3 Stars – Thought Provoking
The true story of Stephen Glass helps us understand both the vulnerability of our media and the power of charisma. As one of the youngest editors on The New Republic staff in the 1990’s, Stephen worked with a group of brilliant and dedicated writers who were mostly in their twenties. Though we might blame what happened on their inexperience, the truth is that any of us can be deceived. Persons with narcissistic charisma are able to weave an imagined world in which they are the stars and rules don’t really apply to them as they enlist everyone else in their tangible fantasy.
Authentically brought to film by director and writer Billy Ray, “Shattered Glass” is so titled as a play on words similar to the titles Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen) gave his own fictional articles which he presented as true. From “Spring Breakdown” to “Hackers Heaven,” Glass created not only the notes from which he said he wrote his articles, but the names, places, events and quotes with which he spins his tales.
If he were writing for a grocery-store rag, no one would have given it a second thought. But Glass was one of the star reporters for a magazine that is nicknamed “the in-flight magazine of Air Force One.” The pride and self-described snobbery of its editors and staff for over 90 years made the story.
The self-effacing manner with which Glass pitched his stories was a calculated manipulation of a brilliant mind and narcissistic personality. His ability to get coworkers to rework his articles, to get editors to accept his lame excuses and his readers to enjoy the ironies of life were all a part of his art.
The unraveling of his deception occurs when an online magazine, the step-child of true journalists, researches the veracity of his hacker story. Feeling their pride pricked when he writes a story in the area of their expertise, Adam Penenberg (Steven Zahn) of Forbes Digital Tool discovers the truth: Glass made it all up.
When Penenberg calls Glass’ editor, Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard), the audacity with which Glass tries to cover his tracks reveals his difficulty to be not only a transgression of journalistic ethics, but also a moral and personality disorder. Enlisting his brother to pose as a source, creating false websites and emails, Glass takes his fabricated notes to a whole new level of deception.
The cynical skepticism of many readers today due to suspicion of journalistic spin finds even more support when trusted periodicals and papers are not immune to publishing outright deceit by their writers. That this is a human problem, often perpetrated by troubled people is a lesson this film helps us understand. When The New Republic issued an apology and corrected their mistakes, they remind us that we are all impacted by each others’ behaviors and need to give one another grace.
- Have you ever met a person with the narcissistic charisma of a Stephen Glass? How did you discover the truth? What has this done to your ability to trust gifted people?
- When Chuck Lane stood by his principles and would not buy into the “pitch” Glass was giving him about “harming himself,” he could have been wrong. What do you believe would have happened if Glass had harmed himself? Would Lane still have had the support of the editorial staff?
- It is the nature of publications to create a pride in their work. When do you believe this pride becomes detrimental to the publication?
- Stephen Glass has gone on to write a novel about his life and his deception. Will you support him by buying his novel?