Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Is Man Who Fabricated Facts in Scores of Magazine Articles Fit for Admission to the Bar?
By ROGER M. GRACE
To the horror of The New Republic and other magazines that had run his articles, to the chagrin of the journalistic profession, and to the astoundment of the public, writer Stephen Glass was in 1998 exposed as having authored numerous pieces, purportedly factual, that were partially or completely made up by him. Charles Lane, The New Republic’s then-editor who fired Associate Editor Glass, is quoted in the May 25, 1998 issue of Time Magazine as saying:
“Glass is a man without honor who operated out of hostility and contempt; he has no place in journalism.”
The question that’s been presented to the California Supreme Court is whether Glass has a place in the legal profession.
A petition for review has been filed by the Commission on Bar Examiners which contests the finding of the State Bar Court that Glass is morally fit to practice law. He passed the bar exam in 2007 but his admission was blocked by the committee because he flunked its moral character review. A hearing judge subsequently found that Glass had reformed, and the Review Department, in a 2-1 decision, on July 13 affirmed.
The majority opinion, by State Bar Court Judge Judith Epstein, says:
“Without question, Glass’s misconduct was appalling. However, our task here is not to dwell on his past misdeeds, but to determine his present moral fitness.”
Indeed the misconduct was appaling. The Time Magazine article notes:
“He appears to be something rare in journalism: a genuine con man who made up not just quotations but people, corporations, legislation—even a ‘National Memorabilia Convention’ (‘held last weekend in Rockville, Md.’), where vendors hawked such Lewinsky-related items as an inflatable Monica doll that recited Leaves of Grass.
“The serial plagiarist is a familiar journalistic type, but the serial fabulist is rare. Glass concocted story after story and slipped them all past his editors and fact checkers, often buttressing his claims with forged notes and interview transcripts and other bogus documents. His work was challenged from time to time—a March 1997 account of a cocaine-fueled orgy at a young-conservatives conference was hooted at loudly—but his career sailed on, with free-lance contracts from a fistful of magazines.”
Epstein’s opinion recites:
The scope of the fraud in this case is staggering. Between July 1996 and May 1998, all but a handful of the articles authored by Glass were fabricated to some degree, including those published by TNR and by magazines such as The Policy Review, George, Rolling Stone, and Harper’s. Glass invented sources, events and organizations, and he concocted quotes. These falsehoods added potency and color to his writing, but he often used them to demean his subjects, resulting in stories that were mean-spirited.
For example, Glass wrote a 1998 article in George magazine about Vernon Jordan, a trusted member of President Clinton’s inner circle, which was based entirely on fictional sources. These purported sources described Jordan as “crude,” “boorish,” and with a reputation for “making sexual advances to female dinner partners.” They also criticized Jordan’s membership on various corporate boards, accusing him of being “totally unaware of the issues” and “bending corporate ethics guidelines to boost his income.” None of this was true.
To make matters worse, Glass covered up his inventions with additional lies. Prior to publication, he systematically defrauded fact-checkers and editors by creating reporter’s notes and other documents to support the facts and quotes in his articles. Glass followed up with further deceptions after publication when his articles prompted complaints or letters to the editor. He countered them with more falsely generated reporter’s notes and forged documents. As a consequence, the publications stood behind his work.
Glass’s downfall came after his article titled “Hack Heaven” appeared in The New Republic. It told of how a 15-year-old had hacked into the computer of Jukt Micronics and undertook to extort money and merchandise from the company. Forbes’ online publication, “Forbes Digital Tool,” was skeptical and did some digging. It ascertained that there was no such company and no such 15-year-old, and other facts had also been manufactured. Deferring publication of what it had found to May 11, 1998, it reported its findings to Lane on May 8.
Epstein’s opinion relates:
“Glass denied [the fabrication] and provided the editor with fabricated notes and forged documents to support the article. He even set up false voicemail boxes and a phony website and arranged for his brother in California to pose as a source when the editor called him to verify the story. In spite of these desperate efforts to cover his actions, the editor’s questions persisted, and ultimately Glass confessed that the entire article was fabricated.”
Lane issued a May 10 press release stating that he had fired Glass, explaining that “Hack Heaven” had “contained fabricated characters and situations.”
