A L S O__T O D A Y

Post no shills
By Scott Rosenberg
With its new Web cartoon, "Super Postal Workers," has the USPS lost its mind?

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T A B L E__T A L K

True of false: No one ever had their mind changed on the Internet. Share your thoughts on the function of discussion areas in the Digital Culture area of Table Talk

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The dumbing-down of programming
By Ellen Ullman
Part Two: Returning to the source. Once knowledge disappears into code, how do we retrieve it?

When you just can't stop clicking
By Lori Leibovich
"Caught in the Net" offers melodramatic tales from "Internet addicts"

The dumbing-down of programming
By Ellen Ullman
Part one: Rebelling against Microsoft and its wizards, an engineer rediscovers the joys of difficult computing

Maximum confusion
By Janelle Brown
On the Web, a typo throws frat boys and feminists onto each other's turf

Let's Get This Straight
By Scott Rosenberg
Now that they're sundered from the magazine, whither Wired's Web sites?

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Hacker heaven, editors' hell
The New Republic's bogus article reveals a chasm of cluelessness.
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BY SCOTT ROSENBERG | The piece in the New Republic opened with a you-are-there rush, so vivid as to be screenplay-ready:

Ian Restil, a 15-year-old computer hacker who looks like an even more adolescent version of Bill Gates, is throwing a tantrum. "I want more money. I want a Miata. I want a trip to Disney World. I want X-Man comic [book] number one. I want a lifetime subscription to Playboy, and throw in Penthouse. Show me the money! Show me the money!" Over and over again, the boy, who is wearing a frayed Cal Ripken Jr. T-shirt, is shouting his demands. Across the table, executives from a California software firm called Jukt Micronics are listening -- and trying ever so delicately to oblige. "Excuse me, sir," one of the suits says, tentatively, to the pimply teenager. "Excuse me. Pardon me for interrupting you, sir. We can arrange more money for you ..."

It's a great lead -- a little too great, perhaps. Despite the attempt at verisimilitude (down to that bracketed word "book" in the quotation, suggesting the author's dedication to word-for-word fidelity), the scene's "wow" factor alone makes it suspect: It too perfectly fulfills pop-culture clichés of mad teen hackers holding corporations for ransom. Reality rarely matches stereotype so mathematically.

If this story had landed on my desk as a freelance submission, my questions for the writer -- based on Paragraph 1 alone -- would have been: "What an embarrassing scene for this company. Why on earth did they let a reporter sit in on it?" Then I'd have wondered why I'd never heard of the oddly named company, why there was no evidence of its existence anywhere on the Web and why a software company had used the word "Micronics" -- more often associated with motherboards and hardware -- in its name.

It turns out that the article, "Hack Heaven," written by Stephen Glass and published in the May 18 New Republic, is full of such red flags -- including, most outrageously, names of organizations and legislative proposals (the "Center for Interstate Online Investigations," the "Computer Security Center," the "Uniform Computer Security Act") that would raise the eyebrows of any knowledgeable technology reporter or editor.

None of these organizations exists, of course. Neither does Jukt Micronics. Or Ian Restil. The story is an utter fabrication -- as an editor at the Forbes Digital Tool Web site, Adam Penenberg, discovered last week and reported Monday. In the course of his research, Penenberg contacted New Republic editor Charles Lane, who soon thereafter fired Glass, an associate editor at the magazine.

Media coverage of the story -- in the Washington Post, for example -- suggests that Glass is an ambitious 25-year-old writer who'd overextended himself with high-profile freelance assignments and was bound to "blow up." Previous articles by Glass have now come under suspicion as well.

I can't say I feel much sympathy for poor Glass and his over-booked assignments for high-paying or prestigious publications like Rolling Stone, Harper's and the New York Times Magazine -- where editors presumably fell in love with his great lead paragraphs. Fabricating stories for maximum "juiciness" is a loathsome enterprise. Beyond bamboozling the public, it also devalues the work of more diligent writers who actually depend on mundane reporting for their stories -- but whose articles, forced to conform to the less-than-cinematic nature of reality, may come off as pallid next to such feverish concoctions.

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N E X T__P A G E .|. What if an online magazine had made such a goof?

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