Through a Glass Darkly (continued)
Dr. Sheldon Hackney, Hon'93, who returned to
Penn last year as a professor of history after four years at the helm
of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is not particularly eager
to revisit that confluence of events and people. But he has obviously
thought about it a good deal, and when he finally agrees to talk, he does
so thoughtfully and at some length. (At the end of the interview he also
tells me, quite cordially, that he hopes this article never runs.)
"Journalists are basically telling a story,"
he says, sitting in his sunny office in the history department's temporary
warren at 3401 Walnut St. "They're not just telling you what happened.
They're arranging those facts and trying to fit them into a story that
is recognizable by the public, and it's a story that has conflict and
good guys and bad guys -- a narrative, if you will. And if the narrative
doesn't exist, then you have to sort of suggest one, and you rearrange
things so that there are narrative elements to it. Otherwise it really
isn't very interesting.
"What Glass was good at, of course, was finding
those quotations and human beings who somehow embodied the meaning of
the story, who carried the narrative impact of the story. And he was rewarded
for that -- quite handsomely. Since the rewards are so great, and people
pat you on the back and say, 'That's a great piece,' the temptations for
making sure the next piece is just as good or better must be tremendous."
He smiles; a smile of many meanings. "This is an understanding of
the press that I achieved through hard knocks," he adds.
"Now, he didn't invent the Water Buffalo incident.
He didn't invent the theft of the newspapers. But his coverage I remember
as being really over the top. That clearly was shaped by him, and in inventive
ways, to portray the story that he wanted to portray. Which was the story,
I think, of the DP as the defender of moral virtue and free speech
being oppressed by the storm troopers of thought-control, epitomized by
the president of the University. So every time there is a chance to shape
the coloration of the story in that direction by inventing quotations
or changing them a bit, and in the way the story was played -- I wouldn't
be surprised if he was doing that."
Just recently, he mentions, he and Linda Hyatt, a former
senior member of his staff, had been reminiscing about Glass and his coverage
of those incidents. "She remembers his quoting me on occasion, and
she would ask me why I said what I did, and I didn't have any remembrance
of even talking to Stephen Glass. So it sounds as if he was embroidering."
This is strong stuff, though it hardly constitutes a
smoking gun. I call Hyatt, now president of the Landmark Foundation in
"I can't remember specific quotes," she acknowledges,
"but I can certainly remember saying to Sheldon, 'Did you say that?'
And he said to me, 'No, I didn't say that.' Well, no one in the office
said it. Where is this stuff coming from? We were quite puzzled by it.
And there were a lot of incidents when I called Steve and asked about
these stories when quotes appeared attributed to Sheldon, and he didn't
return my phone calls."
No one denies that both free speech and diversity
are fundamental values to the University's academic mission. But in his
so-called effort to "balance" the two ideals, Hackney has betrayed
When it comes to values, Dr. Hackney, there can be no
I have had less than 17 hours of sleep in the past four
days. In the same half-week, I have logged over 50 hours of phone time
with the media, attorneys, civil rights groups, and our readers. And I
have spent almost that amount of time arguing with University administrators
who perpetuate Hackney's unjust compromise of values.
In the past four days, I have been betrayed -- and so
-- From Hackney's betrayal,
op-ed piece by Stephen Glass in the April 20, 1993, Daily Pennsylvanian.
This one is not a fabrication. Depending on
your viewpoint, it is either an impassioned and eloquent defense of free
speech under assault by would-be censors or a biased, self-righteous attack
on a free-speech defender who was trying to keep an already tense campus
calm. Glass wrote it several days after a group of students who came to
call themselves "The Working Committee of Concerned Black and Latino
Students" seized virtually the entire press run of the DP and
deposited it into dumpsters. They were, they said, protesting the "blatant
and covert racism" at Penn and, especially, in the DP. Not
surprisingly, Glass was furious. In his opinion, which arguably helped
shape the national debate, Hackney had not condemned the protesters strongly
"One thing if I could do it over again is to write
the statement that I released a bit stronger and more clearly," says
Hackney. "But it does say, the famous sentence, 'Here we have two
University values in conflict, open expression and tolerance,' something
to that effect. That's what The Wall Street Journal picks up, and
says, 'Here's this namby-pamby president who says, "We have two values
in conflict."' Well, the very next sentence in that statement says,
'At a university, it's clear which value must take precedence. It's open
expression.' Well, they never mentioned that. So there -- I've always
wondered why -- I think Stephen Glass and the DP had a role in
reinforcing that version of the story."
