The primary responsibility of a working journalist in any medium is to tell the truth. No matter the story, the facts needs to be brought forward. In order to achieve this, the author, no matter the level of writing, must not only do hard work, but also have a high degree of trustworthiness and integrity. Without these traits, if a story is ever called into question, even slightly, taking solely the word of the writer becomes harder. Sometimes it’s not just the individual journalist who takes a huge hit for major inaccuracies in a story.
The Lionsgate film “Shattered Glass”, is an unsettling, but captivating look at the massive fraud committed by one man whose only job was to tell the truth.
This biographical drama stars Hayden Christensen (“90 Minutes in Heaven”, “Outcast”), Peter Sarsgaard (upcoming “The Magnificent Seven (2016)”, “Experimenter”), Chloe Sevigny (upcoming “Love & Friendship”, “American Horror Story”), Rosario Dawson (upcoming film “Ratchet and Clank”, “Daredevil (2015 TV series)”), Melanie Lynskey (“Togetherness”, “Animals”), Hank Azaria (upcoming “The Wizard of Lies”, “Bordertown”), Mark Blum (“The Blacklist”, “Mozart in the Jungle”), Simone-Elise Girard (upcoming “Boris Without Beatrice”, “Unite 9”), Chad Donella (“Scandal”, “Perception”), Jamie Elman (“YidLife Crisis”, “Legends”), Luke Kirby (“The Good Wife”, “The Astronaut Wives Club”), and Steve Zahn (upcoming “Captain Fantastic”, “Mad Dogs”).
The film was written and directed by Billy Ray (“Secret in Their Eyes (2015)”, “Breach”). It is based on an article by H.G. Bissinger.
The film originally opened on Nov. 26, 2003. The film would go on to be nominated for one Golden Globe Award, four Independent Spirit Awards, and two Golden Satellite Awards among several nominations and wins.
The third film in this journalism series moves us in a different direction. There may be no tragic deaths, but this particular crime is just as serious, even if it’s on a whole different playing field. It’s part of the reason why so many people find it difficult to trust journalists. If you haven’t figured it out already, this film focuses on the infamous 1998 scandal involving former journalist Stephen Glass. At the time the scandal broke, he was working for The New Republic, a magazine which focuses on commentary on politics and the arts in Washington, D.C. Glass had earned himself something of a reputation for his stories, and was highly regarded and well known by many people. Which is, in part, what made this scandal so shocking and memorable. And, of course, it made for an incredibly captivating and important film, even today 13 years after the film’s initial release and 18 years since the scandal itself.
This film presents, technically two sides to the story, but it needed multiple major viewpoints to tell it. when I realized this, which only came this time around, I viewed the film as one big character study on all levels.
This film has a large focus on a special dynamic that isn’t seen all that often in films about journalism. It’s not that the film doesn’t have scenes playing out in this particular setting, it’s that the vibe is never really explored or even seen, at least not that I’ve noticed. The newsroom environment is a crucial player, and in some ways it’s a character of its own. This particular newsroom is a reflection of what I’d say most newsrooms are like, or I imagine them to be. There are so many people, and they each form different relationships with one another as well as those above them in higher positions. This film presents that view as well as how the idea of loyalty plays a big role in a newsroom.
In this film the relationships in the newsroom are what define everything. Glass, is well liked by his colleagues, as they are liked by him. They each respect their current editor, Azaria, but when he’s replaced by Sarsgaard, the dynamic shifts. That may or may not be surprising, but the manner with which Sarsgaard is treated is less than favorable. While they’ll each work together, it’s not with the same enthusiasm as before, and that causes a problem later on. As I’ve stated and it’s what the film is about, Christensen’s Glass finds himself exposed as a fraud, and the ability for the entire staff at this magazine, especially those who work and are closest with Glass, to accept this is challenged. Rightly so they don’t want to believe this and must digest all that they know. Most of this is a typical he said, she said type situation. Sarsgaard has to tread cautiously for a while, and during this, Christensen’s Glass is working his charisma and spinning as many lies as he can in the hopes that they eat it up as fact. Did I mention he’s very charismatic? Along with trying to convince them, he’s simply trying to stay ahead and cover up his lies with more lies. Loyalty, as it turns out, is a powerful force. And more or less, this newsroom is divided.
And the biggest divider is Sarsgaard’s character, who is part of the second side, but a different viewpoint. His character is put in multiple difficult positions as previously stated, he’s promoted as the editor after Azaria’s editor character is fired. Azaria was well liked and Sarsgaard was not doing much to make friends. Sarsgaard it seems, just want to do the best job he can. He wants to be the head of a magazine that puts out consistently good issues. Not too much to ask for.
However, he’s on the more reasonable side of this. He doesn’t immediately jump to the side of guilty. He’s practicing something the others don’t seem capable of. He’s cautiously optimistic about what the truth is with regards to Christensen. When he first learns there may be issues, he does what any sane and reasonable person would do, he looks into it. He has questions that need to be answered. And for awhile, there seem to be answers. Things somewhat line up or Christensen’s Glass is able to spin like a top and sell his latest lies. I like this as it gives a full view of who Sarsgaard is as a journalist and as a person in general, which is also how Sarsgaard is able to excel in this role. He brings so much to this role and it’s also incredibly nuanced. There’s no needing to imagine what this would feel like, as he has you covered. However, more and more of his questions can’t be answered. Things are no longer meshing. All that hope he had is completely destroyed and he sees the truth.
