New Republic Turns Journalism Lemons

The question that everyone was asking leading up to the release of Shattered Glass , the Billy Ray journo-drama on the rise and fall of New Republic reporter Stephen Glass, was whether Mr. Glass would profit from the film.

He didn’t.

Mr. Glass’ novel, The Fabulist , a light fictionalization of his heavy fictionalizing tendencies at the self-proclaimed “inflight magazine of Air Force One,” has hardly been a chart-topper. And he certainly didn’t endear himself to his audiences via his Hayden Christensen alter ego in the film-we are mad at you, Steve!

But The New Republic has fallen into the public’s warm, fuzzy embrace. And the money’s good, too.

The New Republic ‘s five-year-old sin-in the movie’s version of the events, TNR editor Chuck Lane calls the magazine’s publication of Stephen Glass’ dozens of fabricated stories “indefensible”-has given them this week’s cover star, as well as a ton of advertising for the movie.

Print editions of the Nov. 10 issue of TNR feature the mug of the real Mr. Glass with the header “Bad Press: What the Media Can Learn From Stephen Glass and What It Can’t.”

As recently as Monday, Nov. 3on the TNR Web site, images of the real Stephen Glass and advertisements for the movie featuring the prettified Hayden Christensen version of him winked at each other from opposite ends of the screen, like Norm Macdonald retiring his Bob Dole character on Saturday Night Live while the real Bob Dole, standing beside him, beamed with an odd mixture of relief and self-importance.

There’s been a class field trip, recorded by David Carr in The New York Times , in which magazine staffers went out to watch the film before coming back to spend “some hours around the water cooler debating the finer points.” There’s been a New Republic –sponsored screening of the film, complete with Q&A. And some lucky staffers who were there when the drama unfolded got paid consulting gigs on the film.

New Republic editor Peter Beinart said his use of Stephen Glass as the TNR cover boy was a pre-emptive measure of sorts.

“We knew that because of the movie, there would be a lot of attention to the media and a lot of questions directed at us,” Mr. Beinart said. “It seemed to us that if there were all these questions about the media with us at the center of it anyway, rather than talk to a lot of reporters, why not write an article? That’s what we do. And if we were going to do an article, why not put Steve’s photo on the cover, given it’s him conjuring up this debate anyhow?

“Of course it’s a terrible moment in the magazine’s history,” Mr. Beinart said. “It was one of the absolute low points. But it was also a terrible thing that the leadership of the magazine-not me, but Chuck Lane-handled very well. The movie’s pretty good in keeping true to events, and that’s what led us to be associated with it.”

Writing in The New York Times on the day of the movie’s release, film reviewer A.O. Scott offered a rave for the movie, with a caveat.

“The only false note comes near the end,” Mr. Scott wrote, “when the magazine’s moment of shame is rather too eagerly transformed into an occasion for self-congratulation.”

That note is ringing truer at The New Republic in the days since the film’s release.

“When was the last time a story like this happened?” said TNR editor in chief Martin Peretz, who doesn’t come out of the film smelling like roses but seemed willing to take one for the team. “Are we going to get 15,000 subscribers from it? No. Will some people hear about the magazine who hadn’t before? Yes. Will it rekindle some people’s interest in it? Hundreds. Small thousands? The magazine comes out looking pretty good.”

And, he said, they deserve it.

“When we realized what happened [with Mr. Glass’ fabricated stories], we didn’t delay,” Mr. Peretz said. “We didn’t equivocate. We fired him when we found out what he did and then detailed everything he had done. The magazine, given what happened, came out looking very good. What’s wrong with that?”

If you’ve seen the movie, you know just how much help they had “finding out” about Stephen Glass. Because it was at Forbes -in the editorial offices of the company’s Web venture, then called Forbes Digital Tool -that a few Yahoo searches raised questions about the veracity of Mr. Glass’ piece, “Hack Heaven,” about a pubescent hacker who landed a million-dollar consulting gig with “software giant” Jukt Micronics after hacking into the company’s Web site.

Forbes comes out looking pretty good, too-and to Adam Penenberg, the Forbes reporter who broke the story, Shattered Glass has been a missed opportunity for his alma mater.

