We all have our favorite movies about journalism. Best known are the heroic films, which portray reporters as indefatigable warriors on behalf of truth, justice and the American way. At the top of that particular heap are “Spotlight,” “The Post” and — at the very pinnacle — “All the President’s Men,” which inspired a generation of young journalists. For those who like a bit more nuance, there’s “Absence of Malice.” And if you prefer pure entertainment to instruction or uplift, there’s “His Girl Friday,” a romantic romp starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.
I’ve enjoyed all these movies. But I have to admit that my favorite film about journalism is “Shattered Glass,” a docudrama about a troubled young man named Stephen Glass, who concocted an increasingly outlandish series of articles while he was working at The New Republic in the 1990s. Exposed at last, he was drummed out of the business. It was the sort of scandal that proved defining for a small publication like TNR.
Indeed, I was somewhat startled over the weekend when I saw the magazine described as “at the time an influential journal of the center left.” At the time. It’s been a long decline for a magazine co-founded by Walter Lippmann; I understand it’s doing better these days. And though there are multiple factors responsible for its marginalization, most of which have to do with the explosion of digital opinion journals, it was the Glass scandal that provided the magazine with its first swift kick down the stairs.
“Shattered Glass” never made the big time, but it’s long since become a staple of journalism ethics classes. (I don’t know why; “don’t make stuff up” can be dispensed with during the first 10 minutes of the first meeting of the semester.) People in journalism have long been passionate about it as well. I was once asked to take part in a panel discussion and found myself sitting next to Marty Peretz, then TNR’s owner and editor-in-chief, who, of course, is portrayed in the film. I remember telling him something like, “I agree with you about the commas.” (If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know what I’m talking about.) I don’t think he laughed.
All this is by way of my introduction to a story that you must read if you haven’t already. Titled “Loving Lies,” the piece — by Bill Adair, the creator of PolitiFact and no thus coddler of journalists who fabricate — appears in a digital publication called Air Mail, which has been around for a couple of years even though I hadn’t previously heard of it. (Since I first published this in the Members Newsletter, I’ve learned that it was co-founded by former New York Times journalist Alessandra Stanley and former Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter.) The quality looks to be quite high, as I would expect of an outlet able to commission a piece from someone as accomplished as Adair.
If it seems like I’m dancing around the main topic, it’s because I am. I don’t want to write any spoilers here. I will tell you that it’s one of the most moving stories about love and redemption that I can remember reading in a long time, and even that’s more than I ought to say. Just read it. You’ll need to provide your email address, but it’s absolutely worth doing so.
This post was first published as part of last week’s Media Nation Members Newsletter. To become a member for just $5 a month, please click here.