Through a Glass Dardly (continued)
"I feel very badly for him," adds Kaplan,
who had tried to hire Glass on more than one occasion. "I hate to
see somebody go through that kind of breakdown. My first thought is still,
'What a horrible waste.' As angry as I am, and as betrayed as I feel,
my primary response is still one of great sympathy. That such a talented
guy is going to fall by the wayside."
Not everyone responds with such compassion. For Bissinger,
the more he dug into the story, the angrier he became.
"Whatever the reason, it suggests the complete
absence of any moral center whatsoever," he says with palpable disdain.
"In the end, Stephen screwed everybody -- his closest friends, people
who helped him, people who liked him. He dishonored Penn, he dishonored
The Daily Pennsylvanian, he dishonored The New Republic.
He did a tremendous amount of damage to journalism. But maybe in a way
that's good, because I think he tore the lid off a lot of the problems
that are in the journalism profession. This whole blurring of what's real
and what's imagined."
On the fourth floor of Washington's Omni Shoreham
Hotel, eight young men sit facing each other on the edge of a pair of
beds. They are all 20 or 21 and are enrolled in Midwestern colleges ...
The minibar is open and empty little bottles of booze are scattered on
the carpet. On the bed, a Gideon Bible, used earlier in the night to resolve
an argument, is open to Exodus ... The young men pass around a joint,
counterclockwise. "I'm telling you, I'm telling you, we don't know
what we're doing," says Jason, a brown-haired freckled boy from Iowa,
between puffs. "We've got no mission. We've got no direction. Conservatives
-- we're like a guy who has to pee lost in the desert, searching for a
tree." The other seven young men nod and mumble in agreement ...
This is the face of young conservativism in 1997: pissed
off and pissed: dejected, depressed, drunk and dumb ...
-- From "Spring Breakdown,"
by Stephen Glass, in the March 31, 1997, New Republic.
Dr. Alan Charles Kors, professor of history, recalls
reading that piece with some misgivings. A conservative libertarian himself,
he had been sufficiently impressed by Glass during his days as editor
of the DP to recommend him for his first job at the Heritage Foundation's
Policy Review, even though the Heritage Foundation is a
conservative institution and Glass was, on many issues, a liberal. But
Kors put his doubts aside. "I said to myself, 'Yeah, but it's Stephen
who wrote it, so it must have happened that way.'"
After the article appeared, an old DP colleague,
Gabriele Marcotti, C'95, called Glass in Washington to talk about
it. "One of the things that struck me at the time," says Marcotti,
"was how he got very excited about it. He regaled me with all these
anecdotes, some of which were in the story, some of which hadn't appeared
in the piece. Looking back, if you're going to make something up and write
it and get away with it -- at that point, unless you believed your own
bullshit, you'd probably let it lie. You wouldn't go and try to impress
somebody again with more anecdotes about it. I think that was an obvious
sign that he was under a lot of stress. He needed help at that point,
because it wasn't just a case of 'I can't cut it, so I'll stretch the
truth.' It was a case of alternate reality."
Johnnie is the leader of his 'posse,' a club
of several dozen homeless people that has its own intricate rules and
traditions. All members of the club identify their allegiance by donning
an American Heart Association button and a Zenith Data Systems painters'
cap ... Club members enjoy citing their hero, Kenny Rogers, as best expressing
the philosophy of surviving on the streets. Twice that day June and Johnnie
sang "The Gambler" in chorus ...
-- From "A Day on the Streets,"
by Stephen Glass, in the June 6, 1991, Summer Pennsylvanian.
