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Stephen Glass Didn't Pass
February 14, 2009 9:03 PM   Subscribe

In 1998, a journalist at The New Republic named Stephen Glass wrote a compelling piece in the influential magazine entitled 'Hack Heaven'. It told the story of how Glass witnessed a 15 year old hacker named Ian Restil being hired by a large Californian computer company named Jukt Micronics at a hacker convention as a security analyst after Restil hacked Jukt's website. But the entire story was, in fact, entirely fictional.

Forbes Digital reporter Adam Penenberg exposed Glass as a fraud in his article Lies, Damn Lies and Fiction (mentioned previously) in what was hailed as a breakthrough for internet journalism and which forced The New Republic to issue two apologies to its readers. It also conducted it's own internal investigation into Glass' previously published articles and subsequently determined that at least 27 of 41 stories written by Glass for the magazine contained fabricated material. Some, such as "Don't You D.A.R.E.", contained fabricated quotations and incidents woven in with real reporting. Although Glass was ultimately exposed, he did his best to try and cover his tracks beforehand, going so far as to create a fake website for Jukt Micronics and having his brother act as its chairman in a phone call to his editor. All this would later form the basis for the movie Shattered Glass.

Very few of the articles that Glass wrote for The New Republic are still available online. Some of those available include;

A Day on the Streets
Mrs. Colehill Thanks God For Private Social Security (PDF format)
Probable Claus
Don't You D.A.R.E.
Writing on the Wall
Slavery Chic
The Young and the Feckless
Hack Heaven

For further reading, check out A Tissue of Lies: The Stephen R. Glass Index, which provides a complete index of Glass articles with even more links and with known fabrications specially marked.
posted by Effigy2000 (46 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
I LOVED the movie based on this and was a big fan of the New Republic around the time this broke. Great post!
posted by sweetkid at 9:07 PM on February 14, 2009


The New Republic ended up being big booster of the Iraq War, so apparently this didn't sate their taste for fiction.
posted by delmoi at 9:13 PM on February 14, 2009 [7 favorites]


Yeah, delmoi, that's when I kinda stopped reading.
posted by sweetkid at 9:26 PM on February 14, 2009


Wow, "Hack Heaven" is so ridiculous it's laughable:

"The principal told us to hire a defense lawyer fast, because Ian was in deep trouble," says his mother, Jamie Restil. "Ian laughed and told us to get an agent. Our boy was definitely right."


That's not even good fiction writing, it's like something from a television commercial. The whole story is such a farce I'm amazed the editor published it.

I saw the movie and loved it, and Glass came across as very intelligent; I imagined he must have been a talented writer. He clearly wasn't.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 9:28 PM on February 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Didn't he write an autobiography? What's he up to these days?
posted by jcruelty at 9:29 PM on February 14, 2009


jcruelty: "Didn't he write an autobiography? What's he up to these days?"

He's a paralegal now and also performed with a Los Angeles comedy troupe
, apparently.
posted by Effigy2000 at 9:32 PM on February 14, 2009


Stephen Glass writes fiction; news at 11.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:41 PM on February 14, 2009


Yes, and then he was caught; then announced he was going to law school; then wrote a novel; and then 60 Minutes did a piece about him; then no on cared.
posted by parmanparman at 9:47 PM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I saw the movie I was sad that they didn't take any good-natured digs at the self-importance of the New Republic, which was instead presented with a straight face as the "in-flight magazine of Air Force One." The late Michael Kelly, who had raved against Al Gore as a traitor for questioning the buildup to the Iraq War, was depicted in the film as a lovable Hank Azaria character...
posted by Kirklander at 9:58 PM on February 14, 2009


Yes, I highly recommend Shattered Glass, it's an excellent film. Who knew you could make a movie about journalists highly suspenseful? Even Hayden Christenson is good as the lead character.
posted by zardoz at 9:58 PM on February 14, 2009


Certainly not surprising this was fiction.

My question would be, has a scenario like this EVER happened in real life? Has a company ever extended a job offer to someone in the spot based on one incident of movie-like super-genius hacking?

I don't think the skills transfer over to the corporate world quite as easily as in the movies. And if it did happen, has it ever happened with someone underage, where child labor laws would limit the number of hours he worked?
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:59 PM on February 14, 2009


Huh? Isn't this post like years late? Is there something new here? Are we going to have a Jayson Blair post tomorrow?
posted by xmutex at 10:03 PM on February 14, 2009


drjimmy11: "My question would be, has a scenario like this EVER happened in real life? Has a company ever extended a job offer to someone in the spot based on one incident of movie-like super-genius hacking?

