The whole scandal over Stephen Glass and the stories he either completely fabricated or greatly enhanced via his imagination, for The New Republic happened 14 years ago (1998). There is no Cliffs Notes version, but there is a critically acclaimed movie about those events called Shattered Glass (2003). If you care about the profession of journalism or issues of private and public integrity, the Glass scandal it might seem like a relatively small ripple compared to say the lie factory that Bush administration official Douglas Feith headed at the Pentagon called The Office of Special Plans( that office was eventually closed). That is the thing about ethics, there is always a worse transgression to find. The Glass-New Republic fiasco may have resonated because at the time The New Republic was till thought of as an insider intellectual liberal political and arts magazine. It was one of those publications that sometimes bent over so far backward to be fair to conservatives, that conservative elites read it, and liberals suffered from whiplash. It was like a small underground band that only a few people were clued into. Even today it is still a kind of boutique magazine for wonks; print circulation is very small at around 50,000 ( Sports Illustrated has a circulation of about 3.5 million. The number of readers for both magazines is another matter, maybe three to four times higher than their subscription rates). With that background here we are 14 years later – Glass’s Road to Redemption
In his early 20s, as a staff writer for The New Republic, Glass committed one of the most egregious journalistic hoaxes of all time, writing an astonishing 42 articles over a two-and-a-half-year span that were either partially or entirely fabricated. For The New Republic, Rolling Stone, Harper’s and others, he turned in articles that had made-up characters, invented dialogue and imaginary scenes. When the truth came out, it was a huge scandal; Glass’s journalism career was, quite properly, destroyed.
But should the rest of his life also be destroyed?
[ ]…Once again, no one would hire him. But one lawyer, Paul Zuckerman, after first tossing his résumé into the trash, fished it out. “Maybe I should give this guy a second chance,” he later said he thought, and he brought Glass on as a law clerk. During the judicial proceeding, Zuckerman described Glass as one of the finest people he’s ever hired.
Zuckerman wasn’t alone. In all, 22 witnesses testified to Glass’s good character, including Professor Bloch, the judge he had clerked for and, most remarkably, Martin Peretz, who was the sole owner of The New Republic when Glass fabricated his stories and was deeply embarrassed by the scandal. “I always thought redemption was within his means because he was fundamentally a good kid,” Peretz told me.
There are or were not the last I checked a lot of comments on this opinion piece at the NYT. Though as one might expect what was there ran both ways and brings up the most salient issue at stake. The particulars of the Glass saga are interesting to me with the realization they might seem like small change to others. What fascinates me is the people who believe in redemption versus those who do not. We’re talking more about humanist redemption here then religious. Glass committed a series of egregious acts that compromised the integrity of dozens of other people and put their jobs at risks. Obviously he could not and did not get another job doing journalism. He moved on and as the editorial notes has turned his life around. Legal professionals have to some extent put their own reputations on the line for speaking up for Glass and his attempts to become a better person ( TNR owner and sometime editorial writer Marty Perez in fact has his own ethical problems). Should the State Bar of California decide, in not letting Glass be certified to practice law, be right in passing judgement that no, this person is not capable of redemption( Insert obvious joke about lawyers and ethics here). That despite the passage of 14 years and te attempts to turn his life around Glass does not deserve a second chance. This would be a peculiar position to take, not just because of lawyers judging other lawyers – a profession rife with ethical lapses – but because as a society, partly because of Judeo-Christian tradition – we as a nation believe that people can be – in the words of all of my childhood ministers – be saved. I don’t think Joe Nocera at the NYt is making the case that Glass should be given the key to the city and to forget Glass’s past. Only that he be given a chance to prove himself. let’s say Glass was a white-collar criminal that embezzled some money. Got out of prison and was clean for 14 years, wouldn’t most people say that he had truly reformed or been redeemed. The afternoon talk shows, especially when Oprah was still on, were filled with people who behaved badly – not necessarily illegally – and audiences were both fascinated and joyful about the wayward finding a new life. I’m leaning toward forgiving if not forgetting, but I can understand the feelings of people like the judge who initially throw Glass’s resume in the trash. We talk a lot about second chances, its difficult to actually make the decision to give a known transgressor another chance.
Antonio Vivaldi – Concerto for 4 Violin