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press box    Media criticism.

Advice for Stephen Glass
Readers weigh in with their redemption suggestions.
By Jack Shafer
Posted Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2003, at 2:22 PM PT

Photograph of Stephen Glass

Taking Glass to task

After New Republic Editor Charles Lane exposed him as a serial fabricator in 1998, Stephen Glass spent five years in a sort of public seclusion: He shunned inquiries from the press and actively avoided his former friends and colleagues as he completed his law degree at Georgetown. Today he says he would cross a Washington street and run the other way rather than risk an accidental encounter with a New Republican.

Glass surfaced briefly in early 1999 to settle, for an undisclosed sum, a $10 million libel suit filed against him by the antidrug group D.A.R.E., about which he had written. Glass clerked for a D.C. Superior Court judge in 2001 and then moved to New York City, where he ended his self-imposed exile in May 2003 with the publication of The Fabulist, his roman à clef about how he duped the New Republic and other publications. Glass flacked his book on 60 Minutes and explained himself to the New York Times and Salon, discussing The Fabulist and Shattered Glass, the new docudrama about his journalistic deceit.

Last Friday, Glass deburrowed completely to appear on an ethics panel at George Washington University, which I covered in this previous column. Although Glass apologized profusely for his past conduct, his contrition rang false. Andrew Sullivan, Glass' former New Republic boss, pummeled him for profiting from his many lies and deceptions by writing The Fabulist and told Glass the only honorable thing he could do at this point was "go away."

I proposed less harsh terms for Glass in my column, suggesting he advance his rehabilitation with this 6-step program of my invention: 1) Give the money earned from The Fabulist back to the publishers or to charity; 2) block the publication of a paperback version, or any other resale that might generate income, and make the book freely available on the Web; 3) complete an honest accounting of the articles he fabricated in order to allow his former employers to set the record straight within their pages; 4) stop working as a journalist until completing the above assignments; 5) not practice law until he completes this 6-step program; 6) to prove contrition beyond the gum-flapping of his many apologies, many of which make him out to be a victim, he should perform a symbolic act of penance—anything from donating a kidney to an ill Guatemalan to performing volunteer service.

I solicited reader suggestions, promising to publish the best ones. One anonymous reader misunderstood my instructions and suggested that Glass donate both his kidneys to an ill Guatemalan.

Shattered Glass director-writer Billy Ray captured the spirit better, writing, "Glass' restitution needs to begin at the offices of the New Republic itself. Apologies must be made there, face to face." Glass should also work as a fact-checker for a magazine for free for as long as he worked at the New Republic. Charles Lane, the New Republic editor who busted Glass, believes his former employee should account for every journalistic fraud he committed. "In criminal law, they make the defendant 'allocute' when he pleads guilty. He can't just say, 'yep, I killed him.' Seems to me Steve needs to allocute."

Mark Burger's idea of penance is making Glass root for the Red Sox and the Cubs for the rest of his life. Anthony Pignataro wants nothing more from Glass than that he never write again: "With so many fast food, big box retail, and janitorial jobs to choose from, I don't think he'd starve."

Michael Schrage wants Glass to work for a year with a state's attorney "criminal victims" unit, consoling victims of violent crimes, frauds, and other forms of illicit abuse and helping them remedy their situations. "He should particularly spend time with victims of legal malpractice so he can more thoroughly understand why professional malfeasance is unacceptable." Chuck Draves thinks Glass has done enough already, having earned his law degree: "He should return to school, earn an MBA, and become a financier or a CEO at any of numerous corporations. He would fit in splendidly." You're joshing, right, Chuck?

Julie Richards would have Glass go to nursing school, although I don't think I'd want him giving me my medicine. Gene Lyons would have Glass serve as Andrew Sullivan's fact-checker and ombudsman. Rahul Kamath, who seems to be reading the Old Testament, wants Glass "publicly flogged with a rusty chain at the Altamont Speedway" and to have him take the title role in the upcoming Jayson Blair biopic. For an encore, he should marry Janet Cooke "and have a super-liar baby that scientists can examine and study for its unprecedented lying abilities."

Various readers propose that Glass perform some sort of public service in a school, with the elderly, or the disadvantaged. Several would send him to a war zone—"a gate of hell"—one writes, where he might die. Hey, we want to save Glass, not destroy him!

"How about if he donates a month's free labor to everyone he maligned in print; he could make coffee for DARE, wash Alec Baldwin's car, walk George H.W. Bush's dog," writes Kim Scarborough. Thomas Olafson wants Glass' act of redemption to be well out of the public eye, "instead of joining the line of narcissistic, self-destructive journalists who seek 'redemption' in book deals (Brock, Blair et al.)." Victoria Clark, nauseated by Glass' serial apologies, seconds this view. "Please let this mildly talented person sink into a very well deserved obscurity," she writes.

Jeff Wald and many others think the world has been too rough on Glass. He needs to make a living, too, they point out. "Even the Nazi leader Albert Speer managed to write two bestsellers! Cal Berkeley invited convicted Wall Street criminal Michael Milken to lecture to its students." Our quarrel should be with Glass' publisher, not Glass, writes Wald.

Noel Weyrich thinks the New Republic and Rolling Stone (which recently gave Glass an assignment) should have sued him for fraud. Had they done so, "he might have a judgment against him, with depositions and testimony on the record, by which the New York bar could assess his moral fitness. To an extent, they remain complicit in Glass's ability to walk among us, impersonating a normal person." Edward James Watson thinks Glass should change his name to prevent him from further capitalizing on his scandalous past. Denise Kersten wants him to work as a guinea pig in a lie-detector study.

Finally, from the judge-not-lest-ye-be-judged file, I'll let Shem Cohen have the last word. He writes, "I wonder what a court verdict or confession box penance would be if it were left up to high-minded journalists like yourself. It would be long, for one thing. Your article shows how little you know about sorrow and redemption. If one ever wonders why the press is so hated, in addition to Stephen Glass, it is shameless, arrogant people like you given too much access to ink and not enough editing."


OK, that's it. No more Glass mail. But other subjects will be entertained at . (E-mail may be quoted unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

Jack Shafer is Slate's editor at large.
Photograph of Stephen Glass © Neville Elder/Corbis.

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