Enter Stephen Glass: associate editor for The New Republic, contributing writer for George, Harper’s, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone, and one of the most sought-after journalists in our time. When asked what he thinks about him, a person who chose to remain anonymous said that “Mr. Glass is abundantly talented. He’s funny and fluent and daring.”
Glass’s stellar career in journalism is the subject of the oddly-named film Shattered Glass, released in late 2004.
I found the film, which is supposed to be a depiction of too impressionistic to be true. Editor Charles Lane is obviously not a 50-foot tall three-headed monster, the main office The New Republic was not destroyed in a 30-minute long fight scene that ended in a large explosion, and the Empire State Building is obviously not a giant bear. The film’s use of CGI is also quite headache-inducing.
All the contents of the preceding paragraphs are either half-true or completely untrue, like 27 of the 41 articles Stephen Glass made during his employment in The New Republic. I even misused a quote taken from Adam Begley’s review of The Fabulist. If you don’t know who Glass is and you haven’t seen Shattered Glass, that fraudulent review probably seemed too good to be true.
The film Stephen Glass (which is very accurate, according to these Youtube videos) presents a stylized account of Mr. Glass’s fall from grace. Along with this account, the film also presents a number of ethical issues that can be related to online journalism today. Three of those will be discussed here.
The first ethical issue is purposefully giving fiction to the public and presenting them as fact. This misinformation is very easy to do now in this age of the internet since it is very difficult to verify information. Take this blog for instance. For all you know, I could be writing lies here and you will think I’m telling the truth because I’m presenting them as fact. I could even lie without consciously doing so just because I implied that my articles are untrue.
Stephen Glass’s brand of fabricating information is noteworthy because it happened during the beginning of the internet’s popularity, and it was done so elaborately with so much work involved (making websites, voice mail accounts, etc.) that a more practical person would just tell the truth rather than make things up.
The second ethical issue, trying to cover up your tracks when it is quite painfully obvious that you have lied, is connected to the first one.
Covering up the lies a person made in an article can be done more easily in this time period than it was during Glass’s time, especially since the tools for creating websites are more sophisticated and more available now than then. If Stephen Glass began his career a bit later, he may have had a better chance of fooling people with his cover-ups.
Take for instance these sites. They’re both fake (and quite obviously so), but some poor impressionable mind out there might actually believe that the subjects of these sites actually exist in real life. Like how I might have before that one rare occasion when I actually watched TV.
The final ethical issue I shall point out here is Glass’s friends’ attempts at defending him without facing the facts. This shows bias, which all journalists (be they online journalists or not) must seek to avoid. His classes or lack of sleep don’t matter, he is a journalist and fabricating stories is one of the greatest crimes a journalist can commit to the public, his employers, and his calling.