Journalist Stephen Glass Is Exposed as a Fraud Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Stephen Glass, an up-and-coming reporter and associate editor with The New Republic magazine, was fired after Adam Penenberg, a Forbes.com reporter, found inconsistencies and factual errors in Glass’s 1998 article “Hack Heaven.” The story, about a large company that hired a teenage computer hacker as an information security consultant after being extorted by the hacker, turned out to be fabricated. After investigating the accusations, The New Republic editors found that Glass had partly or wholly fabricated many of his other published stories as well.

Summary of Event

Stephen Glass was born and raised in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park. He began his journalism career as the editor of his college newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, at the University of Pennsylvania. After his graduation in 1995, he was hired as an editorial assistant at The New Republic, a well-known and respected national magazine of social and political commentary. He quickly rose through the ranks, eventually achieving the position of associate editor. Glass, Stephen New Republic, The [g]United States;May 11, 1998: Journalist Stephen Glass Is Exposed as a Fraud[02910] [c]Hoaxes, frauds, and charlatanism;May 11, 1998: Journalist Stephen Glass Is Exposed as a Fraud[02910] [c]Publishing and journalism;May 11, 1998: Journalist Stephen Glass Is Exposed as a Fraud[02910] [c]Communications and media;May 11, 1998: Journalist Stephen Glass Is Exposed as a Fraud[02910] [c]Corruption;May 11, 1998: Journalist Stephen Glass Is Exposed as a Fraud[02910] Lane, Charles Penenberg, Adam

Glass was writing his own articles for the prestigious publication by the age of twenty-three. He became known for his eagerness to please and his industrious research habits. His stories, which were characterized by their intriguing characters and colorful anecdotes and quotations, began attracting widespread attention. While he wrote mainly for The New Republic, his work also appeared in other magazines, including Rolling Stone, George, and Harper’s.

Glass’s career quickly came to an end in 1998. His article “Hack Heaven,” which was published in the May 18 edition of The New Republic, centered on a fifteen-year-old computer hacker named Ian Restil who had hacked into the computer system of a California software firm called Jukt Micronics. Glass wrote that Restil, who “looks like an even more adolescent version of Bill Gates,” then extorted the company executives at a meeting at a Hyatt Hotel in Bethesda, Maryland. The company then hired the hacker as a computer security consultant. The article also detailed a convention of computer whizzes from the National Assembly of Hackers being held near the hotel where Restil and Jukt representatives met. Glass’s article gained reader interest as another intriguing tale of a larger-than-life character.

Intrigued by Glass’s story, which includes the names of official-sounding organizations such as the “Center for Interstate Online Investigations” and the “Computer Security Center” and mentions federal legislation called the “Uniform Computer Security Act,” a reporter for Forbes Digital Tool (now Forbes.com) began researching “Hacker Heaven” for a follow-up article. The reporter, Adam Penenberg, could not verify any fact from Glass’s article, leading him to question its truthfulness and prompting him to notify his editors about the matter. Forbes magazine editors then contacted Charles Lane, executive editor of The New Republic, and told him about Penenberg’s findings. Penenberg’s brief exposé, “Lies, Damn Lies and Fiction” (Forbes.com, May 11, 1998), an account of his findings, accused Glass of perpetrating a hoax, and the scandal was born.

Glass had faced earlier accusations of misrepresentation or fabrication, claims not uncommon in journalism, by various organizations, including the College Republican National Committee, the American Conservative Union, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Hofstra University. With each accusation The New Republic supported its reporter. The questions from Forbes, however, elicited a different response from Glass’s editors.

Lane began investigating the accusations, and he ultimately revealed that Glass had fabricated the entire article and fabricated evidence, such as voice mail, e-mails from Restil, a Web site for Jukt Micronics, and a newsletter for the fictitious National Assembly of Hackers, in an attempt to thwart the investigation. Glass even had his brother pose as Jukt executive George Sims in a phone call. The New Republic then expanded its investigation to include all of the forty-one articles Glass had written for them since December, 1995, articles published under three different editors—Andrew Sullivan, Michael Kelly, and Lane.

