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Shattered Glass

April 16th, 2012 · No Comments

Lauren, Sam, Becca, Nick
18 April 2012
Shattered Glass (2003)
Director Billy Ray


Reading Between the Li(n)es

Finding the truth in journalism

Shattered Glass is based on the true story of a young journalist, Stephen Glass, accused and convicted of making up stories for the magazine, The New Republic.   During his years at the New Republic, Glass concocted news stories claiming that they actually took place.  Glass passed off his fiction as true journalism by constructing deep webs of lies, even to the extent of creating false organizations, websites, and newsletters. At one point, Glass’s agent was in the process of helping him sign a book deal with Random House attracting the attention of some screenwriters (Bissinger 1).   Chuck Lane, the New Republic editor, began to become suspicious of Glass.  Glass’ story about a hacking convention, “Hacker’s Heaven”, was completely made up.  The real Glass sounded very convincing until Lane asked a security guard whether or not the hotel was open on the day the supposed Hacker’s Conference took place.  Despite the fact that the security guard and building engineer confirmed that the building was closed on the day of Glass’ supposed Hacker’s Conference, Glass continued his attempts to keep his lie alive (Bissinger 3).

In reality, Stephen Glass joined the New Republic as an editorial assistant in 1995. Glass started to fabricate stories at the beginning of 1998 when he was assigned to do a piece of writing on “an arcane piece of Washington legislation” and felt that the story needed “sprucing up” (CBSNews).  His news stories were pure creative writing. For instance, in January 1998, Glass wrote a story in which he made up a fake company, HDT, which he claimed would drop off people in the woods for $25,000.  Ed Brown, a writer for Fortune Magazine picked up on Glass’s lie and thought that maybe Glass wrote the piece as simply a joke.

One possible explanation of Glass’s fabrications was the fact that he was attending law school while he wrote for The New Republic and free lanced at the other magazine companies (Bissinger 5).  

Furthermore, in real life not only was Glass writing for The New Republic, according to Vanity Fair’s Buzz Bissinger, he was also a freelance writer for other magazines such as Rolling Stone and George.

Glass was addicted to fabricating stories because it gave him an adrenaline rush.  In a 60 Minutes interview with Steve Kroft, Glass explained his motivations behind lying.  Glass noted, “I loved the electricity of people liking my stories. I loved going to story conference meetings and telling people what my story was going to be, and seeing the room excited. I wanted every story to be a home run” (Leung).  Glass was good at getting past the fact checkers because he used to be one.  Glass noted in detail how he got past the fact checkers,

“I would tell a story, and there would be fact A, which maybe was true. And then there would be fact B, which was sort of partially true and partially fabricated. And there would be fact C which was more fabricated and almost not true. And there would be fact D, which was a complete whopper. And totally not true. And so people would be with me on these stories through fact A and through fact B. And so they would believe me to C. And then at D they were still believing me through the story”(Leung).

For a while, Glass managed to get the fact checkers to see logic within his lies.  For instance, Glass attempted to cover his tracks in his “Hacker’s Heaven” article by creating a website for the fake company “Jukt Micronics”, sent a fictitious “National Assembly of Hackers” newsletter to Chuck, fabricated a law – “the Uniform Computer Security Act”, and an array of other schemes in an attempt to convince Chuck and staff at The New Republic that his hacker story was real (Leung). But, there were some holes in his story.  For instance, in the film, Glass’s “Jukt Micronics” site didn’t look like a professional website at all.  He created the website instantly using AOL Hometown, a part of AOL that allows any user to put together a website fast (Shattered Glass).

Shattered Glass is a great way to understand and show the importance of self-regulation in print media. If there is no regulation by the company itself, they may be more susceptible to loss of credibility due to information they distribute. In addition to codes of ethics that are typically put in place by journalists, many news organizations have an Ombudsman who keep organizations honest and accountable.  They mediate conflicts of both internal and external pressures and foster self criticism and to encourage the adherence of codified and uncodified ethics and standards.  Besides the Ombudsman, some newsgroups have a news council.  An example of this is the Press Complaints Commission, set up by UK newspapers and magazines, that self regulate (Wikipedia 2012).

The fabrications published by Stephen and the lack of regulation of this particular newspaper show us the importance of taking classes such as Media, Communication and Society.  If we have a better understanding of media literacy and are able to read between the lies and lines of articles published by different agencies, we will be able to create our own understanding of the news.  Although agenda setting of different media types is incredibly difficult to bypass and the first amendment prevents regulation of content in the print media, being able to identify these different forms of corruption will allow the audience to have agency and the ability to create their own agenda.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think it’s possible for a news network or newspaper to regain credibility after ruining their reputation with fake stories and plagiarized information?
  2. How can we relate the stories of Stephen Glass to the yellow journalism of William Hearst?  In today’s day in age, is it possible for people to get away with fabrication in print media? Do you think regulation by the government is needed in print media?
  3. What motivated Stephen Glass to lie and fabricate stories? What kinds of formal and informal codes of ethics are journalists expected to follow?

Important Quotes

  1. “He handed us fiction after fiction, and we printed them all as fact. Just because we found him entertaining.” Chuck Lane
  2. “What are you going to do, Chuck, pick us off, one by one? Everybody that was loyal to Mike, so you have a staff that belongs to you? Is that the kind of magazine you want to run? “(Caitlin Avey) “Caitlin, When this thing blows, there isn’t going to be a magazine anymore. If you want to make this about Mike, make it about Mike. I don’t give a shit. You can resent me, you can hate me, but come Monday morning, we’re all going to have to answer for what we let happen here. We’re all going to have an apology to make! Jesus Christ! Don’t you have any idea how much shit we’re about to eat? Every competitor we ever took a shot at, they’re going to pounce. And they should. Because we blew it, Caitlin. He handed us fiction after fiction and we printed them all as fact. Just because… we found him “entertaining.” It’s indefensible. Don’t you know that? “(Chuck Lane)
  3. “But there is one thing in this story that checks out” (Adam). “What’s that?” (Kambiz) “There does appear to be a state in the union named Nevada” (Adam).
  4. “Chuck, will you come with me because I’m afraid I might do something. Did you hear what I said?” (Stephen). “Yah I did… Hell of a story” (Chuck).
  5. “It’s in my notes.” Stephen Glass

Works Cited

Bissinger, Buzz. “Shattered Glass.” Vanity Fair. September 1998: 1-6. 16

April,  2012.Web.


“Journalism Ethics and Standards.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 16

Apr. 2012. <>.

“Stephen Glass: I Lied For Esteem.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 11 Feb. 2009. Web. 16 Apr.

2012. <>.


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