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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 June, 2004, 08:42 GMT 09:42 UK
From online to on screen exposure
The Iranian journalist who exposed New Republic writer Stephen Glass as a fraud in a breakthrough for online journalism has told the BBC of the "daunting task" of being portrayed in the film Shattered Glass.

The Forbes team in Shattered Glass, with Kambiz Foroohar (Cas Anvar) centre
The Forbes team's investigation was a watershed in internet journalism
Kambiz Foroohar was a technology writer at Forbes' online magazine in 1998 when his team read Mr Glass's story about a 16-year-old hacker who had broken into a software company, Jukt Micronics, and had held them for ransom. The story went on to claim that Jukt had employed the hacker.

Forbes, fearing they had been scooped, began looking into the story, and soon began to question it. Shattered Glass shows what happened over the next few days.

"I thought this story was so amazingly bizarre that something wasn't quite right," Mr Foroohar told BBC World Service's The Ticket programme.

"So we thought we'd look into it. And the more we looked, the less it became true."

The Forbes editors initially told The New Republic's editor, Charles Lane, that they were having trouble confirming a single fact. The film describes how Mr Glass's story unravels as the Forbes team - and Mr Lane - investigate it further.

Once it became clear Mr Glass made up his hackers piece, further investigations find that of his 41 New Republic stories, 27 were fabricated in some way.

The whole story was picked up by Tom Cruise, who executive produced the film.

Conversation games

Forbes' exposure of Mr Glass was hailed as a breakthrough for online journalism, both because the story broke online and because their investigation centred around extended use of the internet - in particular, the search for Jukt Micronics, which in fact did not exist.

Even so, Mr Glass went to the trouble of creating a web page for the company, but it was such an obvious fake that it virtually proved he was lying.

I was very concerned that they were going to turn me into a blonde, female character. Anyone who's seen me knows that I'm nothing like that
Kambiz Foroohar
In one of the film's key scenes, Mr Foroohar is shown talking to Mr Lane about the story he is about to break.

He is shown asking Mr Lane the question; "Given everything that's happened, how strongly are you going to stand behind the story?"

Mr Foroohar recalled that when the conversation took place, in May 1998, there were a number of "games" going on within it.

"He was asking us to delay publication," he said.

"I was trying to get him to admit whether or not he'd lost faith in his reporter."

While the film leaves the question of why Mr Glass fabricated his stories unanswered, it does explain how he managed to sneak such fiction past the New Republic's rigorous fact-checking system.

When asked for proof, he created memos, business cards, and companies. Phone numbers would go to an answer machine, usually that of his brother, who would then call back, pretending to be whoever had been asked for.

But Mr Foroohar also said that Glass had been able to get away with it so long simply because he was so popular at the New Republic, something brought out well in Hayden Christensen's performance as Glass.

"His friendship with a number of people helped him get by," he said.

The Glass case was the first of a string of exposures of journalists fabricating their stories.

Last year the New York Times' Jayson Blair was fired after being exposed as having either plagiarised or fabricated a number of stories. The newspaper's top two editors quit as a result.

And in January this year, USA Today's Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist Jack Kelley resigned after admitting to misleading editors. The paper later said he had made up substantial elements of a number of stories, including eyewitness accounts of suicide bombings.

'Realms of reality'

Mr Foroohar said that in general American journalism took itself very seriously, which was why these stories provoked such a scandal.

Jack Kelley
Jack Kelley was exposed as having made up stories earlier this year
"I think that's the whole basis for the movie - that for journalists in America to make up a story is a serious breach of the confidence that exists between the readers and the publishers," he said.

And he added that as the film was about journalistic ethics, he had felt it important that it stayed within "the realms of reality."

He added he had initially feared that "for demographic reasons" the producers would change his physical appearance.

"I was very concerned that they were going to turn me into a blonde, female character," he said.

"Anyone who's seen me knows that I'm nothing like that."

In the end, Mr Foroohar employed a lawyer to ensure the actor was of a physical likeness, and said he got a "good deal" when the role was taken by Shakespeare veteran Cas Anvar.

He also admitted he had felt nervous the first time he had watched the film.

"You're thinking, 'oh my God, how am I going to be portrayed'," he said.

"It's a very daunting task."


SEE ALSO:
US reporter faked major stories
19 Mar 04 |  Americas
US reporter 'lied to readers'
11 May 03 |  Americas


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