A Question of Ethics

In the movie Shattered Glass, the editor Charles “Chuck” Lane is a new editor for the The New Republic, a newspaper reporting articles on politics and entertainment. Chuck is notified by a rival online newspaper that his rising star reporter, Stephen Glass, has published a story and the facts don’t add up. Chuck is then forced to double check Glass’ work and finds that over half of the articles Glass has published were completely fabricated.

Chuck Lane was the most ethical character in the movie because he did not just ignore the problem or try to defend Glass without checking out the facts himself. He also gave Glass multiple opportunities to prove his truthfulness but each time they fell flat. Lane was also faced with reporting to the rest of the journalists that Glass was a fraud. This was difficult, however, since Glass had spent the last several years building up a reputation of being an innocent sweetheart that knew what everyone liked and never forgot an important fact about his co-workers. Glass’ gift of persuasion blinded the whole office to what he was actually doing. That alone is impressive!

Editors in the publishing world come across instances of plagiarism and  fabrication all the time in their careers. Sometimes it is much harder to catch than others because a journalist’s reputation could have so much credibility that no one is willing to blow the whistle on them, as in Glass’ case.

Here are some ways that editors and publishers can use to detect instances of fraud and plagiarism in the publishing world:

1.) Does the story sound too good to be true? This should automatically draw a red flag. You’re writer has pitched a story that seems so entertaining and improbable that you just love it. But before you get carried away, check behind them to see if the facts match up. If you don’t, someone else will.

2.) Is the writer writing in the past or present tense? According to Fraud Magazine, writers tend to write in the past-tense when talking about an event that they were a part of instead in the present, describing the scene first-hand.

3.) Am I taking their word just because they have a good reputation at the company? Even the most esteemed writers can fabricate and plagiarize. Marie-Louise Gumuchian from CNN was fired for repeated plagiarism offenses and the real Stephen Glass of the New Republis did actually fabricate 27 of his 41 pieces published at The New Republic. Just because they seem credible, doesn’t mean they are.

In most cases, no matter how likable, credible, or seemingly harmless your writer is, it never hurts to double check their work. It could save the company and the editor a lot of headache and bad publicity. Chuck lane did the right thing by checking not only the one article in question, but all of Stephen Glass’ articles. In the end, it turned out better for the newspaper by finding and admitting their mistake instead of continuing their own trust in their fellow writer.