Christensen’s character, which is the primary side, is the crucial aspect of this film. It’s also where so much of this film’s disturbing content comes from. Christensen plays this part so well, which is surprising given that this film came out during that disastrous prequel trilogy of films in the “Star Wars” saga. He embodies everything that I believe the true Glass was like. Mainly he was able to use his likability and charisma, which also comes with his quirky personality, to weave his complex web of lies and never be seen doing so. It’s also how he’s able to always spin the truth and continue to sell outright lies to his friends and colleagues. And he’s caught, he’s able to sow disbelief and paint Sarsgaard as the villain out to get him.
One instance of this, is when Christensen goes to Azaria to pretty much plead his case. He’s a victim, and he needs another person to feel sorry for him. Azaria, being the former boss, is just the person he needs. It’s a fascinating look at the relationship, especially when it’s shown that it’s not the same as it was. Azaria’s clearly not living in some kind of blackout, and he’s heard about all that’s occurred there. Azaria even questions whether or not Christensen cooked any stories while working under him. It shows how far the disbelief is spreading and how much of what Christensen has been selling is now being questioned as true or not.
Adding to the disturbing behavior, is the fact that before Azaria’s character was fired, there was a shining red flag of a warning at the start of the film. A story Christensen’s Glass has written sounds great, get’s lots of attention and is loved by his colleagues, but has some issues. Someone complains that there are facts in the piece wrong. When pressed about this, Christensen’s Glass makes up a story, that sounds made up, but is believed by Azaria. Glass was able to use his charisma, likability, and complex web of lies, to convince his editor it was all one big mistake, and that nothing else is wrong. Because of this, no one noticed or thought to say a thing.
That is until Zahn and company came into the picture. This is the last and most crucial viewpoint, and goes with Sarsgaards side of the story. This team, headed by Zahn’s character, is what leads to Glass’ downfall. The piece that brought Glass down was about hackers. Zahn’s character and his colleagues worked for Forbes with regards to digital stuff. It makes sense that this kind of story would be one they’d cover. Once Zahn is made aware that they were all scooped, he sets out to discover what this price was about. Thus the questions being asked, don’t get answers, and the lies that Glass built up, come crumbling down. In this area, not only do you get this behind the scenes look at what led to the scandal breaking, but you see the disbelief they feel, as well as the general process of fact checking a piece, or simply writing one. So much research is done and when nothing checks out, they get Sarsgaard. With this aspect of the film playing out, which makes sense you’d see this, it adds a component that makes this film something of a thriller. There’s a back and forth to discover what’s going on with this story and why nothing is adding up. Who’s being lied to and what is the truth in all of it? It’s interesting too, that even though Christensen never meets these people in person, he finds ways of trying to blame them. He’s once again the victim, and these people are out to get him.
This film, to me, presents an overall fair story. While I can’t say if this film is truly balanced and fair, it certainly seems to be. I truly felt like I got all sides and a realistic view of how each person thought and felt during this time. If it weren’t for this, and the complete outrage that was felt as each new betrayal was uncovered, I don’t know if the film would’ve been as emotionally strong as it was. I recall feeling disgusted and surprised, among other things, as the truth of Christensen’s Glass’ deception came to light. Each new reveal was another blow to this great institution, which you saw also saw because of how pained Sarsgaard was at every other moment. He saw the damage that was to come and, of course, like a lot of the employees at the magazine, was betrayed.
Glass, since his firing from The New Republic, and this film’s release, has sought to reinvent himself. He went so far as to get accepted into law school and even attend Georgetown University Law Center while at the magazine. After graduating from the university in 2000, he went on to pass the New York bar exam in 2004, but later abandoned his attempt at being a licensed lawyer as the Committee of Bar Examiners had major and understandable concerns about him being allowed to practice law. His scandal was still fresh and dogging him.
In 2005, Glass would again attempt to become a licensed attorney, but this time in the state of California. That attempt, too, didn’t go so well. He was denied, but he never wavered, and was eventually successful in getting his application and case reviewed by the California Supreme Court. However, this attempt as well was met with a negative outcome. On Jan. 27, 2014 the California Supreme Court denied him the license he needed to practice law. The court concluded that on Glass’ record “… he has not sustained his heavy burden of demonstrating rehabilitation and fitness for the practice of law.”
Glass has, even through all this, been working as a paralegal in Los Angeles since 2004.
At the time of the California Supreme Court’s ruling, it was confirmed that Glass had fabricated more than 40 articles in his short journalism career.
Some people it seems are too ambitious. So much so, that they’re willing to disregard long held rules and beliefs about a profession so as to come out on top and be successful. When these types of antics are especially calculating it only hurts the institution itself. Glass, at that time, was considered to be quite pathological, and I’ll go further saying he was quite capable of manipulating and using others for his own personal needs. I also doubt he ever tried to be a good person with regards to the profession or even respect it. He, among so many others, ruins journalism for everyone. Journalists are meant to convey information to us that is important and sometimes crucial. There are those in this world that need to be held accountable. It’s why the profession of journalism is considered the fourth estate. Where would this world be if not for those that dug for answers to issues that matter and affect the people all over the world?