I don't think the skills transfer over to the corporate world quite as easily as in the movies. And if it did happen, has it ever happened with someone underage, where child labor laws would limit the number of hours he worked?
"

I dunno, drjimmy11. Perhaps you could investigate, find nothing, and write an article about it.
posted by defenestration at 10:05 PM on February 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Glass' writing should not be judged on the basis of 'Hacker Heaven.' It was uniquely clumsy. I recall thinking when I read it on publication is that it did not sound plausible, and not at all like the techie culture I'd encountered. Of course, I didn't imagine he'd made it up, but rather he'd had to parachute into a situation he knew nothing about and gotten played.

But his general reporting was very good, always containing excellent illuminating anecdotes and quotations that made the stories come alive. And then we learned why.
posted by mojohand at 10:11 PM on February 14, 2009


Didn't he write an autobiography? What's he up to these days?

He did write a book in 2003, The Fabulist, which was meant with scorn from his former colleagues.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:12 PM on February 14, 2009


"met with scorn" rather
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:14 PM on February 14, 2009


xmutex: "Huh? Isn't this post like years late? Is there something new here? Are we going to have a Jayson Blair post tomorrow?"

I'm working on it right now!

In all seriousness though, I think this comment, and that of dirtynumbangelboy are probably a result of a mod editing the post so that everything from "Forbes Digital reporter Adam Penenberg exposed Glass..." is on the inside, rather than the outside. My original, unedited post was 'outside' up until after "All this would later form the basis for the movie Shattered Glass." This changes the context of the post, I think. It makes it seem, to people reading the Metafilter front-page, that my intent on creating this post is some big reveal about the fact that Glass once wrote a fictional article and if you click on the inside, you'll learn more!

That wasn't the intent of the post. Yes, it's old news. But for some people, like me, who hadn't been aware of this whole scandal until they saw the movie (I saw it yesterday), this is all very interesting and on seeing the movie, I bet some people would be interested in actually reading some of the articles seen and discussed in the movie. I certainly was. This was the intent of the post. To provide links to all the stuff that was mentioned in the movie. It also helps that, in my opinion at least, most of this stuff is interesting.

In short, I think the edit should be reversed or at least it should include more stuff on the outside than on the inside. Also, it should fix up my spelling mistake in the title. Didin't??? Oh yes, I did.
posted by Effigy2000 at 1:39 AM on February 15, 2009


Who knew you could make a movie about journalists highly suspenseful?

Uh ...
posted by raysmj at 1:54 AM on February 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think it would be great if Effigy2000 was Stephen Glass.
posted by orme at 8:08 AM on February 15, 2009


If you're going to fix things, fix the elementary it's vs its error.

I thought the best part of the movie was Peter Sarsgaard's slouchy depiction of Glass's editor. And it was nice to see HC playing against type (teen idol).

Posts like this make me feel old. Who doesn't remember the Glass dustup? It was only 10 years ago.
posted by intermod at 8:16 AM on February 15, 2009


I was one of Adam's sources for this story.

Some months before he'd had a story on Forbes Digital Tool (an online-only sister publication to Forbes) that touched on hackers. I can't remember the first thing about it, but I do recall that I'd sent him a condescending e-mail about how inaccurate that it was. (Having written for Phrack and 2600, I was full of piss and vinegar.) Rather than calling me a dick, he sent back a nice note, and we had some sort of a friendly e-mail exchange.

Round about April, Adam e-mailed me about this New Republic story, asking what I thought of it. I'd never heard of the magazine, and went to the library to pick it up. I read the article and it was clearly bullshit. I distinctly remember sitting in the library and guffawing, wondering how in the world this could be published. Adam and I talked on the phone and exchanged e-mails for a period of weeks, IIRC, as I explained all of the reasons why it was ridiculous. For instance, there were only two hackers' conferences at the time, and the named one didn't exist. And there was certainly no such thing as an agent for hackers. His handle was something improbably asinine. It was just dumb. Then when he showed me the Jukt Micronics website (at members.aol.com, IIRC), I knew this was BS, a fabrication of Glass. (Incidentally, I haven't re-read the New Republic article since 1998. I didn't re-read it before writing this comment because I don't want to discolor my recollections.) Presumably, saying "a 19-year-old kid says that it's BS" wasn't going to cut it with his editor, so I recall doing some research in order to prove these negatives.

