This weekend, we finally watched the movie Shattered Glass, the story of the fabulist Stephen Glass at The New Republic. The movie recounts the deception that Glass repeatedly perpetrated in placing himself as an eyewitness to events in order to write colorful and libelous articles, in one instance about young conservatives at the CPAC conference in the mid-90s. It's a good movie, although it tends to overlook the fact that a number of people publicly questioned Glass' veracity on his earlier stories before Forbes.com exploded Glass' article on a hacker convention that never took place, as Jonathan Last noted at the time.
As we watched the movie, I couldn't help but be struck by the similarities and differences at The New Republic, then and now. In the Glass debacle, the staff allowed themselves to rely on Glass entirely for verification because of their personal connections to the writer. In the Scott Beauchamp debacle that has undone TNR all over again, the same exact dynamic occurred. The magazine ran his stories without any real independent verification, exposing themselves all over again to charges of fabulism and unprofessionalism. In both cases, the first impulses of the magazine was to circle the wagons and pretend that it didn't matter very much that the writers couldn't support their stories with the facts.
Unfortunately, the differences between the two incidents don't redound to TNR's credit. With Glass -- who fabricated 27 of 41 stories without getting detected -- the editor of the magazine finally took a tough stand and fired Glass, apologizing to the magazine's readers within a month. As Power Line and Bob Owens note, TNR has yet to acknowledge that Beauchamp's story has fallen apart more than two months after they pledged to get to the truth of the matter. Since then, the Army has conducted its own investigation and found Beauchamp's stories false. TNR's reaction? They instructed Beauchamp to shut up, and have remained silent ever since.
That doesn't add to TNR's credibility on this matter. They got fooled by another writer whose personal connections to an editor apparently kept the magazine from vetting the story -- none of which added anything to the debate on the Iraq war except to imply that American soldiers conduct abuses for their personal amusement. They never did any research on Beauchamp, including the incredibly easy task of reading his personal website to see his intent for writing about the Army, or checking his deployment record to see whether he actually was in Iraq in the time frame he asserted.
Near the end of Shattered Glass, Peter Sarsgaard as editor Charles Lane (now at the Washington Post) scolds Chloe Sevigny as Caitlin Avey after she keeps making excuses for Stephen Glass. "He handed us fiction after fiction and we printed them all as fact. Just because... we found him "entertaining." It's indefensible. Don't you know that?"
TNR knew it in 1998. Unfortunately, they no longer understand it in 2007. It's just as indefensible now as it was then -- in fact, given their history, even more indefensible now. Franklin Foer has managed to do more damage to the magazine than Stephen Glass did, thanks to an inept response and continued stonewalling in the face of the truth. In their silence, TNR has acknowledged that they care more for narrative than fact.