October 22, 2007

Shattered TNR

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.


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Comments (12)

Posted by unclesmrgol | October 22, 2007 8:38 AM

I thought the last word was that they had incontrovertible evidence that Beauchamp's statements were true -- that other soldiers had been interviewed and backed his statements.

With Beauchamp now silent and TNR as well, this puts the malfeasance at a level beyond just the author of the articles -- it indicates that the entire editorial chain was responsible for aiding and abetting the falsehood.

As I was once told by a judge when my jury was instructed, "if you determine that a witness under oath has deliberately lied, you should disregard the whole of that witness' testimony".

I guess that's where TNR is now -- except to its supporters.

Posted by NoDonkey | October 22, 2007 8:56 AM

The left has obviously concluded that objective truth is no longer relevant and that journalistic ethics are anachronisms.

From Dan Rather's "fake but true" story, to the MSM repeating Harry Reid's lies about the Rush Limbaugh controversy recently to the TNR fiasco, to the MSM's refusal to publish any stories on the success we're seeing in Iraq, to countless other examples, we see the left lying or at least grossly distorting the truth, in an attempt to further their ideology.

But because leftism is based on an unrealistic, unworkable premise that is directly opposed to human nature and to reality, what else does the left have but lies?

Posted by danforth | October 22, 2007 9:14 AM

they are like the other dead tree msms. they are driving it into the ground squeezing political gain out of the dying carcass. they probably figure its going down anyway so why not get something short term out of it politically. screw the pooch sorta. in this sense they don't care about the rag or its legacy.

Posted by CoRev | October 22, 2007 9:54 AM

/sarcasm on/ Good writers are so hard to find today. Most are on the internet doing their own thing, so we go to Hollywood, and the screen writer's guild. /sarcasm off/

Posted by essucht | October 22, 2007 9:58 AM

I've said it before, I'll say it again...

The blogosphere has done great work in getting to the bottom of this issue with TNR, and Rathergate, and a number of other stories, but isn't it hard to believe that the blogosphere has caught all of the media's deceptions? What else might the MSM have gotten into the public sphere through its (at best) criminal neglience in vetting stories that meet their desired template?

I think we have reached the point where if the MSM wants to redeem itself it needs regular, outside review of its processes. If American business needed SOX due to Worldcom and the other Clinton era frauds, American media certainly needs a through ethics review.*

*Though I would not argue for a government program. Perhaps bring in a independent journalist like Yon, someone like Capt Ed or one of the Powerline guys, and for balance some leftwing journalist prof from Columbia.

Posted by essucht | October 22, 2007 10:05 AM

Oh, and I'll add that the media needs to stop relying so heavily on unnamed sources.

If the public has the right to know the what and where, it also has a right to know the who.

For example, if Dan Rather had admitted that he got the TANG fakes from a Bush hating crank, and not as he claimed an unimpeachabe unnamed source, the story would never gotten much traction.

And further, get rid of the some say construction, as in, "Some say Bush is the devil and responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire." If Joe Smith of the I Hate Bush Coalition is claiming it, attribute the comment to him.

Posted by capitano | October 22, 2007 11:01 AM

I recommend the DVD which features Commentary by first-time director Billy Ray and former TNR editor, Charles Lane, who also was an adviser on the movie.

Or if you are an Independent Film Channel subscriber, you can see it later this week:

Shattered Glass
Friday, October 26 10:40 AM
Shattered Glass
Friday, October 26 4:10 PM

I can only assume that the film-makers went out of their way to be truthful given the subject matter -- they make a strong case for it in the Commentary. But even if they shaded it to portray the magazine and key staffers in a favorable light, it is a very damning movie. That said, the only reasonable conclusion for the Beauchamp deception is willful dishonesty by TNR management -- there are just too many similarities with the Glass fiasco to ignore and it was too recent for them to have forgotten.

Posted by David M | October 22, 2007 11:47 AM

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 10/22/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by huxley | October 22, 2007 4:11 PM

I certainly support the Captain, Confederate Yankee, Powerline, Instapundit et al. for keeping this story alive, but I keep wondering what difference it makes.

If TNR's staff doesn't care, if its readers don't care, if the mainstream media doesn't care, if the center-left and left Americans don't care, what incentive does TNR have to do the right thing?

My guess is that from their point of view, the damage has already been done, and what with its Shattered Glass past, it only increases the damage to 'fess up.

Posted by essucht | October 22, 2007 4:36 PM

I certainly support the Captain, Confederate Yankee, Powerline, Instapundit et al. for keeping this story alive, but I keep wondering what difference it makes.

Another MSM organ got caught pushing a hoax on the American public. As long as the left continues the lie that the MSM is not biased it helps to keep showing just how biased they obviously are.

Posted by huxley | October 22, 2007 8:28 PM

Good point. Nonetheless, although these examples keep mounting--I recall someone at American Thinker compiling several dozen of them--those who don't want to hear it--the left and the MSM--won't hear it, and those in the middle don't hear it.

I suppose it's a patience game, as the examples accumulate and individuals keep peeling off as their thresholds are exceeded.

Posted by wiked rad | October 22, 2007 8:41 PM

Might want to look into an editor at TNR: Eve Fairbanks, who has been known as a verb for quite a while now.


Everything she writes sounds like a "Baghdad Diarist" story.

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