Anyhow, Adam got a bunch of quotes from me, and I was going to be a source in the article. The story was delayed day after day (presumably for fact-checking, but I don't remember), and it was exciting when it finally went up, though a bummer not to appear in it. Unlike Adam, I had no idea that this would be such big news. The story made Forbes Digital Tool's reputation. As big of a story as Glass' fabrication was that it had been uncovered by a web-only publication. It may have been the first take-down of a traditional media outlet by an internet outlet.

We stayed in touch, and the next year Adam profiled me for Forbes Digital Tool, which was pretty cool.

Only in retrospect does it occur to me that I may not have been Adam's only "inside" source for this. He was probably talking with a half dozen members of the community. But I prefer to think of myself as the guy behind the guy. ;)
posted by waldo at 8:25 AM on February 15, 2009 [38 favorites]


That's not even good fiction writing, it's like something from a television commercial. The whole story is such a farce I'm amazed the editor published it.
I can't help but think that the reason Glass got caught was because he wrote his piece at just the moment when the technology industry was becoming open and accessible to the public at large. There weren't really any "anonymous" tech companies-- it was pretty much expected thatthey would have a credible website with their own domain names. Plus, the culture of tech companies was no longer opaque: there had been at least a decade's worth of books published on "what life is really like at Microsoft/Apple/HP." What tripped up TNR was that they were more or less insulated from the changing culture -- being mostly focused on Beltway antics and material coming out of DC think tanks -- and could be easily duped by the sort of charismatic wunderkind that their magazine is so obsessed with cultivating. The sort of journalists who found such material so implausible were the ones at Forbes Digital: the people who spend time reporting on actual technology companies.

TNR never really learned its lesson. The lesson was not simply "don't publish fake stories." It was "don't be isolated in a cultural bubble that lets you get easily duped." Ten years later, having shilled for the Iraq war based in part on Stephen-Glass-like compelling but false tales while becoming so isolated that they ended up not realizing that their audience no longer found them relevant, their circulation plunged and they ended up getting bought out by a Canadian publishing conglomerate.
posted by deanc at 8:32 AM on February 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Oh, man, this is funny to re-read.

"Computer Insider, a newsletter for hackers"? Hacker agents referring to their clients as "nerds"? The whole-cloth fabrication of the Center for Interstate Online Investigations? The invention of a statewide ad campaign to discourage businesses from hiring hackers? "The National Assembly of Hackers"? "The Association of Internet-based Businesses"?

I haven't read (or seen) "Shattered Glass," but I have to wonder what in the world was going on at The New Republic that this thing got published. Was his editor mildly retarded? Did they not only skip fact-checking, but also actually reading it before publishing it? Now that I work in the magazine industry, unlike a decade ago, the whole thing just seems more ludicrous to me. I mean, we don't have fact checkers at VQR, but everything we publish is read and edited by 4-5 very critical people (including me), and there's no way something like this could get by.

Maybe this is what Google hath wrought? (Remember how uselessly awful that search engines used to be before Google?) Maybe we take for granted that we have a huge chunk of the world's information at our fingertips, whereas a decade ago Inktomi was the apogee of search technology. I don't know.

Actually, I think I did see Shattered Glass on TV while sick a couple of years ago. It must not have been very good, because I remember basically nothing about it.
posted by waldo at 8:41 AM on February 15, 2009


THE BIG BAD BIONIC BOY HAS BEEN HERE BABY.
posted by Poolio at 8:48 AM on February 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Shattered Glass ironically, was one of those movies (like All The President's Men) that compelled me to start a hobbiest carreer as a journalist. Flash to a few months later, and I've taken a small games news site from 50,000 reads a month to over 3 million, and I'm actually getting paid for it.

I eventually tired of it, but the way the movie weaves in the sexiness of being on the edge of information and sharing it with the world just pulls me in.
posted by thanotopsis at 9:34 AM on February 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Before his downfall, Glass was known for always being in the right place in the right time, to catch the perfect quote or witness the ideal anecdote that would make the story. Thomas Friedman's ability to wind up in the back of a cab being driven by a Karachi taxidriver who would always manage to say the darnedest thing paled in comparison to the ability of Glass to be around for the perfect moment. The fact that most of his stories were based on these sorts of moments didn't arouse any suspicion until he went over the top.

My favorite- and by that I mean the most egregious- example of Glass' storytelling came in a TNR cover story on African-born immigrant cab drivers in DC. The story line was as follows: industrious, decent immigrant Blacks were contrasted with lazy, criminally-minded native Blacks. The story culminated in an incident in which the African immigrant ferrying Glass around gets held up by an Angry Black Dude, complete with gangsta accessories. Not only did the story rest on a rather improbable coincidence, it played on the worst and most reductive stereotypes one could imagine, ones that, sadly, played to the worst tendencies of TNR's readers - that is, those who were still reading after the magazine published a massive excerpt from the catalog of pseudo-science known as "The Bell Curve."