In the June 29 issue of The New Republic is a brief item disclosing that its investigation showed that of the 41 articles by Glass which it had published since December 1996, 27 contained fabrications—six of the stories being wholly fictitious—and 14 were apparently legitimate. (Lane later made clear that he wouldn’t vouch for the accuracy of those 14, but couldn’t debunk them.)
Glass continued through the years to garner publicity.
“Today, the name Stephen Glass still looms large, and T.N.R., despite a rich history as one of the country’s leading voices, has never fully recovered from one of the greatest discovered frauds in journalistic history,” an October, 2007, article in Vanity Fair observes. “The release of the highly acclaimed 2003 film Shattered Glass…, which enjoys a continued life on DVD, hasn’t helped, either.
“For those who had worked with Glass and were still looking for a genuine apology, the 2003 publication of his novel, The Fabulist, formulated in part on his experiences at T.N.R., was seen as a crassly self-serving enterprise. The book failed both critically and commercially.”
To publicize the book, Glass gave an interview to Steve Kroft, aired May 11, 2003, on “Sixty Minutes.” In it, he confessed:
“My life was one very long process of lying and lying again, to figure out how to cover those other lies. Like a stock graph, there’s going to be exceptions in this. But the general trend of the stories is that they started out with a few made up details and quotes. And granted a few too many, of course. But a few. And then they progressed into stories that were completely fabricated. Just completely made up out of whole cloth.”
He also talked with Seth Mnookin of Newsweek, who quotes Glass in an article published May 19, 2003, as saying: “I need to be very careful of always, always telling the truth,” and pledging “to lead a trustworthy life.”
Attempts by Glass to become a lawyer have previously received public attention. What’s new in this column is information as to fact of, and content of, the confidential State Bar Court opinion and the non-public fact of the pendency of the petition before the Supreme Court, in Case No. S196374.
Efforts by Glass to gain bar membership in New York and California are mentioned on the much-cited, though often errant, website Wikipedia, which says, in this instance with accuracy:
“After being fired by The New Republic, Glass earned a Law degree, magna cum laude, at Georgetown University Law Center. He then passed the New York State bar exam. At the time, there were reports that he was awaiting the character and fitness review that each applicant must pass. Nothing further is publicly known of his quest to be admitted to practice law in the State of New York.”
(Epstein’s opinion reveals: “Glass withdrew his New York Bar application on September 22, 2004, after receiving notice that his request for admission would not likely be granted. He moved to California in the fall of 2004.”)
The Wikipedia entry continues:
“Glass also applied to join the bar in California, but his application was refused due to his history of ethical problems.”
In support of that statement, the website cites an article in the Jan. 24, 2011 edition of the New York Times. It’s a magazine piece on Martin Peretz who, in 1998 (when Glass was fired), was sole owner of The New Republic, and is now a minority shareholder and “editor emeritus.” It says:
Glass eventually went to law school. Later, he moved to Los Angeles, and applied to the California bar, but his application was denied because of his previous ethical lapses. He requested an appeal hearing. Charles Lane, The New Republic’s editor during part of Glass’s tenure, was subpoenaed and asked to offer testimony. In April , he made the trip to Los Angeles for the hearing and ran into a familiar face. Lane did a double take.
“Marty, what are you doing here?”
“I’m testifying for Steve.”
Peretz testified that Glass’s accusers were hypocrites and that he would rehire the fabulist if given the chance. (The results of the hearing are sealed, but Glass’s name does not appear on California’s list of licensed lawyers.) I asked Peretz why he chose to speak on behalf of Glass. “It was the right thing to do,” he said. “Who are they to sit in judgment?”
Testimony by Peretz and other character witnesses provided momentum for Glass’s bid to persuade the State Bar Court that he had reformed.
Epstein says in her July 13 opinion:
The hearing judge found that the quality of Glass’s character witnesses was “outstanding.” We agree. Glass presented ten impressive character witnesses, including two law professors, an owner of TNR, an investigative journalist, four attorneys (including a partner of the firm where Glass is employed), and a founder and CEO of an educational software company who was a Rhodes Scholar. Glass also submitted declarations of five witnesses, including three lawyers, a director at Human Rights Watch, and an International Relations Officer for the U.S. Department of Labor. We afford great weight to Glass’s character witnesses, who were community leaders, employers, judges, and attorneys, and all of whom spoke with the utmost confidence in Glass’s good moral character and rehabilitation.
