Whenever we talk about journalism movies, most of us always immediately reference the big three: All The President’s Men, Broadcast News, and Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas. Well, at least they’re my big three. I’d also include The Paper, Spotlight, and a lesser-known movie that came and went but which ought to be on your list, particularly if you haven’t seen it yet.
The movie is called Shattered Glass, featuring Hayden Christensen in the non-Anakin role of his life, along with the great Chloë Sevigny, and Peter Sarsgaard. The movie tells the real life story of journalist Stephen Glass, a then-young reporter working his way up the ladder at the legendary D.C. publication, The New Republic. In the process, we get an inside look into TNR’s newsroom and Glass’s too-good-to-be-true reporting about a wild convention of computer hackers and one particular hacker who walked away with a lucrative contract with a tech company called “Jukt Micronics.”
SPOILER: it turns out Glass literally invented every word of not just the hacker convention story but his entire archive at the magazine.
Simply put: Glass’s stories were all “fake news.” Not Trump’s weaponized definition of “fake news,” which, in reality, is usually any news covering the awful truth about how he’s wrecking the nation. In this case, Glass’s reporting was literally fake. None of it actually happened. Jukt Micronics was fake. The hacker convention was fake. All of it. Through Glass’s charm and likeability, he managed to dupe everyone from his fellow reporters to TNR’s fact checkers to his editors, Mike Kelly and Charles Lane.
The movie is especially compelling as we watch Christensen’s Glass scrambling to cover his tracks — a kind of frantic, sweaty, emotionally immature junior-grade Walter White scheme in which Glass barely stays one step ahead of Lane’s pursuit, complete with bad decision-making, a fake website, fake phone numbers, and fake emails.
Thinking back, Shattered Glass is a breathtaking and surprisingly exciting movie that deserves to be in anyone’s top five films about the news. One of the things I like most about it is that it’s not a love letter to journalism. Rather, it shows a newsroom in a thoroughly realistic sense — the good and the truly deplorable aspects of the news. Suffice to say, there’s not a happy ending for Glass, in the movie or in real life.
I immediately thought about Stephen Glass’s escapades at TNR when I watched on social media this week as barely-pubescent Trumper Youth character Jacob Wohl tried desperately to sell the world a story about sexual assault charges against Robert Mueller, followed by the spectacular disintegration of his story.
You might know Wohl from Fox Business Channel. You might also know Wohl as a former hedge fund manager who was nabbed for defrauding his investors. I first heard of Wohl after clicking on some of Trump’s more incendiary tweets. For whatever algorithmic reason, Wohl’s reply tweets would always show up immediately under Trump’s. Actually, it’d either be Wohl’s replies or the replies of another Trumper Youth named Jack Posobiec.
I don’t have any information that’d tie all of these Lost Boys together, but there’s a similar vibe between Wohl and Posobiec, along with other Trumper Youths like Charlie Kirk, Candace Owens, and Tomi Lahren.
For whatever reason, there’s a rather loud, rather well-financed collection of Millennials who appear to be enamored with Trump and Trumpism. Perhaps they’ve been recruited, incubated, and hatched by far-right financiers. I wouldn’t rule out the usual suspects in Russia, either, considering the target: Mueller. Or perhaps they’re all just desperate for the affection of a Baby Boomer grandpa figure. Indeed, I wouldn’t be shocked if we learn there’s a vague cultural link between Millennials and Boomers.
Again, I have no evidence of substantive connective tissue between these weirdos. However, in recent months we’ve seen them all tweeting the same propaganda. Both Posobiec, Wohl, and Kirk have all tweeted numerous variations on this: I was just in a hipster liberal coffee shop and everyone was talking about how much they love Trump. Not just once or twice, mind you, but on countless occasions with similar wording and spread over months or more. Clearly, this is linked somehow to the #WalkAway movement, which has Russian psyop written all over it. In case you don’t know, #WalkAway is an obvious social media plot, augmented if not started by Russian troll farms, to convince liberals to leave the Democratic Party and to support Trump. Yeah, I know. Preposterous.
Another confounding series of tweets I’ve seen from both Wohl and Posobiec suggests that if the Republicans “win the House” (they already control the House), they should — get this — begin impeachment proceedings against — wow! — Barack Obama. I’m not making that up.
Wohl, who’s the Stephen Glass of this week’s nonsense, has apparently been working with another scammer by the name of Jack Burkman, a self-identified lobbyist who apparently hosts a podcast for Newsmax. Burkman evidently hired an investigative firm called Surefire Intelligence to make contact with various women who Burkman and Wohl insist were sexually assaulted by Robert Mueller. But as Tuesday wore on this week, the plot rapidly, um, shattered with Wohl desperately trying to save face.
It turns out, allegedly, that Burkman hired Wohl to make contact with a roster of women and to offer them $20,000 if they’d go public, claiming Mueller assaulted or harassed them. Wohl is Surefire Intelligence — actually, Wohl and his Mom are Surefire Intelligence. Wohl clearly designed the web presence for the outfit and, in the process, used either celebrity photos or stock photos posing as executives and staff. One of the staffers, “Michael Cohen,” turned out to be Wohl himself, since the photo for Cohen was a photoshopped version of a publicly accessible picture of Wohl. And, the phone number for Surefire automatically transfers to a voicemail box in Wohl’s mother’s name.
It’s Jukt Micronics all over again, and Jacob Wohl is the Dan Bidondi of Stephen Glasses.
The conspiracy is so ridiculous, even the normally conspiracy-thirsty Jim Hoft, aka. The Gateway Pundit, retracted the story. Other pro-Trump blogs, such as The Chicks On The Right, declared Wohl’s tall tale to be “fake.” When you lose the Chicks and you lose Hoft, you’re a Trumper in deep trouble.
And making matters exceedingly worse for Wohl, reporters who were pitched by Wohl to run with his fake story, possibly including Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker, passed along the information to Mueller’s office, which immediately referred the matter to the FBI. In other words, if things continue to go badly for Wohl, he could end up finding himself in federal prison for wire fraud, mail fraud, and whatever other kinds of fraud prosecutors can dig up.
It’s not all bad for this reason: watching Wohl unravel this week gave me some of my biggest work-related laughs in a long, long time. But it’s not all fun, games, and schadenfreude.
Here’s the shitty news. The difference between then (Stephen Glass) and now (Jacob Wohl) is that these modern propagandists have a cult audience that inexplicably believes everything it reads. We can and should assume that upwards of 40 percent of the American voting population will, if they catch word of this, believe all of it. Why? Because it confirms their biases and their Trump-warped narratives about politics.
When Glass was finally caught red-handed, he was held accountable by TNR and blacklisted. Jacob Wohl, on the other hand, will probably end up being hired by a PAC or another flotilla of Trumpian organizations to carry out more dirty tricks and ratfuckery. And next time, he’ll be a little better at it. This is one of the many reasons why Trumpism is so dangerous. Trump and his Red Hats have created a political movement based entirely on grievances and owning the libs — nothing more. Nothing redeemable. Nothing on the level. Nothing that reflects American values or any actual ideas beyond bungled trickery.
We’re laughing at Wohl today. But I wouldn’t take my eye off of him. Ignoring them won’t make them go away. Indeed, Burkamn’s press conference scheduled for a Holiday Inn in Rosslyn, Virginia is still happening on Thursday. Unless Trumpism is humiliated out of existence Wohl and his cohorts will continue to multiply like a herd of Mogwai on a waterslide.