I found myself cackling through much of Shattered Glass, the terribly serious and scandalized movie about the young fabricating journalist, Stephen Glass, working at The New Republic in the late 1990s. Here is a movie, only some ten years old, ambushed by our fast times. I think the movie has become a comic parable prophetic of the arrival of much of today’s media, for what Glass essentially did was to invent stories about things somewhere across the border of Tabloid World (from whole cloth fictive accounts to grossly exaggerated actual events). You must surmise that he readily slipped the stuff past his editor(s), fact-checkers, and other colleagues; his pieces, all the fondly but enviously fooled on the staff enthusiastically testified, were very “entertaining.” All the news that’s a hit to print.
Glass, then a pariah, might today be merely acceptably “notorious” and “eccentric.” In matters of the News and the Newsworthy, times obviously have changed, and sadly Glass now seems more in place and the righteous at The New Republic a decade ago seem almost out of place. At least as far as current TV journalism goes (print presently starving and staggering), we are now a decade beyond the long ago and far away times portrayed in Shattered Glass, and today’s new (and blue) world inhabited by Beck, Van Sustern, Grace, O’Reilly, Lemon, Cooper, Blitzer, Matt Lauer, Larry King, Larry Kudlow et al., make the barely remembered Stephen Glass seem to be just a clever entertainer giving the media moguls, the expedient editors of today, the producers, the programmers, the sponsors and, finally, the audience, what they want. (Are the truly serious ills of that audience perhaps known better to the entertainment industry focus-group managers than to that audience’s own medical doctors?)
You have to believe that Glass may have said to himself, and probably to others: Oh, if only I’d come on the scene ten years later! If there is journalistic evolution as well as the biological form, Glass is a quaint early species whose descendants have ascended. Shattered Glass is something like a carbon aging marker for our journalistic decline.