Julie Hilden, an attorney and an author, has been Glass’s life partner for a decade. She described him as “broken” and “depressed” when they first met. But over the course of their relationship, he has developed into an empathetic person, one who willingly dropped everything and moved to New York to care for her during a ten-month siege of bad health. She personally witnessed his arduous process of identifying whom he had hurt and his efforts to carefully craft individualized letters of apology to those individuals. His honesty now is “an overriding concern...it’s really important to him.” The hearing judge found Hilden’s testimony to be “persuasive” and so do we.
The attorneys who work with Glass on a daily basis at Carpenter & Zuckerman [now Carpenter, Zuckerman & Rowley] have a first-hand opportunity to observe him. They all attested to his honesty and the accuracy of his work product. These attorneys also seek his advice on ethical issues that arise in their day-to-day practice. Glass readily brings up his past misdeeds at TNR when meeting a new colleague or client, and discusses it with great candor and remorse. Paul Zuckerman, a named partner, describes Glass as his “absolute best” employee, who “brings an amazing amount of honesty and probity to the job.” Martin Peretz, who was the owner of TNR when Glass worked there, has accepted his apology, rejected his offer of monetary reimbursement and forgiven him.”
The jurist writes that “Glass’s character evidence is a major component of his overall showing of rehabilitation,” also citing other indications.
The majority’s opinion, joined in by Judge Joann Remke, concludes that “Glass has amply demonstrated he possesses the requisite moral character to be admitted to practice in California.”
Judge Catherine D. Purcell, formerly of the Kern Superior Court, dissented, insisting that “Glass did not prove that he is fully rehabilitated from his misconduct.” She writes:
My colleagues acknowledge that from 1996 to 1998, Glass perpetrated a fraud of “staggering” proportions. He used his exceptional writing skills to publicly and falsely malign people and organizations for actions they did not do and for faults they did not have. He even created fake newsletters, voicemail boxes and a website to support his fabricated articles. For two years, Glass engaged in a multi-layered, complex and harmful course of public dishonesty.
Although he provided evidence of some rehabilitation, the Committee proved that five years after his initial public fraud, Glass was not truthful on his application for admission to the New York Bar. In that 2003 application, he expressed remorse for his lies and promised to be honest. Yet, to gain admission to practice law in New York, Glass understated the number of articles he had fabricated and exaggerated his efforts to help the magazines identify those articles. At a time when he should have been scrupulously honest, he presented an inaccurate application because it benefitted him—the same behavior as his earlier misconduct. And as late as 2005, Glass told one psychiatrist that he was still in the process of understanding and accepting his past misconduct. Just two years later, in 2007, he applied for admission to the California bar.
This record does not demonstrate Glass’s complete rehabilitation. If he is admitted to practice law, California courts and others will rely on his word as an officer of the court...Indeed, if Glass were to fabricate evidence in legal matters as readily and effectively as he falsified material for magazine articles, the harm to the public and the profession would be immeasurable. Given the magnitude of his misconduct and his subsequent misrepresentations on his New York Bar application, Glass has not shown proof of reform by a lengthy period of exemplary conduct which ‘we could with confidence lay before the world’ to justify his admission....
Neither Arthur L. Margolis, who (along with Susan L. Margolis) represents Glass, nor Rachel Grunberg of the State Bar’s Office of General Counsel would comment, citing confidentiality of admissions matters. Glass did not return a phone call.
A question Kroft posed to Glass in the “60 Minutes” interview was: “Now, is the Stephen Glass in this 60 Minutes interview really Stephen Glass or just another character that he has invented?” We might now ask: Is the contrite Stephen Glass, who convinced a State Bar hearing judge that he is committed to leading an honest life, “really Stephen Glass or just another character that he has invented?”
If he’s admitted to practice, we’ll find out.
His admission will take place, for sure, if the Supreme Court denies review. It will take place maybe if review is granted.
HALF CENTURY AGO: Today marks 50 years since Walter Winchell—as much a credit to the Fourth Estate as Glass was a disgrace—revealed the existence of Soviet missiles in Cuba...which the Democratic president refused to acknowledge until two weeks before the elections across the nation in November of 1962, resulting in Democratic gains.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company