Roy Gutterman can’t stop watching “Shattered Glass,” the film based on the story of serial fabricator Stephen Glass.
It keeps popping up on HBO, and he finds himself transfixed every time.
“I can’t flip by without watching that movie for at least 10 or 15 minutes,” he said.
Gutterman is currently digging into the work of another serial fabricator: Paresh Jha, the former staff reporter for Hearst’s New Canaan News who was recently fired for fabricating quotes and sources in at least 27 articles.
Gutterman was given the task of investigating two Jha articles that recently won awards from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists. One of those articles has already been pulled offline by Jha’s former employer as a result of their internal findings that it included fabricated material.
But the New Canaan News has not published a full accounting of Jha fabrications; its sole comment on his offenses is a 152-word brief published on the paper’s website.
The CTSPJ appointed Gutterman after the board voted to launch its own investigation of the award-winning pieces. After he delivers his report, expected by the end of the month, the board will decide what to do about Jah’s awards.
Gutterman is a former journalist and a current associate professor and director of the Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications. This is not his first time investigating something of this nature, he told me.
As editor of the law review at his school he had to investigate a senior editor who had plagiarized a law review article.
I asked how he’s approaching the investigation of Jha.
“It’s vetting and fact checking and basically going through the stories and tracking everybody down, every fact, every statement and determining what was valid and what was invalid in the two stories,” Gutterman said. ”I’m being a reporter again.”
So far, he’s been unable to reach Jha to discuss the stories with the author.
“I’ve been having a little difficulty trying to track him down,” he said. “From what I was told, his cellphone was a company phone and was turned in or confiscated when he was fired, and the editors don’t seem to have any way of contacting him.”
Not long after being outed as a serial fabricator, Jha closed his Twitter account, and he appears to have recently deleted a Facebook profile. My attempts to contact him have also been unsuccessful.
“I was disappointed that nobody who was in close proximity with him at the office had a way to reach him,” Gutterman said.
The two Jha articles under investigation are a first-place piece from a first-place winning series about underage drinking, and a second place winner about the controversy that erupted over the removal of racial slurs from Mark Twain’s, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
The New Canaan News article about Jha’s awards is still online, without any update to note that the paper itself determined at least one of the stories included fabricated material.
Gutterman said his work so far suggests the Mark Twain story is legitimate. But the first place story, the one Hearst flagged as having fabrications, is of concern to him.
“As far as I can tell so far there seems to be only one person that doesn’t exist in the underage drinking story,” he said. “There are still a couple of people I want to confirm quotes with. But it looks like in that whole story there is one person that doesn’t exist — which is one too many.”
Gutterman said he’s perplexed by why Jha and other fabricators do what they do.
“It’s a vexing situation,” he said. “You gotta wonder why someone could go through those lengths with something that can be easily verified and corroborated, especially today.”
I asked if his investigation will be made public.