The fabrications ranged from inserted quotations in legitimate stories to entire articles. Most articles proved to be a blend of fact and fiction. Some of the more colorful fabrications included a political memorabilia convention in which Monica Lewinsky Lewinsky, Monica items were available and a church dedicated to the worship of Bush, George H. W. George H. W. Bush. Glass was able to escape the magazine’s fact-checking process through the creation of elaborate notes, voice mails, e-mails, faxes, business cards, and other evidence. Glass’s dishonesty also led many to question the truthfulness of his other work.

Glass was fired, bringing an end to a promising journalism career. He later published an article, “Canada’s Pot Revolution,” in the September, 2003, edition of Rolling Stone. Drug Abuse Resistance Education D.A.R.E. sued Glass for libel Libel cases;and Stephen Glass[Glass] for one of his articles on the organization, a case in which Glass settled. At the time the scandal broke, he was enrolled as a law student at Georgetown University, where he continued his studies. He earned his law degree, passed the New York State bar exam, but was not admitted to the bar. He became a national figure, arousing public curiosity about his motives and how he had been able to get away with the lies for so long.

In 2003, Steve Kroft interviewed Glass for the CBS News program 60 Minutes[sixty minutes] 60 Minutes, and Glass was the subject of a major motion picture, Shattered Glass Shattered Glass (film) (2003), starring Hayden Christensen Christensen, Hayden as Glass and Sarsgaard, Peter Peter Sarsgaard as Lane. Glass also wrote a fictional account of his story, The Fabulist Fabulist, The (film) (2003), featuring a protagonist sharing his name.

Impact

In the immediate aftermath of the Glass scandal, many publications began to reevaluate their fact-checking policies and procedures. Until this time, fact checking worked well to catch honest mistakes but had not been equipped to deal with deliberate fabrications on such a large scale. The closer scrutiny led to the uncovering of similar scandals, most notoriously the 2003 case of New York Times New York Times;and Jayson Blair[Blair] reporter Blair, Jayson Jayson Blair, who was found to have plagiarized quotations and fabricated material in more than thirty-five articles he wrote for the paper. Journalists feared that these scandals could further distance editors and reporters, who already shared some professional animosity, and the profession feared that the scandal could further erode relations with a public already distrustful of journalists. Glass, Stephen New Republic, The

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cowan, Coleman, and Melissa Castro. “After the Falls (Currents): Unethical Practices of Some Journalists, and Their Repercussions.” Columbia Journalism Review 46, no. 1 (May-June, 2007). Examines the details of Glass’s fabricated article and the consequences of his actions. Also discusses other well-known episodes of unethical reporting in journalism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dowd, Ann Reilly. “The Great Pretender: How a Writer Fooled His Readers (Writer Stephen Glass).” Columbia Journalism Review 37, no. 2 (July-August, 1998). Discusses the key question of how Glass was able to pass off as true not only fictional quotations but also entire events.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Glass, Stephen. The Fabulist: A Novel. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003. Although this version of Glass’s story about his hoax is fictional, it provides a valuable perspective into the writer’s point of view.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Iggers, Jeremy. Good News, Bad News: Journalism Ethics and the Public Interest. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1998. A study of journalistic ethics and the media’s responsibility to get the story right in the interest of its audience and readership.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mnookin, Seth. “Total Fiction.” Newsweek, May 19, 2003. Provides Glass’s account of the scandal five years later. Includes discussion of how he came to write a fictional tale—The Fabulist—of his experience with the scandal.

Janet Cooke Admits Fabricating Her Pulitzer Prize-Winning Feature

Scottish Historian Is Charged with Plagiarism

Award-Winning Historian Joseph J. Ellis Is Accused of Lying

Historian Stephen E. Ambrose Is Accused of Plagiarism

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin Is Accused of Plagiarism

New York Times Reporter Jayson Blair Is Exposed as a Fraud

University of Colorado Fires Professor for Plagiarism and Research Falsification

Categories: History Content