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September 29, 2004

60 Minutes: Not Very Forgiving About Stephen Glass' Fabrications

It's ironic, and in a strict manner too, not in that fakey Alannis Morissette fashion.

When someone outside of CBS News was caught sending fake faxes to back up wholly-invented lies, Steve Kroft was a lot tougher than he seems to be on colleagues Rather, Howard, and Mapes.

(CBS) Every profession has its share of scandals, hoaxes and con men. And journalism is no exception.

Ahem.

Even the New York Times was victimized a few months ago when it was discovered that one of its reporters, Jayson Blair, had plagiarized quotes and fabricated material in more than 35 of his articles.

But before Jayson Blair, there was Stephen Glass.

And after Stephen Glass, there was 60 Minutes.

Glass, a 25-year-old rising star at The New Republic, wrote dozens of high-profile articles for a number of national publications in which he made things up.

The shock of it all.

As 60 Minutes first reported in May, he made up people, places and events. He made up organizations and quotations. Sometimes, he made up entire articles.

And to back it all up, he created fake notes, fake voicemails, fake faxes, even a fake Web site - whatever it took to deceive his editors, not to mention hundreds of thousands of readers.

Sounds like "fake documents" to me. And it sounds like he deceived far fewer people than Dan Rather did. Or at least fewer people than Dan Rather intended to deceive.

Glass talks to Correspondent Steve Kroft in his first interview since his journalism career ended in disgrace.

No comment.

...

“Like a stock graph, there's going to be exceptions in this. But the general trend of the stories is that they started out with a few made up details and quotes. And granted a few too many, of course. But a few. And then they progressed into stories that were completely fabricated. Just completely made up out of whole cloth.”

...

“I loved the electricity of people liking my stories. I loved going to story conference meetings and telling people what my story was going to be, and seeing the room excited. I wanted every story to be a home run.”

I think Mary Mapes knows well that feeling.

How did this all work? How did Glass draw readers into these lies?

“I would tell a story, and there would be fact A, which maybe was true. And then there would be fact B, which was sort of partially true and partially fabricated. And there would be fact C which was more fabricated and almost not true,” says Glass.

“And there would be fact D, which was a complete whopper. And totally not true. And so people would be with me on these stories through fact A and through fact B. And so they would believe me to C. And then at D they were still believing me through the story.”

Sort of "accurate but not authentic."

By 1998, he was earning more than $100,000 and selling fabricated stories to Rolling Stone, George, and Harper's Magazine. He was also getting his face on television. His articles always generated lots of interest and very few angry letters to the editor.

“And that's because much of the time I wrote fictional stories about fictional people at fictional times doing fictional things. And those people don't write letters,” he says.

And neither do dead men. As I've mentioned before, this story was shoddy in terms of sourcing and fact-checking, nevermind the ludicrously-bad forgeries.

But if those forgeries had looked a little better -- Dan Rather would have his "scoop," and anyone challenging the story would be termed a crank. And yet the forgeries would still be as shoddily-sourced and fake as the actual ones.

The only reason this media hoax was exposed was because those forgeries were so transparently sham that it was obvious to most experts, and many non-experts, upon first glance.

Fictitious people don't deny stories. Neither do dead men. Maybe the liberal legacy media ought to remember that the next time words or documents are said by a political partisan to come from a dead man.

...

Lane, who is now a reporter for the Washington Post, says that Glass might still be duping editors, if it weren't for an online version of Forbes magazine, which was trying to do a follow-up on an article glass had written about a convention of computer hackers in Bethesda, Md. - specifically, a 15-year-old who had hacked into a company called Jukt Micronics and then extorted tens of thousands of dollars not to do it again. The Forbes editors told Lane they were having trouble confirming a single fact.

Oddly enough-- an on-line reporter uncovered Glass' fraud, too. It was considered a triumph for on-line journalism, which had gotten little respect previously.

Now, this is seriously ironic:

... He even went to the trouble to create a Web site for Jukt Micronics.

“It was ostensibly a web page from Jukt Micronics, which contained this letter claiming that The New Republic had portrayed them inaccurately in their story,” says Lane.

Was the Web site convincing?

No, says Lane. “The second I looked at it, I thought, ‘This isn't a real corporate Web site.’ I mean, first of all, it was on AOL members. You know. I mean corporations that make high-tech products in Silicon Valley don't go on AOL members.”

He created a "fake web site" which was a laughably crude and primative little page, with no graphics and childishly inept layout, which basically just said "Jukt Micronics" and listed a phone number or two-- not what you'd expect a professional software company to have for a web-page.

And, uhhh, you wouldn't expect them to have a freaking web-page on the AOL members domain-- the same domain where people post pictures of their cats and troll for those who are "Married but not Dead."

Not the sort of, ahem, forgery that would fool anyone.

And, give credit to Lane-- it didn't fool him for very long at all.

Now compare Lane's skepticism at seeing this obvious hoax with Rather's, Mape's, and Howard's determination to believe at any cost.

And how did all of this end for Glass? Rather badly, of course. But then, he wasn't a big anchorman, now was he?

And with that, the journalistic career of Stephen Glass ended. He dropped out of sight and spent much of the past five years in therapy, trying to start over.

...

But then he admits that he continued to lie to them. Did he ever apologize to any of them? “This is the very beginning of a very, very long process of apologies. I didn't apologize to people. Because I was so ashamed.”

Certainly Glass could forgive them for perhaps being a little bit cynical about this apology, since he’s doing it on national television and not in person.

“I don't think that's right though, saying because I'm doing it on national television,” says Glass, even though he has a book out now about his life and hasn’t been in touch with these people for five years.

I wonder if Steve Kroft would forgive me for being cynical about Dan Rather's "apology," in which he apologized for very little of all. He apologized, basically, for Burkett's "lie" to him -- and I put that "lie" in quotes, because I'm not sure that Burkett lied to Rather and Mapes so much as he told them what they indicated they needed to hear.


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posted by Ace at 01:54 AM

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