Actually, what the statement said was: "There can
be no compromise regarding the First Amendment right of an independent
publication to express whatever views it chooses," followed by: "At
the same time, there can be no ignoring the pain that expression may cause."
And in the same April 20 Almanac in which that statement appeared,
Hackney added: "Though I understand that those involved in last
week's protest against the DP may have thought they were exercising
their own rights of free expression, I want to make it clear that neither
I nor the University of Pennsylvania condone the confiscation of issues
of The Daily Pennsylvanian." Right below that, Hackney had
pointed out that the University policy he had promulgated in 1989 specifically
banned such actions and warned that "members of the University community
who are responsible for confiscating publications should expect to be
Glass and the DP were not assuaged.
"I've always wondered why they did not take the
other option open to them," says Hackney, "which was to say,
'We won! The president is for it, free speech is upheld, we're victorious,
let's get on with it.' But they didn't. They chose instead to go with,
to reinforce what I think is an erroneous right-wing picture of the University
of being totally under the control of left-wing radicals who have no respect
for truth, who don't even believe it exists, who think that their job
is to indoctrinate students rather than teach the truth and to enable
students to learn."
Most members of the DP felt that Glass not only
reacted appropriately to what they saw as a blatant attempt at censorship
but that he handled the high-pressure situation with poise. "Steve
really distinguished himself as a true leader," says Rubin. "The
rest of us were basically in a panic -- when we found out that the entire
press run had been stolen and thrown away, we felt like we were under
attack, and we didn't understand the reasons why. Steve originally thought
the people who had done it should be prosecuted and all the other stuff,
but then he cooled down and he calmed everybody else down. And he had
a little talk with [editorial-page editor] Kenny Baer, and he said, 'Everything's
got to come through me; we can't have everybody else talking; I'll be
the spokesman.' Whenever he was quoted in all these different magazines,
whatever he'd say, he could talk in sound bites. He knew exactly how to
handle the situation -- he knew people really well."
Well, most of the time. On Alumni Day that year, he
did make the mistake of trying to hand a copy of the DP's annual
graduation issue to Alvin Shoemaker, W'60, Hon'95, then chairman
of Penn's board of trustees. The issue recapped the year's leading stories
-- including the Water Buffalo incident, the theft of the DP's, and
a number of other not-so-rosy incidents, none of which reflected particularly
well on the University. Shoemaker, who was trying to raise money for various
projects and found the paper's coverage infuriatingly one-sided, told
Glass in very blunt language just where he could stick his newspaper.
No need to ask "Are you mad at me?" this time.
Marcotti was one member of the DP staff who thought
Glass had blown the DP-theft story out of proportion. "I disagreed
with him deeply on that issue, on the confrontational tone," he says.
"I still believed that the [trashing of the papers] was a form of
free expression, not censorship. This did not endear me to the DP mainstream."
But some months later, he had dinner with Glass, whose
term was soon to expire. They ended up talking about free speech and the
trashing of the newspapers until the small hours of the morning. "This
is one of the reasons why I genuinely liked the guy -- and still do, in
spite of everything -- because he took all this time to try to persuade
me to his point of view, and he had no reason to. Even situations where
I disagreed with him, I would come out of talking with him, while maintaining
my viewpoint, recharged. He was so charismatic and energetic. And I would
go and I'd work my ass off for the DP. He really was a natural
leader, and he had this power to really inspire people to go above and
beyond what they would normally do. Even people who shared nothing with
him in terms of goals and ideas."
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