1998 when it was discovered that he had perpetrated one of the “greatest journalistic frauds in history.” Glass (Hayden Christensen) worked as an assistant editor for the New Republic magazine–one of the “snobbiest rags in the business”–and had just written another one of his highly entertaining and popular columns. This particular column was the story of a young computer hacker who’d hacked into a software company, and the tale grabbed the interest of fellow journalist Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn). Penenberg promptly discovered that the story was completely fabricated, and the career of Stephen Glass began to unravel.

The film Shattered Glass is a fascinating story on so many levels. We see scenes in the conference room with the New Republic staff pitching their stories to one another. Everyone seems to wait with baited breath for Stephen’s latest idea–and these ideas always involve fantastic, colourful characters. Stephen’s fellow journalists had long accepted the fact that he had this unique skill for locating these one-of-a-kind characters. While all stories are subject to fact checking, Stephen had discovered that there was a “hole in the fact checking system”, and he exploited this to the max.

As Stephen’s deception comes to light, he falls from one fabrication to another–layering deceit onto deceit–hoping to convince his workmates that he’s been guilty of some sloppiness at most. Stephen’s desperate maneuvers are painful to watch, but then it’s also painful to watch other New Republic journalists who at first want to believe Stephen has been duped by unreliable sources. It just seems too hideous to accept the fact that Stephen has lied, lied and lied again. It’s no coincidence that it took someone from another magazine to unravel the mystery behind Stephen’s great stories. The film illustrates how hard Stephen worked to form favourable impressions and build positive relationships with workmates. This aura of trust, however, did not extend to other magazines, and once other journalists started examining the stories, the game was up.

Peter Sarsgaard plays Chuck Lane, Stephen’s editor who confronts, finally, the massive deception. Chuck Lane’s style is so different from Stephen’s. While Stephen shines and excels at story pitch, Lane is portrayed as much quieter, and much more serious–often failing to entertain. Stephen pitches his stories with the energy, relish, and perfect timing of a seasoned comedian. Ultimately, Stephen seems extremely troubled but hollow–and desperate to be liked.

The DVD extras include a 60 Minute special, which interviews some of the real-life characters. The 60 Minutes episode is essential to the story as it delves into the elaborate lengths Stephen went to in order to create the details for fact checking. This is a highly entertaining and well-structured film, and if you have the slightest interest in journalism, I recommend it highly.

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