Shattered Glass

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Nov 2 08:20:59 MST 2003

NY Times, November 2, 2003
So Much for 'The Front Page'


"Shattered Glass," a study in smarminess in which even the honest
journalists come across as pretentious brats, is unlikely to draw crowds
either. It's handsomely made and decently acted, especially by Hayden
Christensen, who plays the creepy title character as if he were the smarter
kid brother of Anthony Perkins's obsequiously androgynous Norman Bates in
"Psycho." But the movie as a whole seems an irrelevancy. While the press
deserves some of the rancor coming its way, there's a gaping disconnect
between a Hollywood critique like "Shattered Glass" and the news media's
more distressing ailments.

In a production note for the movie, its writer-director, Billy Ray,
observes: "When people can no longer believe what they read, their only
choices will be to either turn to television for their daily news or to
stop seeking out news entirely. Either path, I think, is a very dangerous
one for this country." Where has Mr. Ray been since "Network"? Most people
have long ago turned to TV for their daily news, and many no longer believe
what they read. One of the most disturbing revelations of the Blair scandal
was that few subjects of his bogus stories, Jessica Lynch's family
included, called The Times to complain about his fictions. They just
assumed that reporters make stuff up.

The likes of a Glass and a Blair are true embarrassments to their peers.
But the larger culture in which they thrived has done more longterm damage
to the press than these individual transgressors, however notorious. "The
standard for journalism used to be, `What's the best obtainable version of
the truth?' " Carl Bernstein said when I asked him how the profession has
changed since the Watergate era. "Now we're living in a celebrity culture
that no longer values truth more than hype. You have to go back to what was
great about the movie of `All the President's Men.' It was not about the
characters of Bob and me. There's not a woman in our lives in it; it's not
about us at all. It's about the process of good journalism: methodical,
empirical, not very glamorous, hard-slogging reporting. Now journalism is
as infected by the celebrity culture as every other institution."

"Shattered Glass" does show that its ambitious villain was less turned on
by being a reporter than by being a Somebody worthy of a Pulitzer (though
apparently no one told him that Pulitzers are not awarded to magazine
writers). But more often the movie doesn't puncture so much as perpetuate
the star-worshipping celebrity culture that attracts a Glass. "Shattered
Glass" is as pompous about The New Republic as its fictionalized New
Republic staffers are, portraying the publication as the biggest thing to
be handed down from on high since the Ten Commandments. As one oft-repeated
line of dialogue has it, The New Republic is "the in-flight magazine of Air
Force One," an inflated claim to glamour that the magazine has never made
for itself. The movie even opportunistically wraps itself in the tragic
celebrity of the former New Republic editor Michael Kelly, by invoking his
death in the war in Iraq in the final credits. Mr. Kelly was covering the
war for The Atlantic; in the movie proper, his actual role in the Glass
saga, while still at The New Republic in the 1990's, is substantially
fictionalized and downsized.

The atmosphere that pervades high-end journalism now can be better seen in
an incident that occurred while the movie was being completed than in the
movie itself. When the real Stephen Glass went on "60 Minutes" this year to
push his own autobiographical novel about the scandal, Charles Lane, the
New Republic editor who published a number of his fictions before finally
nailing him, criticized him for cashing in. "I guess that's the way America
works these days," he said. He knew whereof he spoke. Days later Variety
reported that Mr. Lane was working as a paid consultant to "Shattered Glass."


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