Media Monday: “Shattered Glass” and Unethical Journalism

By Aron Harris

The movie:

Shattered Glass, a 2003 film based off an article written by Buzz Bissinger in Vanity Fair  reflected on the days of  journalist Stephen Glass during his tenure at the popular political magazine, The New Republic. In his three years at the magazine, Glass had fabricated 27 of his 41 published stories that transformed him from one of the most praised employees of the magazine to nationwide disgrace to journalism and media professionals alike. He initially gained acclaim after writing an article, titled “Hack Heaven,” about a young hacker who sold his knowledge to companies to combat hacking. Glass went on to become a household name.

After this, he was on his way to establishing himself as one of the best up and coming journalist in the nation. However, when Adam Penenberg, writer for the Forbes Digital Tool, fact checked his story, he found numerous errors that eventually forced Glass to confess his many falsehoods. The movie proves to be an entertaining watch, as we see a man collapse under the pressure of writing fiction so that he may continued to be admired by his contemporaries. However, it also provides us with a lesson in journalism ethics that cannot be ignored.

The Takeaways:

The Society of Professional Journalists states in its Code of Ethics: “Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.” As mentioned in the previous post about publicity ethics in Thank You for Smoking, journalists have even more of a responsibility to the public to report the accurate truth because they are the bloodline of how we receive presumably unbiased information. Every time you turn on a news station or read the paper (or an online article, I should say) you discover stories or events that have either occurred or are in occurrence that raise awareness to an issue so that you may act accordingly to benefit yourself and your loved ones.

What Stephen Glass did signifies how much of our knowledge is based on the journalist that fed it to us. In his situation the interest of the public collides with personal interest of the journalist to establish himself as one of the best in the industry that it blinds him as to the needs of the people. In any type of professional relationship, in any industry and in any capacity, honesty must be established so that progress can be made by both parties. With Stephen Glass, his lack of honesty cost him his relationship with his employer, his peers and ultimately his country.

If anything is to be taken from the biographical film, it should be the emphasis on the integrity we all should carry, especially journalists who stand for the people. After all, journalists, more so than any other occupation in the media, are said to be the “eyes and ears of the public.” If we can’t trust in what they say, than who can we trust?

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