Saturday, November 01, 2003
Journalism vs. fiction: The Weekly Standard's Jonathan V. Last has an excellent article on the film "Shattered Glass" and its whitewash of the newsroom atmosphere that allowed fiction-writer Stephen Glass' lies to continually make their way into print.
Good editors look at the case of Stephen Glass and think, "There but by the grace of God." A smart writer who is unconcerned about his future could pass fiction off on the best editor once or twice or perhaps even five times. Who knows where the bright line is? But surely it is less than 27, the number of faked stories Glass published. Surely seven charges of fabrication by story subjects should be enough. Surely the need to respond to letters 6 times in 19 months should have woken someone up.
"SHATTERED GLASS" wants you to believe that Stephen Glass was a neurotic mastermind, against whose wiles editors were powerless. But his editors--all smart, talented, honorable people--shared a failing which the movie refuses to acknowledge. There is a particular type of journalist who spurns the input of outsiders and believes that there is no truth beyond his magazine's horizon. The impulse to dismiss those who argue with our words as acting out of political disagreement or bad faith is a failing many of us share. It is an impulse which must be fought.
I must admit the sort of arrogance and elitism that causes one to dismiss all criticism out of hand is foreign to me. I suspect that it's a product of working at small newspapers like The Lompoc Record and The (Aberdeen) Daily World, where the editors and reporters are truly part of the community and this sort of betrayal of the readers' trust is unthinkable.