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Most journalists
are flagellants by nature. They prefer to apply the lash to outsiders, of course, but when one of their own violates the most basic tenets of the faith, they engage in a sort of ritual purification, full of thundering denunciations and psychoanalytic wailing. (Lest this sound overly flip, the flagellation is undoubtedly preferable to the alternative, which is to keep quiet and save the scourging for outside sinners.) This year, there has been a lot of bloodletting, as not only Stephen Glass but two writers at the Boston Globe were discovered to have fabricated stories. Glass's fall, however, was far and away the most dramatic -- and the most ripe for exegesis.
   Enough scribes have already attempted to divine the sources of his unravelling that further attempts are unnecessary. But since some of the theories offered are both plausible and fascinating, it's worth listing the more salient ones -- with counterarguments:
   Glass had wildly overextended himself -- not only was he on staff at The New Republic and was free-lancing for George, Rolling Stone, and Harpers; he was also an evening student at Georgetown Law School. So why didn't he cut out the free-lancing until he was out of law school, or take a leave of absence from The New Republic?
   He was under enormous pressure to succeed -- his parents had wanted him to become a doctor, and didn't believe he could make a real living at journalism. So are lots of people, especially those who have worked at the DP.
   He had a gift and a compulsion for mind games -- at Highland Park High School in suburban Chicago, he had participated in a theatrical program known as "Adventures of the Mind," designed to encourage fast, inventive thinking. So -- what about the other Adventurers? It's unlikely that they all took the lessons of that program so to heart.
   He became overly enamored of Literary Journalism -- and when he couldn't find the perfect character or quote or anecdote for his work, he simply made them up. Most ink-stained wretches try to write the most literate and liveliest story they can, and while they sometimes make mistakes of fact and judgment, they don't take that to mean they have carte blanche to invent.
   The current journalistic climate in America is so brutally competitive that only those who consistently dazzle and whose work sizzles with attitude and edge can really be successful. It can still be done honestly, and not every good magazine has an attitude addiction. But it's an interesting point. Dan Schiller, ASC'76, Gr'78, professor of communication at the University of California-San Diego and author of Objectivity and the News, questions why "the market-driven system of journalism itself escapes censure when individual journalists are the major targets of blame." Though Schiller argues that today's market-driven system is not the only one possible, he also says that it "goes without saying that any attempt to propose reforms that might challenge the ability of media owners to configure news any way they please is taken as an absolutely unacceptable infringement of press freedom itself."
   Glass was a manipulative, cold-blooded liar all along, or he became one. Most people who knew him in the DPdays scoff at the former; nobody really knows about the latter.
   "There are two basic lines of thought" among Glass's former colleagues, says former 34th Street editor Matt Selman, C'93, now a writer for The Simpsons. "Either he's evil, and he hid it, or he was kind of insane. He couldn't control it, like it was this crazy pathology. Some people think he was very Machiavellian about it. Some think his psyche was such that he just lost control. When you get right down to it, it's all kind of bullshit, a lot of just talking and talking and talking."
   "I firmly believe that he is not evil," says Ken Baer, C'94. "He's a good person and for whatever reason he did something really wrong. I hope he figures out why he did this and moves on."
   "I think a lot of people are still waiting for Steve to talk and explain what he did and what happened," says Peter Spiegel, C'92. "That's when we'll really know the insight behind the fabrications."
Back to page one of Through a Glass Darkly

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