Stephen Glass, the Movie? One Rabid Journalist Hopes to Get the Fallen Journalist’s Story to the Big Screen

Reports of Stephen Glass: The Movie , may be somewhat premature. The National Journal reported recently that a California-based freelance writer named Paul Tullis had pitched the idea of a Glass-based movie to West Coast representatives of Miramax Films. A Miramax source confirmed to Off the Record that an informal meeting took place, but said that Mr. Tullis shouldn’t start spending his option money just yet. “He hasn’t negotiated a thing with Miramax, and Miramax is not in negotiations with Paul Tullis,” said an irritated source at the company.

If Mr. Tullis is at an impasse with his Glass movie, it’s not for lack of trying. Having worked hard at deflating the media and Hollywood from his perch as an editor at the now-defunct satirical magazine Might , Mr. Tullis recently threw irony to the wind and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in movie development. To subsidize his dream, he has been doing some freelance writing from time to time. He took an assignment from Brill’s Content to write about Mr. Glass for the magazine’s premiere issue and, perhaps seeing the Hollywood potential in the story, had the forethought to negotiate with Mr. Brill for the film rights to his assignment.

The Brill’s Content piece, which Mr. Tullis co-wrote with associate editor (and former Off the Record columnist) Lorne Manly, was a straight reported story on the fact-checking processes that failed to catch Mr. Glass’ many fabrications. After publication, Mr. Tullis ran the idea of a movie past “a friend of a friend” at Miramax, he said, who encouraged him to pursue the idea. Mr. Tullis had to work fast. His Content piece contained little of the biographical fodder Hollywood needs to make a movie, and an upcoming Vanity Fair story on Mr. Glass, by Friday Night Lights author William Bissinger, promises to be a more personal portrait.

To beat Vanity Fair , Mr. Tullis set out to secure the rights to Mr. Glass’ life story, and quick. He had friends contact the writer to see if he’d be interested. The request couldn’t have come at a worse time for Mr. Glass. On June 29, the California-based antidrug group D.A.R.E., or Drug Abuse Resistance Education, filed a $10 million libel suit against the writer for stories he wrote on the group in Rolling Stone and The New Republic . According to a source close to Mr. Glass, the writer said he wasn’t interested in cooperating with Hollywood, at least for the time being.

Mr. Tullis has not given up on the idea of pitching a Glass film, but, without the writer, he may have to substantially alter the story line. The aspiring movie mogul told Off the Record that he was dismayed by the attention his project was getting. “There was never a pitch meeting,” Mr. Tullis said. “We had a couple of phone calls and memos back and forth, and it’s not news.”

As Mr. Glass was being pursued by Mr. Tullis, Rolling Stone was wrapping up its assessment of Mr. Glass’ work for the magazine. As one might have guessed, the results weren’t pretty. Rolling Stone editor Robert Love issued the findings in a letter from the editor in the magazine’s Aug. 6 issue. Four short profiles Mr. Glass wrote for Rolling Stone “proved accurate,” he wrote. However, two longer pieces–an assessment of U.S. News & World Report ‘s college ranking system and Mr. Glass’ D.A.R.E. story–did not. “Unfortunately, we have concluded that these stories contain anonymous quotes and incidents that we know to be fabrications,” Mr. Love wrote, in what is becoming a familiar and woeful refrain by Mr. Glass’ editors.

Still, some magazines are hot for a piece by Mr. Glass. Esquire editor in chief David Granger confirmed that one of his editors spoke with Mr. Glass’ attorney about having Mr. Glass write for the magazine, but without luck. Mr. Granger said that Mr. Glass was being pursued for possible “Letter to” column in Esquire , not unlike the one conservative writer David Brock wrote in April. “It wasn’t a firm idea,” Mr. Granger said. “We’re just curious is all.”

The timing couldn’t be worse for House & Garden editor Dominique Browning. On the heels of Time Inc.-owned Fortune ‘s evisceration of her boss, Condé Nast president Steve Florio, Ms. Browning’s magazine has come out with a puffy photo spread featuring her friends, Time Inc. editor in chief Norman Pearlstine and his wife, the author Nancy Friday, lounging at Ms. Friday’s Key West summer place. The piece fawns over their dwelling (“The house, wrapped in a deep shady porch, is a whitewashed island all but engulfed by a rich green crawl of tropical vegetation”) and leads with a photograph of Mr. Pearlstine and Ms. Friday sitting on the back porch, living a life of comfort–no doubt in part because of the buzz Fortune has been getting out of articles that trash competitors like Condé Nast.

A Condé Nast spokesman said the photo spread was shot over three days in February, long before the Fortune piece was even assigned. Ms. Browning did not return calls for comment. But Mr. Pearlstine said, “I think it’s important to note that it’s Nancy’s house, and we try to maintain separate professional lives … I’ve always respected the editorial excellence of Condé Nast publications, and certainly nothing in the Fortune article has changed my opinion.”

Savvy publicists know that late summer is the time to pounce on the city’s newspapers. That’s when editors and reporters go on vacation and the skeleton crews left behind get desperate to fill the daily news hole. Recently, overtaxed crews at the Daily News and The New York Times reached the end of their editorial ropes and had to turn to book publicists for help.