“You have to ask why Forbes is missing this really great opportunity to promote their role in breaking this story,” Mr. Penenberg said when contacted by Off the Record. “It’s really kind of bad. Here we had done something that was part of Internet history, and the magazine can’t capitalize on that. And that’s absurd.”

To date, the company’s only dealings with Shattered Glass , according to Forbes spokeswoman Monie Begley, was to correct a minor error in the press materials.

“As far as promoting it,” Ms. Begley said, “we’ve nothing to do with it. But I hear it’s a good movie.”

If TNR ‘s break with Stephen Glass was apocalyptic, Forbes ‘ split with Mr. Penenberg was not without acrimony, either. A freelance writer for most of his life, Mr. Penenberg came to Forbes at the age of 36 in May 1997, where he covered the murky world of cyber crime. Following what he has claimed was a barrage of job offers from other publications after his role in the Glass saga, Mr. Penenberg accepted an offer from legendary Forbes editor Jim Michaels, who brought him to the print side with the words: “Write the kind of stories you get. We need to sell magazines.”

One such story-a 1998 piece that detailed how two cyberhackers were able to hack into The New York Times ‘ Web site and keep it down for eight hours-drew the attention of federal prosecutors, who threatened him with a subpoena to testify before a grand jury in 2000. After legal counsel for Forbes made an arrangement for Mr. Penenberg to appear and verify the accuracy of his story, though without giving up his protected sources, Mr. Penenberg refused on the advice of his own attorney. The attorney and others told Mr. Penenberg that once he took the stand, he’d open himself to other kinds of questions. Mr. Penenberg, citing the magazine’s refusal to support him, loudly stormed off his post in July 2000.

Since then, he’s written Spooked: Espionage in Corporate America and the forthcoming Tragic Indifference: One Man’s Battle with the Auto Industry Over the Dangers of SUVs -the latter of which, he said, includes only on-the-record sources.

Asked whether the circumstances of Mr. Penenberg’s bolt had anything to do with Forbes’ lack of interest in Shattered Glass , Ms. Begley said, “Oh God, no.” Michael Noer, Forbes.com’s executive editor for news, called it a “totally separate issue.” If, he said, either Mr. Penenberg or Kambiz Faroohar-the editor who worked on the piece with him-were still on staff, “I’d ask them to write something. But they’re not.”

Failing that, the movie’s second-string heroes-because the real hero in the movie is The New Republic -didn’t have much to work with.

“We don’t do movie reviews,” Mr. Noer said. “This is a business-news site; we’re a daily business-news publication. The integrity of the Forbes brand is portrayed well in the story. You can still find the original stories on it on our site, and that’s frankly about all we’re going to do. I think people reviewing the movie have been honest about it and are giving Forbes proper credit.

“People read about this, and they associate Forbes . We’d rather come across as a hard-hitting online publication than run a headline on a daily-news site highlighting a story from five years ago. The New Republic doesn’t have much else to say for itself.”

Of course, getting buzz out of the movie is only one potential benefit. TNR found in the producers of Shattered Glass a ready source of advertising dollars. It’s not just a matter of the two publications’ differing approaches. Asked whether anyone had tried to place ads for the movie in Forbes , Ms. Begley said they hadn’t; they’d bought their ads in TNR .

“As publisher of a magazine, I didn’t see a conflict of interest. Obviously, they thought we were a good target, and I was happy to have their business,” said TNR president and publisher Stephanie Sandberg. “It’s natural that many of the people who see the Web site are the same people who will see the movie. It makes sense to accept that business. We’re in the business of being economically viable as well.”

Now a special report from Observer cultural correspondent Rachel Donadio:

Hell hath no fury like a scientist denied the Nobel Prize. Dr. Raymond Damadian, the Long Island–based M.R.I. pioneer, is charging ahead with his war against the Swedes-the one he launched through full-page advertisements in The New York Times and elsewhere.

In “A personal letter to my fellow medical doctors about this shameful wrong,” which ran on Page A9 of Monday’s Times , Dr. Damadian argued that it was “outrageously unjust” for the “clubhouse of Nobel insiders” to award this year’s prize in medicine to Paul C. Lauterbur and Sir Peter Mansfield, academic scientists whose work, he said, builds on his original discovery: that magnetic resonance imagery could have medical applications.

