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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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‘Shattered Glass’ tells tale of journalist’s lies

LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) — Stephen Glass, a disgraced journalist with a story to sell, has a mantra: “I’m sorry.”

Those two words reverberate throughout “Shattered Glass,” a new movie that follows the 1998 unmasking of then-25-year-old Glass, whose wry and witty articles for The New Republic magazine won him first admiration and then disdain when they were finally exposed as lies and fabrications.

The film, which is opening nationally through November, is a fictionalized version of Glass’s final days at the magazine, as he rushes to cover his trail while his New Republic editor and journalists at rival magazine Forbes race to expose him.

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Throughout the movie, Glass apologizes for minor slights and his own shortcomings again and again, to whomever will listen. He is extremely needy, but at the same time, he boldly lies, telling whopper after whopper, and creates supporting notes and at least one website to prove it.

Glass, played by Hayden Christensen, was a gifted storyteller who, in addition to writing prominent articles for The New Republic, penned pieces for Rolling Stone and other publications.

His lies ranged from creating colorful characters on society’s fringe to making up anonymous sources who attack and denigrate the reputations of public figures such as Vernon Jordan, a confidant of former President Bill Clinton who became embroiled in the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Glass’s deceptions prefigure those of another journalist, Jayson Blair of The New York Times, whose web of deceit and plagiarism led earlier this year to a massive shake-up at the paper. But before Blair, there was Glass, and before him the Pulitzer Prize-winning liar Janet Cooke of the Washington Post.

In “Peddling Poppy” in June 1997, Glass wrote that there was a First Church of George Herbert Walker Christ, which worshiped former President George Bush, and that a group called the “Committee for the Former President’s Integrity” was dedicated to burnishing his image.

Charles Lane was the editor who fired Glass in 1998 after a journalist at an online site for Forbes magazine tried to match a Glass story but could not find any of the sources. Lane and the Forbes journalists both jumped on the case, although their goals were different.

The years leading up to that end are only hinted at, but Lane said in a recent interview that Glass was able to ingratiate himself with colleagues and developed a reputation as a journalist who found great stories.

He also embellished stereotypes to create figures that had a kernel of believability despite their outrageousness.

Editors sometimes fail

“It is a tale of embarrassing failure by a bunch of editors and a bunch of colleagues and a bunch of readers too,” Lane said. Considering the stories after uncovering Glass, he said, “You look at them, and you say, how could anybody have swallowed this?”

Former President Bush’s chief of staff, Jean Becker, in a 1998 letter congratulated the magazine for firing Glass. She also said she had not protested when the story about the church of George Bush was published.

“I assumed then you would not consider me an objective reader, so you would not listen to what I had to say,” Becker wrote then. She said in a recent interview that the article was “so bad it was laughable,” and she knew it was made up as soon as it was published.

Glass has seen “Shattered Glass” and told Reuters recently that it “got very many things right.” He looked at the floor during some scenes, he said, adding, “It was like a guided tour of the most painful parts of my life.”

But he said, “It can’t capture what it felt like for me.” For that, he recommended his own fictionalized account of the process, “The Fabulist,” a novel published this summer, shortly after Blair was exposed for making up stories.

Glass now has a law degree and has applied for admission to the New York bar. He also recently wrote a story for Rolling Stone magazine on a topic he declined to discuss.

In the meantime, he is still expressing his remorse. Lane says he received two letters of apology over the years, one in August, but he also has read “The Fabulist” and found it unfair and unflattering to many at the New Republic and “very much at odds with his statements that he is filled with remorse.”

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