Through a Glass Darkly (continued)
Buzz Bissinger wonders how deeply Glass really believed
in his free-speech rhetoric. "It seems to me that those are values
that, if you believe in them, you believe in them your whole life. You
don't turn them on; you don't turn them off. Certainly, later in his life,
Stephen had no problem turning off the values of truth. So you have to
wonder how much did he really, really believe in it when he was in college
-- or to what degree did he think, 'Hey, this is a way to get some fame
for myself'? You know, a lot of people around the country had heard of
him. George Will was writing about him, and Nat Hentoff was writing about
him. I mean, a lot of big names were writing about him. And I'm sure it
made him feel good.
"I don't want to insult anyone who writes for a
college newspaper," Bissinger adds, "but a college newspaper
is not a reflection of anything. And I'm saying that as someone
who worked at The Daily Pennsylvanian, and it was a wonderful sort
of seminal experience -- but it's not the same."
Which leads to the inevitable question of how Glass,
with such limited real-world experience as a journalist under his belt,
got to such a lofty position by the age of 24.
"I've spent 20 years as a journalist," says
Bissinger, "and I've spent those years in places that were not very
sexy, like Norfolk, Virginia or St. Paul, Minnesota. But they taught me
a hell of a lot about journalism. Regardless of how good or how bad a
reporter or journalist Stephen was, how did he get to this level so quickly?
When I was 24 or 25 years old, I was covering cops. And I'm glad that
I did it, because Stephen never knew what it was like for someone to get
in his face and say, 'You know what, that story was wrong, that story
was inaccurate.' When you work at a relatively small newspaper, if you
print one fact wrong, they are all over you, and they are all over your
editor. It's an incredibly unpleasant experience, and for no other reason,
you never want to go through it again."
It was "Hack Heaven" -- a story about a bratty
teenage computer hacker who was blackmailing software companies that appeared
in the May 18, 1998, New Republic -- which led to Glass's unmasking
as a writer of fiction posing as a journalist. (And not a very good fiction-writer,
either; the dialogue in that piece is ludicrous.) The former fact-checker
was exposed by an online journalist from Forbes Digital Tool named
Adam Penenberg, who couldn't figure out why he had never heard of "Jukt
Micronics" and why Jukt's Web site (which featured a "rebuttal"
of "Hack Heaven") was so blatantly amateurish.
"I am sure Glass would have been caught eventually,"
says Penenberg. "Usually when Glass faked a piece, he would use first
names, or rely on anonymous sources and fabricated notes to fool editors
and fact-checkers. But with 'Hack Heaven,' perhaps we were seeing the
beginning of the end. He actually provided first and last names, a government
agency and a law, a convention he wrote had occurred in Bethesda, Md.
He was becoming careless. Perhaps he wanted to get caught."
Postscript: Last month, the DP's
Alumni Association board met in Steinberg Hall-Dietrich Hall before its
annual Steven A. Marquez Journalism Conference, put on by alumni to help
teach and inspire current members of the DP staff. (It was named
after the late DP and Philadelphia Daily News reporter who
graduated from the College in 1979). One of the items on the agenda concerned
board member Stephen Glass. Members who miss three board meetings are
history anyway, but although Glass had already missed the last two and
was unlikely to attend any more, the matter had to be addressed. "There
was no discussion," said board president Ira Apfel, C'90,
in a terse e-mail, "because there was nothing to discuss. I simply
said that Stephen Glass has now missed three board meetings, board by-laws
state that any board member who misses three consecutive meetings in a
row is automatically removed from the board, next agenda item."
And so, with no fanfare, a chapter that had begun so
brilliantly some eight years before came to a close. It was hard to believe
that only last year, one of the Marquez Conference panel discussions focused
on editorial judgment -- and that one of the five panelists was Stephen
November/December Contents | Gazette
Copyright 1998 The Pennsylvania
Gazette Last modified 10/28/98