BOB GARFIELD: We're back with On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. In the mid '90s, Stephen Glass was a writer for the New Republic who also published pieces in Rolling Stone, Harper's and George. His stories were filled with colorful characters and improbable situations. They were fabulous, in every sense of that word. Ultimately, Glass was exposed by his own editor at the New Republic, Charles Lane, and the Forbes writer Adam Penenberg. They discovered that practically every story Glass wrote was a lie, backed up by bogus notes, websites, phone calls, addresses. Compared to Glass, Jayson Blair was a piker. With Lane on his trail, Glass tried desperately to enlist the loyalty of the staff. They were already resentful of Lane, who had taken over as editor after the much-loved Michael Kelly was fired. Glass tried to persuade his friends that Lane intended to push all the Kelly loyalists out. One of those friends was Hannah Rosin, played in the new movie, "Shattered Glass," by Chloe Sevigny, and married, in real life, to Slate Washington editor David Plotz. David saw the movie, and he joins me now. Welcome to the show.
DAVID PLOTZ: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You said in your article that watching the film felt like dreaming -- that it was an exact and yet unfamiliar copy of your world. What did you mean?
DAVID PLOTZ: Well, in Shattered Glass they really vividly re-created the world of the New Republic circa, you know, 1998. The actress who plays the character based on my wife looks as much like my wife as a blonde American can look like a brunette Israeli.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:We have a clip from the film in which Caitlin Avey, the character that represents your wife, is arguing with editor Charles Lane.
CAITLIN AVI CHARACTER: What are you going to do, Chuck? Pick us off, one by one -- everybody that was loyal to Mike? 'Til you have a staff that belongs to you? Is that the kind of magazine you want to run?
CHARLES LANE CHARACTER: Caitlin, when this thing blows, there isn't going to be a magazine any more.
DAVID PLOTZ: That actually is one portion of the movie in which it's slightly off-base in the sense that Caitlin -- Hannah -- the actual person, Hannah Rosin -- did defend Steve for quite a while but didn't defend Steve as far as they have her defend Steve in the movie.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Nevertheless, you and your wife were pretty close with Stephen Glass. He went to your wedding. Did you feel personally let down when the extent of his lies was revealed?
DAVID PLOTZ: Of course. We were devastated. It was one of these things where once you understood that he had made one thing up, you realized that he had made everything up. And it was this, you know, this sense of wonderment that still persists which is, you know, was he malevolently, maliciously doing this to us when he would tell us these stories gleefully? Was he doing it to trick us? Or was it an effort to, to make us feel good, to make us feel that we were part of this wonderful world?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But what wonderful world could he involve you in with his lies?
DAVID PLOTZ:Steve had this very magical quality. He may still have it. Which is that you were in a room with him, and he would spin these yarns about things he'd done which, in fact, he hadn't done, or people he'd met how, in fact, were fabrications. But you just felt "Wow -the world is strange and wonderful and magical."
[CLIP FROM FILM PLAYS]
STEPHEN GLASS CHARACTER: Every station on the radio was talking about it. Mike Tyson biting Evander Holyfield. And these are supposed to be news stations. So on Tuesday I started calling a few of them, and I finally got through to one -- a Bible talk station in Kentucky, [LAUGHTER] and I managed to convince the screener that I was a behavioral psychologist who specializes in human on human biting. [LAUGHTER] I told the guy that I had done all this extensive research on, on people who chomp flesh under extreme stress-- [LAUGHTER]
WOMAN: What did they say?
STEPHEN GLASS CHARACTER: They put me on the air. I took calls for 45 minutes. [LAUGHTER]
WOMAN: Oh, my God.
DAVID PLOTZ: And gosh, it really -- it was inspiring. It was, you know, it made us feel bad about our own journalism, because our stories didn't have the magic that his stories had, and it was devastating to find out that it was all built on nothing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:David, here's the thing that made me want to talk to you. You said in your article that Shattered Glass is the straightest film take on print journalism that you'd seen since All the President's Men, and that it may become this era's defining movie about journalism. How so?
DAVID PLOTZ: Well the middle part of the movie is essentially a procedural about how a journalist goes about doing his work. You know, there's lots of detail about how you fact-check; there's detail about how you gather source material; there's detail about checking interviews. Shattered Glass turns all that whole process in which Charles Lane, the editor of the New Republic and Adam Penenberg, an editor at Forbes, sort of uncover Steve. It turns that uncovering process into a thriller.
[CLIP FROM FILM PLAYS] MAN: You had your brother pose as George Sims.
MAN: The phony recording from Juge's Micronics (ph). It's a Palo Alto number, and your brother's a student at Stanford. You had him pose as Sims.
MAN: No. Sims is a real guy.
MAN: Steve, Steve--
MAN: No, I've talked to him a million times, Chuck. My brother and I are not even speaking right now.
MAN: Stop it. You faked Sims. You faked the web site--
MAN: You don't know-- You don't know, Chuck.
MAN: -- you faked all those voicemails-- it's all crap. I can trace it if you make me. I'll find it all billed to you.
MAN: I don't know what you're talking about, okay? Those are all real people.
MAN: They are.
MAN: Look at me -- and say that again.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Charles Lane took over as editor after Michael Kelly left, and he's seen as a, as a crusader here; almost iron-jawed. We've heard a lot that Jayson Blair and, and Stephen Glass discredit the profession. In a movie like this, does Charles Lane allow the profession some of its heroes?
BOB GARFIELD:The movie makes the Charles Lane character heroic, as Chuck was, absolutely heroic. And he's almost like a, kind of an Old Testament prophet. There's no fun and games to him. He's relentless, and he's absolutely right. And you come away thinking, like, it's good to have editors like that, sort of policing the world and making sure that, that justice is being done.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:When you think about how good All the President's Men was for journalism's reputation, how do you think Shattered Glass will fare?
DAVID PLOTZ: Not so well. Obviously. All the President's Men was about taking down a president. This, at its heart, it's about how a callow kid duped a whole lot of people very easily.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And you were one of the "dupes."
DAVID PLOTZ:Yeah. I was one of the dupes. I loved being around him and hearing his stories. And I miss that. And I wish the stories had been true. I still wish that. The world would be a more interesting place if they were, had been true.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: David, thanks a lot.
DAVID PLOTZ: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: David Plotz is the Washington editor of Slate. [MUSIC]