Since no one has proven otherwise, it's always possible
that this story is completely accurate, right down to the first-person
descriptions of homeless people smoking crack and picking up prostitutes
and talking about murders they committed. There's no question that there
really was a West Philadelphia homeless man named Johnnie who used to
hassle Glass for money -- "like Steve owed him," recalls Matt
Selman, C'93 -- and whose photo accompanied the story. And Glass's
roommate that year, Joon Chong, C'94, remembers him being away
from the room for a day or two while he was working on the article. But
the notion of a homeless "club" with matching buttons and caps
seems prima facie absurd. Kenny Rogers seems a rather unlikely
hero for African-American homeless men. And the very idea of the neurotic,
khaki-clad Glass hanging out in a West Philly crackhouse struck some of
his colleagues as preposterous -- though at the time, they kept their
mouths shut. After all, says one, he was a person that "strange things
Later, Gabe Marcotti, who had done some work in outreach
programs and once scored some crack for a story himself, talked with Glass
about his "day on the streets." A number of things about it
simply did not ring true. "It struck me as really, really unlikely,"
he says. "He was the most white-bread, preppy person you can imagine."
But while Marcotti didn't really believe Glass's story,
he admits that he wanted to. "You sort of got the sense when you
spoke to him that everything he told you, you wanted to believe him. When
I heard the news about what happened to him, just talking to friends,
a lot of us came to the conclusion that he had so many other things going
for him, and so many people looked up to him, that you always wanted to
believe him -- and were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt."
The DP can be a very demanding master: reporters
regularly log 30 to 40 hours a week there, while top editors often put
in 50 to 60 -- a grueling load for a full-time student. In the words of
Matt Klein, C'93, who preceded Glass as executive editor, it "weeds
out weak-minded people." For all its self-importance (these are college
kids, after all), it has long been regarded as one of the best college
newspapers in the country, with the awards to back it up.
It also inspires fierce loyalty -- you have to be deeply
devoted, and maybe a little nuts, to work that hard for free. Staffers
talk about the "DP culture" that separates the truly
devoted, fast-track insiders from those on staff whose entire lives do
not revolve around the paper. Insiders tend to come from very similar,
affluent backgrounds; anyone in a work-study program, for example, is
unlikely to have the time to get deeply involved. "The DP, like
any newspaper, doesn't reflect the student body; it reflects the people
who make it up," says Marcotti. Glass, by all accounts, was an insider
from the get-go who loved the paper and was one of its most enthusiastic
Though not known as a great writer, he was considered
a very good reporter: quick on his feet, energetic and resourceful, able
to cover complex issues, ask the right questions, find the right people
to talk to -- and chat them up. Some of the subjects of his stories and
editorial coverage remember him as fair and pleasant to work with; others
still seethe about what they saw as deeply biased coverage.
Matt Klein says that while Glass was a "solid"
writer and reporter, his rise through the ranks was based to some extent
on a "cult of personality." Glass, he says, "had worked
the hardest, put in the most hours, and was a good leader. He was someone
people respected, trusted, and liked."
Sabrina Rubin, who says she and the rest of the editorial
board "adored" him, puts it another way: "There are reporters
who get ahead because they're great schmoozers, and I think Steve was
definitely one of them." When he became the paper's executive editor,
the editorial board hailed him as a "man of principle," and
in her Philadelphia magazine piece, Rubin describes how Glass threw
a righteous fit when she and a colleague concocted a funny and obviously
made-up travel story for 34th Street -- going so far as to call
an emergency session of the DP's Alumni Association board to apprise
them of the transgression. (Rubin also acknowledges that she felt "terrible"
about writing a fairly dishy article about someone she had once liked
and admired. "Actually, Eliot [Kaplan] had to force me to do it,"
she says. "I didn't want to do it at all.")
"The DP at times has been a confluence of
very talented people and very interesting events," says former editorial-page
editor Ken Baer, C'94, now a speechwriter for U.S. Senator Robert
Torricelli of New Jersey. "And Steve was an editor at one of those
moments: 1993 was a big year for Penn. [Former President] Sheldon Hackney
was leaving; the provost was leaving; there was the Water Buffalo case,
the theft of the newspapers -- and all of that came together at this one
massive year. I feel fortunate that we had a very able staff working on
it, and I feel fortunate that Steve Glass was the editor and was leading
us at that time. I don't feel that anything that happens [now] should
reflect on what happened then. No one should ever look back and say, 'What
was going on there?'"
November/December Contents | Gazette
Copyright 1998 The Pennsylvania
Gazette Last modified 10/28/98