Half Empty
A journalist's career is shattered.

BY JAMES TARANTO, Thursday, October 10, 2002

Earlier this week, the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz reported that director Billy Ray has finished shooting "Shattered Glass," a movie about Stephen Glass, a onetime writer for The New Republic whose journalistic career ended in 1998 when he was discovered to have fabricated all or part of 27 articles. Fittingly, Mr. Kurtz reports that the movie isn't entirely factual; one character is a "composite," another is fictional, a male TNR staffer "is reincarnated as a woman," and a scene involving Mr. Glass "is, shall we say, inferred." But really, if you're going to make stuff up, why not go all the way? Here's how Stephen Glass himself might have covered the Stephen Glass scandal.

From The New Republic, May 32, 1998:

John Paul Pope is agitated. "Teenage computer hackers! Naked evangelical Christians!" he shouts, his face turning beet red as he pounds the table in a conference suite at the Reston, Virginia, Days Inn. "Right-wing drug orgies! Monica Lewinsky condoms! The Association for the Advancement of Sound Water Policy! Lies! Lies! Lies!" Pope is working up quite a sweat. He is a short, stocky man with a round face, a thin mustache and thinner hair. He wears a brown, three-piece polyester suit and--the only external clue to his political orientation--a red armband bearing a black swastika.

I've come to the Days Inn to see Pope hold forth at one of the fortnightly meetings of the National Socialist Party USA, Northern Virginia chapter, which he serves as executive director. This afternoon his mind is on the same subject as everyone else's in the Washington area: the Stephen Glass scandal. "Alan Greenspan birthday parties! Paul Tsongas cults! The Committee to Restore the Presidency to Greatness! Six million Jews!" Pope thunders. "All the products of Stephen Glass's fertile imagination!"

After the meeting, I corner Pope as the five or so other attendees drift out. "I know Steve Glass made up a lot of stuff," I tell him, "but how can you claim he invented the Holocaust?" He taunts me: "You're supposed to be a reporter. Don't you have Nexis? Besides, I was on the Internet the other day, and I found a Web site dealing with the so-called Holocaust. Who do you suppose set that up?" It's a sign of how profoundly the Glass scandal has affected America--and of how quickly the mighty can fall. Two weeks ago, after all, Stephen Glass had the world at his feet as a rising star of Washington journalism. Today he is a trope for Holocaust deniers.

Back at The New Republic, they've dubbed the scandal "Glassterisk," the winning entry in a reader contest. "Glassterisk because he put us at risk," TNR editor Charles Lane tells me, "and because all his articles will forever have an asterisk by them." I ask Lane how serious the scandal is. "Glassterisk is big," he says. "Bigger than Bimbroglio. Bigger than Iranamok. Almost as big, even, as--what was the name of that Nixon scandal again? Oh yeah, Tapeworm. Off the record, this could bring down the Gore administration."

I can't believe what I've just heard. "Really?" I ask. "Bring down the Gore administration?" Lane is emphatic: "Never! Al Gore is the greatest president of this century. This will only make him stronger."

Hoping to steer the conversation back to the matter at hand, I ask Lane how Glass managed to get away for so long with publishing phony stories. "I must admit, some of his articles made me suspicious," Lane says. "I asked him on several occasions, 'Steve, is this really true?' He just smiled and answered: 'Truth is stranger than fiction.' That made sense, so I thought nothing more of it."

These are difficult times for TNR. Lane tells me that in addition to the fallout from Glassterisk, he is investigating allegations that associate editor Ruth Shalit used passages from several novels in her work without attribution, and that Lane's predecessor, Michael Kelly, fired last year for writing articles critical of Al Gore, has continued to do so. I point out that Michael Kelly no longer works for TNR. "That's no excuse," says Lane. "There are some things you just don't do."

Yet while Glass's name may be mud among neo-Nazis and neoliberals, he does have his supporters. In a nondescript Henderson, Nevada, strip mall, I visit the House of Glass, a storefront shrine to the disgraced reporter, lovingly tended by a small group of followers who believe he is the son of God. Inside, the shelves are filled with idols in the form of all variety of glasses--tumblers, goblets, snifters, even eyeglasses. The walls are covered with pictures of Glass--Stephen to his followers.

"We're an ecumenical group," explains Maude Lin, the House of Glass's Western States regional director. "We've got Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, naked evangelicals, all united in the belief that Stephen is the second coming of the Messiah. We even have a couple of Jews who think he's the first."

I ask Lin if she isn't troubled by Glass's having fabricated stories. "Not at all," she says. "When God created the world, people didn't say He was wrong for 'fabricating' it. God brought us the good news through the Bible, and Stephen works through magazine articles. Like Jesus--"

At that moment we are interrupted by a woman of about 35 who has walked into the House of Glass. "How much for these wine glasses?" she asks. Lin gives the woman a stern look. "They're not for sale." As the woman slinks out, Lin continues: "Like Jesus, Stephen died on the cross." I tell her I assume she's speaking metaphorically, referring to his getting fired. "No," she says firmly. "He literally died on the cross." How does she know? "Stephen said so."

Next article: Just What the Doctor Ordered (11/25/02)

Previous article: The New Red Scare (8/14/02)

Go to main list