The magazine never apologized for this story in particular, but to me it was one of the most shameful parts of the entire episode.

It's a bit sad to see what's become of the New Republic in the last 10+ years. I ended my subscription after a cumulative trifecta of the Bell Curve cover story, their publication of a dishonest savaging of the Clinton health care proposal (not that it didn't have problems), and the magazine's staggeringly single-minded coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly after the second Intifada.

I had no regrets - their editorial huffing and puffing during the prelude to and during the Iraq War was appalling. They had another embarrassing incident a year or two ago in which they assigned the fact-checking of blog entries by a soldier in Iraq to his wife, a member of the staff, only to have it be revealed that some of the information in the stories was...um...less than truthful. Martin Peretz had to sell most the mag to a publishing conglomerate, but continues to pace the TNR halls with his blog, in which he holds forth on the primitivism of the Ay-rabs and mentioning how he knew so-and-so, or someone so-and-so once dated, at Harvard.

I started reading TNR as a teenager, and it helped introduce me to good political reporting and brilliant cultural analysis (via the arts and books section). And it's played a prominent role in American intellectual life for decades. But I won't be sorry to see it go. It's had a toxic rather than salutary or insightful effect on American journalism for a while now.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:04 AM on February 15, 2009 [7 favorites]


they ended up not realizing that their audience no longer found them relevant, their circulation plunged and they ended up getting bought out by a Canadian publishing conglomerate.

I like how this is phrased as if this is THE WORST THING THAT COULD EVER HAPPEN. "Oh no, we were just bought out by... sob... Canadians!"
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 10:09 AM on February 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Joining raysmg in a gentle rejoinder to Zardoz regarding movies about journalism and journalists, beyond All The President's Men there are movies like Salvador, China Syndrome, The Insider etc. that are all fairly gripping.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:31 AM on February 15, 2009


And let's not forget that when he's not wearing tights Superman is also a journalist.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 10:35 AM on February 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Has anybody seen the 5th season of the Wire? I will say no more to avoid spoilers but it's quite germane
posted by jcruelty at 12:55 PM on February 15, 2009


Who knew you could make a movie about journalists highly suspenseful?

You want suspenders, His Girl Friday's got 'em.
posted by Wolof at 3:05 PM on February 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


raysmj: Uh ...

I hadn't forgotten about All The President's Men. It's a great film with great acting, great direction, and a great screenplay. IMHO, it's not all that suspenseful. Slowly paced and more cerebral than something like Shattered Glass.
posted by zardoz at 3:33 PM on February 15, 2009


I don't get that. You should watch the film again. I have, within the past couple of years, on a large screen. It works up quite the sweat toward the end, is only as slow as every other movie of its time, really. Maybe it's that you know more about one case than the other before watching the movie? Or that you're used to or prefer quicker, post-'80s editing?
posted by raysmj at 3:54 PM on February 15, 2009


You got Hal Halbrook (who actually looks like the real Deep Throat, at least in the dark) talkin' bout criminals who put out cigarettes on their own hand, men who control the entire govt., a freaked White House employee who keeps talking despite her paranoia, will-he-or-won't-he-talk phone calls galore (one whole scene of it made in one take--the one with the guy in Minn. whose neighbor had just be kidnapped), an end where the two main protagonists are in fear for their very lives and becoming as paranoid as the men in the administration they're investigating? And you thought this was cerebral, rather than visceral?
posted by raysmj at 4:02 PM on February 15, 2009


My question would be, has a scenario like this EVER happened in real life? Has a company ever extended a job offer to someone in the spot based on one incident of movie-like super-genius hacking?

A guy I know says this is how he got his job - he hacked into a transaction processing system and got found out. They gave him a choice of jail or a job on their security team. I'm a little dubious of this, but he swears up and down that's the story.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 4:21 PM on February 15, 2009


Maybe it's just not his cup of tea? The man's name is Zardoz, after all, and I'm not sure Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman can quite compare to this utter win.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:21 PM on February 15, 2009


It's too bad that the list of Glass' faked and possibly-faked articles doesn't also cover the many pieces he wrote for The Daily Pennsylvanian, which is the University of Pennsylvania's esteemed daily newspaper, perennial winner of top college newspaper awards, whose editors routinely go on to major newspaper and weekly magazine positions right out of college, best and brightest, yadda yadda yadda.

