In 1998 Stephen Glass, a writer for The New Republic, was a rising star in the world of journalism. At only 25 he had been working at TNR for three years and was known for writing entertaining stories that we so bizarre they were “almost” unbelievable. Although readers would often question the authenticity of Glass’s stories he managed to keep his fellow staff members loyal by bringing in more and more remarkable stories. Glass’s sources also provided sources by e-mail, so despite the public outcry, his stories continued to be published and the public was reassured by TNR staff members that all Glass’s stories were completely legitimate.
Unfortunately, The New Republic staff was forced to see the truth behind Glass’s work in 1998 when a writer for Forbes, Adam Penenberg, sought to verify Glass’s latest story about a teen hacker who broke into the computer network of a company called “Jukt Micronics.” Impressed by the teen’s computer skills, the company reportedly hired him as an information security consultant, rather than press charges. The story proved to be completely false; not only was there no teen hacker, there was no such thing as Jukt Micronics. Despite going as far as to create a webpage for the fake company, Glass was exposed as a fraud. It was revealed that over the three years he worked for TNR he had faked over half of his stories. Stephen Glass’s journalism career came abruptly to an end, just as he was making a name for himself.
In 2003, Glass was interviewed by 60 Minutes about the scandal and the toll it took on him to keep up with the lies in his stories. The same year a film based on Stephen Glass’s story, Shattered Glass, was released.
“My life was one very long process of lying and lying again, to figure out how to cover those other lies,” said Glass. He was also interviewed the same year by CNN where he again discussed his experience with fabricating stories; he has since been accused of using the event as a publicity stunt:
Although it’s easy to say Glass was remarkably dim about the believability of his sources and the content of his articles, his story serves as a warning to future journalists about concocting even the smallest lies. Creating a convenient quote or even a fallacious source is enough to get a person fired if they are exposed and will most likely keep them from getting hired at a serious publication or other news source ever again.
Why might someone fabricate stories when they know the chance of getting caught is very high and probably even inevitable? Why were his fellow staff members so quick to believe him? And if what he did was not advisable, was it at least understandable in print journalism, a career with a very competitive job market?
To learn more about the Stephen Glass scandal, you can read Forbes writer Adam Penenberg’s original article from the incident.