While history shows that the Nobel Committee has passed over other deserving scientists-think of Albert Schatz, who as a graduate student discovered the antibiotic streptomycin, only to see the director of his lab, Selman Waksman, win the Nobel Prize for its discovery-Dr. Damadian seems to be the first to have resorted to an all-out media battle.

Monday’s ad was the latest stage in what is adding up to be a very expensive campaign. The full-page ad-Dr. Damadian’s third in The Times in the past month-cost $139,608, calculated at the weekday rate of $1,108 per column inch for what the paper defines as a “cause and appeal/political” ad. That’s more than double the weekday rate for national retail ads, at $482 per column inch.

Are these rates based on the paper’s desire to set the bar high in order to fend off angry scientists with lesser means from taking out ads? Not according to The Times ‘ spokeswoman, Catherine Mathis. She said the rates were based on “market factors.” In other words, the paper knows it can get big bucks from people with axes to grind and the means to grind them in public. Ms. Mathis said that Dr. Damadian’s ads met the guidelines of the paper’s advertising acceptability manual. “We accept opinion ads regardless of our own editorial positions on any given subject,” she said.

Last month, Dr. Damadian also took out full-page ads in The Washington Post , the Los Angeles Times and the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter . So just how much has he spent? Dr. Damadian wouldn’t say. “That’s not the point,” he said, speaking by phone from the Long Island office of the Fonar Corporation, the publicly traded M.R.I. manufacturer he founded in 1978. The point, he said, is to fight for “more truth and honor in the sciences.”

Dr. Damadian, who has been a Nobel candidate in the past and who patented the first M.R.I., said he paid for the ads with his own money and with funds from Friends of Raymond Damadian, a committee set up to further his cause. “Shareholders just want to be sure the company’s not paying for them,” he said. The company has had better luck in the courts: Dr. Damadian said he collected $128.7 million from General Electric in the 1990’s following court rulings in favor of his M.R.I. patent.

(For the record, Dr. Damadian also said that he had become a creationist in recent years, after finding scant evidence “that mankind originated from a slime mold that, give or take a million years, stood up out of the ocean and began to give lectures.”)

His crusade has also won him actual coverage in The Wall Street Journal , The Baltimore Sun and Newsday.

So what comes next in the Nobel crusade? “It’s kind of a day-to-day,” Dr. Damadian said. “We don’ t know.”

For all his efforts, Dr. Damadian doesn’t seem to have gotten a rise out of the Swedes. “We thought it was a very drastic reaction,” said Bo Angelin, the chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine. But was it worth the expense? “It’s a lot of money,” Mr. Angelin said. “It would be difficult to feel he would get very much effect out of it.”

Except, of course, for a voice in the conversation-and a much higher Nexis profile.

An 18-year-old named LeBron James has everyone a little dreamy these days, including The New York Times .

On Oct. 31, following the second straight stellar performance by the high-school hoopster turned N.B.A. superlad and Cleveland Cavalier, The New York Times -in a break from all that is holy-transformed the front of its sports section into a giant movie poster with laudatory shout-outs in different colors and sizes of type from the likes of Larry Bird (“He’s the best talent I’ve seen come out in years”) scattered across the top of the page.

While such a display would hardly gain notice in the pages of, say, Esquire , seeing it in the post-Howell Times was a little like watching Murder She Wrote ‘s Angela Lansbury do a turn as the angst-ridden sophomore on The O.C.

“We dared to have fun,” Times sports editor Tom Jolly explained. “We approached the story with a degree of skepticism and expected after his performance on Thursday to find quite a bit of skeptical voices with cautionary tales, and instead found quite the opposite-as you saw from Larry Bird.”

Mr. Jolly said the resulting design was the result of a brainstorm between himself and the art director, when the latter viewed some of the comments and thought they were akin to the hyperventilating pull-quotes in movie ads.

Asked whether he took into consideration The Time ‘s newly enforced font code-which standardized all headline fonts while eliminating the myriad different typefaces that used to come before Times stories-before making such a dramatic decision, Mr. Jolly said, “No, I didn’t. But I know we used virtually every one of them that was available.”