First, on July 19, the Daily News treated its readers to an expansive spread devoted to Victoria Gotti and her new novel, I’ll Be Watching You . The News ‘ coverage of Ms. Gotti was ostensibly built around the paper’s serialization of her book, and while the tabloids often go to great lengths to promote coveted book excerpts, the News set a new standard: The editors put Ms. Gotti on the front page, posing stiffly and holding her book the same awkward way models from The Price Is Right present merchandise; a cover line shouted: “Blond Ambition: Gotti’s Daughter Has Another Tale to Tell … and We’re There.” And that’s not all. The paper ran an additional two-page profile of Ms. Gotti (and, of course, more photos) in the paper’s news slot.

Why such exhaustive coverage of the Victoria Gotti beat? Conspiracy theorists at the News maintain that the paper’s coverage of Ms. Gotti had less to do with the slow news cycle than with a series of coincidences that could form the subplot of a cheesy mafia novel. Ms. Gotti’s publisher, Crown Publishers, hosted a swell book party for her on July 14. But the following day, when Ms. Gotti should have been reaping her publicity rewards in the dailies, the News led with the story that Dominic (Big Dom) Borghese had struck a deal with the Federal Government to inform against Ms. Gotti’s brother, John Gotti Jr. (A witness at Ms. Gotti’s fete noted that as word of the next day’s News story spread, Ms. Gotti became agitated, and her party took on a decidedly more somber tone.) The theory goes that the front-page treatment of Ms. Gotti on July 19 was just an old-time payback for that inconveniently timed scoop about her brother.

Hilary Bass, Ms. Gotti’s publicist at Crown, said that both she and her author were taken aback by the enthusiastic coverage in the paper and added that she had no knowledge of an editorial payback. News editor in chief Debby Krenek did not return calls for comment.

Only a day after the News did its level best to promote Ms. Gotti’s book, The New York Times went to bat for a more sophisticated publishing entity: the Random Housed-owned Modern Library. Beneath the headline ” Ulysses at Top as Panel Picks 100 Best Novels,” The Times jumped on the millennial-list bandwagon to report on July 20 that an august panel of authors and scholars had put their heads together and come up with the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. The Modern Library, The Times eagerly reminded its readers, “has been publishing classic English-language literature at affordable prices since 1917.” The paper treated the story like a scoop, noting breathlessly that “the list is to be released on Friday at a workshop for young publishers known as the Radcliffe Publishing Course.”

Quicker than you could mutter “What fresh hell is this?” the Associated Press picked up on the “breaking” news; by midday, it was the lead story on the wire service’s hourly news summary. There was no shortage of controversy to report, of course. How, for example, did Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons beat out William Faulkner’s Absalom! Absalom! for No. 100?

The problem with the list, as The Times meekly noted in the ninth paragraph, is that nine of the 10 judges are Random House authors and–surprise!–their list reflected an institutional bias: 59 of the 100 titles are published by Random House or its new owner, Bertelsmann A.G. As Random House acknowledged, the panel was basically a gimmick to promote the Modern Library series, which the company bought and is trying to “grow,” as Random House editor in chief Ann Godoff put it.

Why did The Times play along? Deputy arts editor Martin Gottlieb said the paper had originally intended an even bigger story on the Modern Library list but had some misgivings because it was a “single company decision.” “I think it was pretty reasonable to say, if you’re dealing with Gore Vidal and that list, that [the] play was justified,” Mr. Gottlieb said.

William Styron, the only panelist who actually made the list ( Sophie’s Choice , No. 96), lamented that such millennial lists are “inevitable,” adding, “Lists are fine to bring attention to books in general, but the ratings don’t mean a lot.”

It’s Off the Record’s solemn duty to report great turmoil on the city’s media beat. Daily News media reporter Keith Kelly has been lured away by the New York Post to replace publishing and media columnist Michael Shain. Mr. Shain will become the editor of the Post ‘s television section. Current TV editor Adam Buckman, best known for his merciless coverage of the decline of David Letterman, will be writing a TV column. Mr. Kelly resigned from the News on July 20; as is the custom when a tabloid reporter leaves for a rival, he was told he wouldn’t be needed past that day’s deadline. Since the News has essentially ceded the media turf to the Post , Mr. Kelly is said to be eager to have editors who are more appreciative of his beat.

Over at The New York Times , Robin Pogrebin, the paper’s media reporter since late 1996, will be switching over to cover the theater business in September. Ms. Pogrebin has a longstanding interest in theater. Her coverage of the magazine world had recently been complicated by the fact that her sister, Abigail Pogrebin, left her producer’s post at 60 Minutes to join Steve Brill at Brill’s Content . (Ms. Pogrebin recused herself from covering the magazine.) Media editor David Smith, who’s been beefing up the paper’s media coverage over the last year, has not yet chosen a replacement.

At The Wall Street Journal , publishing beat writer G. Bruce Knecht is making a long-planned move to Hong Kong to cover Asia. Journal veteran Patrick Reilly will take over publishing and continue to cover the music business while Wendy Bounds, a 26-year-old fashion reporter for the paper, will take over his old print media beat. Finally, New York magazine has a new media columnist: Michael Wolff, author of the new media memoir Burn Rate , who will apparently be turning his attention to both “new and old media.”

You can reach Off the Record by e-mail at wstjohn@observer.com .

Stephen Glass, the Movie? One Rabid Journalist Hopes to Get the Fallen Journalist’s Story to the Big Screen