Glass' old college articles are no longer available in the DP's online archives -- although there is a different Stephen Glass listed as writing for the DP as of 2007, poor guy -- but the articles were still there up until about a year or two ago, long after the New Republic scandal broke.

Those pieces that Glass wrote while he was at the DP were almost certainly fakes, too. In addition to a spot on the board during the year, Glass was one of the editors of the Summer Pennsylvanian, which is the stripped down version of the newspaper published during the summer school sessions. He wrote pieces for the opinion page, pieces that probably helped get him his newspaper jobs out of college. And they were often full of unverifiable-by-anyone-but-him anecdotes and stories. One was about meeting up with and talking to a drug-addicted homeless man who lived near Penn's campus. Guess how verifiable that story would be, if you were both the author of the piece and the editor of the paper that summer and practically no one else was around campus to check on you anyway, and you had a source who, being homeless and transient, would probably conveniently not be found. Other stories of his were similarly obvious fiction -- in retrospect.

I do have to wonder how many of Glass' 'bad journalistic habits' (to be generous) he picked up while he was still at Penn -- or possibly earlier in his life. The DP is an intense and backbiting and wonderful and maddening kind of place. It certainly doesn't cause fakes like Glass -- many esteemed Pulitzer winners have come through the Pink Palace -- but it probably does little to stem their rapacious advances either.

/former DP Editorial Board member and web geek (post-Glass)
posted by Asparagirl at 4:57 PM on February 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Shattered Glass is great movie about how people who suck get ahead by being entertaining, especially to the right folks. I wish I had been able to watch it about 46 times before my first office job.

Also, you know, Peter Sarsgaard.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:08 PM on February 15, 2009


I do have to wonder how many of Glass' 'bad journalistic habits' (to be generous) he picked up while he was still at Penn

And by the same token how many of Adam Penenberg's GOOD journalistic habits he picked up at Reed. One my my classmates and, I like to think, a friend. But he looks nothing remotely like Steve Zahn.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 6:13 PM on February 15, 2009


Not incidentally, Adam went on to become an assistant professor of journalism at NYU, and wrote Tragic Indifference: One Man's Battle With the Auto Industry Over the Dangers of SUVs which, if memory serves, was well-received and was supposed to be turned into a movie.
posted by waldo at 6:18 PM on February 15, 2009


Forbes Digital reporter Adam Penenberg exposed Glass as a fraud in his article Lies, Damn Lies and Fiction

I liked Steve Zahn's portrayal of Adam Penenberg in the movie. He goes through a long list of all the bogus details in the story. Then he says, "But there is one thing in the story that checks out. There is in fact a state in the Union named Nevada."
posted by jonp72 at 6:37 PM on February 15, 2009


waldo, I just read that article Adam wrote about you. I went to grad school for a lot longer than a year and ended up learning a lot of Fortran, which I still use at work every day. Sometimes it is useful to have a bit of expertise in dead languages ;-).

ethnomethodologist, I was at Reed with you and Adam ('84).
posted by Araucaria at 11:35 PM on February 15, 2009


The signs of fraud in Glass's stories were glaring and they served as pretty good case studies in my book Don't Believe It!: How lies become news -- almost every red flag was there -- all "color" and no evidence.

Why Hack Heaven proved to be Glass's undoing was that he took on a technical area that he did not have a firm grasp on and while his older editors had even less grasp on the Internet, they also had a disdain and distrust of the Fourth Medium so they believed what he had to say withot question. They already believed that the Internet was bad and that teenagers are bad -- what more could they ask for?

Unfortunately for Glass, there were people who knew the smallest nuances of the Internet and Internet security -- people who would be resentful if a mainstream magazine reported on "insider" stuff before they even knew it existed. So of course they had to look to see who was the print guy who scooped them, and then ended up finding a bigger scoop in the process.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 11:13 AM on February 16, 2009


“But the entire story was, in fact, entirely fictional.”

Pfft, this whole thing is fictional. Jan Brady made this guy up.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:03 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Maybe it's just not his cup of tea? The man's name is Zardoz, after all, and I'm not sure Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman can quite compare to this utter win.

Come now, snuffle. I like ATPM very much. I just don't see it as a suspense film. No need for straw men...jeez...some people, I tell ya...
posted by zardoz at 6:05 PM on February 18, 2009


Ahh, sorry, didn't mean to offend. I was just trying to humorously suggest exactly this:

"I like ATPM very much. I just don't see it as a suspense film"

And I agree, especially when compared to something like Zardoz.

Apologies for any perceived ad hominem. I'm in fact a Boorman fan.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:50 AM on February 20, 2009


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