I can’t quite believe I’m writing these words, but Frank Rich is really good in this morning’s New York Times on Shattered Glass, the new movie about Stephen Glass, the “reporter” who wrote fictionalized stories for The New Republic before being caught and canned (and whose life story you couldn’t pay me enough to see). He nails the superficially jaundiced way in which journalists are now being portrayed in film and on TV:
“Shattered Glass” does show that its ambitious villain was less turned on by being a reporter than by being a Somebody worthy of a Pulitzer (though apparently no one told him that Pulitzers are not awarded to magazine writers). But more often the movie doesn’t puncture so much as perpetuate the star-worshipping celebrity culture that attracts a Glass. “Shattered Glass” is as pompous about The New Republic as its fictionalized New Republic staffers are, portraying the publication as the biggest thing to be handed down from on high since the Ten Commandments. As one oft-repeated line of dialogue has it, The New Republic is “the in-flight magazine of Air Force One,” an inflated claim to glamour that the magazine has never made for itself. The movie even opportunistically wraps itself in the tragic celebrity of the former New Republic editor Michael Kelly, by invoking his death in the war in Iraq in the final credits. Mr. Kelly was covering the war for The Atlantic; in the movie proper, his actual role in the Glass saga, while still at The New Republic in the 1990’s, is substantially fictionalized and downsized.
I expect the movie to tank, by the way. Most journalists are dull, even when they’re dumb and dishonest. Ordinary moviegoers don’t care about their lives, and will rarely go see films about them, nor do they wish to read you-are-there books about their misdeeds–with good reason. Rich is devastatingly right about the chronic narcissism of the reporterati. Screw ’em.
P.S. In case you don’t know, I write on occasion for the Times, and have a piece in this morning’s paper. But if you think that has anything whatsoever to do with the fact that I’m writing in praise of Frank Rich, you were born late yesterday night. (The frequency with which this blog links to The Minor Fall, the Major Lift should serve to dispel any possible suspicion of favor-currying on my part.)