The New Republic has finished sifting through the journalistic wreckage left behind by Stephen Glass, and the findings aren't pretty: Two-thirds of the 41 stories he wrote for the magazine were at least partially fabricated.
Six articles -- three of which the magazine had already acknowledged as fake -- "could be considered entirely or nearly entirely made up," the New Republic says in next week's issue. Many others were "a blend of fact and fiction. . . . We offer no excuses for any of this. Only our deepest apologies to all concerned."
Glass did not contest the findings and apologized this week in a private letter to Editor Charles Lane and owner and Editor in Chief Martin Peretz, Lane said yesterday.
Since being fired as associate editor last month, Glass, 25, has told two acquaintances that he is under a suicide watch, accompanied by someone at all times. "I'm going through this process of trying to figure myself out," he told one. During a conversation with the other acquaintance, he burst into tears.
Glass's attorney, Gerson Zweifach, said his client had no immediate plans to offer a public explanation. He said Glass "has asked me to cooperate with the New Republic and George and provide them with any information they need to make whatever they write about his work as accurate as possible." George magazine has said Glass used two fabricated quotes in a profile of Vernon Jordan.
"We are doing what we can to set the record straight and lay out the facts so people can make up their own minds," said Lane, who examined Glass's pieces with six other editors. "We have never tried to deny that anything was wrong." He blamed Glass's successful fakery on "malfunctioning BS detectors on the part of the editors and a person who we trusted who turns out not to be worthy of trust. . . . Hey, we should have done a better job. There's no way around that."
Michael Kelly, the New Republic's editor for most of 1997, said: "I take full responsibility for the flaws in judgment that allowed this to happen, and I apologize to those whose reputations were tarnished or who were otherwise hurt by these fictions." Added Kelly, now at the National Journal: "It's obviously an immense betrayal by a writer and a serious failure on the part of the editors -- I'm referring to myself here -- who edited that writer."
The sheer breadth of Glass's deceptions is stunning, his stories bursting with too-good-to-be-true anecdotes that were just that.
The New Republic offered several examples of Glass's fiction writing in the 27 discredited pieces since late 1996. In "Peddling Poppy," an account of a Hofstra University conference on the Bush presidency, Glass invented the following: "The First Church of George Herbert Walker Christ," "Mary Ung" of the "Committee for the Former President's Integrity," and "a small sky-diving industry newsletter" called "Jump Now."
(Glass had "Ung" begging reporters to cover a "sad little tableau" of five children in wheelchairs -- one white, two Asian, two black -- meant to symbolize the Americans With Disabilities Act. When the white child leaves, "Ung" says, "Oh, my God. I need a white person," then asks Glass to get in the wheelchair and hold the American flag.)
In "Don't You D.A.R.E.," an examination of a controversial anti-drug program, Glass "fabricated some of the persons who purportedly had negative experiences" with D.A.R.E. These included "James, a television news producer" and "Daniel, a young protestor at an Illinois college" (who "asked that his last name not be used, since he is up for tenure . . . and nervous about adverse publicity"). Also nonexistent were an "NBC employee" and a "Justice Department official."
"Anatomy of a Policy Fraud," while containing largely "valid reporting" on the Clinton administration's crime initiatives, used such made-up sources as the "Cops & Justice Foundation," a supposed Republican poll on crime, "Donny Tye, a former California police officer," and a "senior Justice staffer."
The magazine offered few details about the six articles deemed to be wholly or largely fabricated. In "Clutch Situation," soon after the Monica Lewinsky story broke, Glass described one White House intern (who "begged not to be identified") whipping out a napkin with President Clinton's autograph to impress women. He also described a scene at Cities in Adams-Morgan: "Three twentysomethings sit hunched over a small table, taking frequent drags on Camel Lights, nursing vodka martinis, and feverishly speculating about the details of President Clinton's sex life."
In "All Wet," an essay on global warming, Glass invented such groups as "Climate Lookout," "Truth in Science" and the "Association for the Advancement of Sound Water Policy." In an ironic twist, he said he had called the association "and asked them to explain the dangerously low rainfall in Werty, Iowa -- a fictitious town."
This plot-within-a-plot device also surfaced in "Ratted Out," about private eyes who investigate employees' bosses. Glass says he called one firm and "made the scenario as implausible as possible, so no one would get into trouble. The woman who answered the phone, Wendy, said she would take down the information. . . . I told her I worked for the Amish Agriculture Cooperative in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. . . . I've seen it real, real bad,' I said almost tearfully." He called another firm "under an alias" and asked for "a background check on my boss -- whom I identified as Stephen Glass." Through a case of mistaken identity, he said, he had been accused of soliciting a prostitute in 1968, which was before he was born.
Also fabricated, said the magazine, was "Spring Breakdown," a much-debated account of beer, marijuana and sex at a conservative political conference at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. ("In the get-naked room, everyone disrobes immediately, without a hint of embarrassment. One couple fondles each other in the corner. A muscular man, apparently hallucinating, prances around the room like a ballet dancer. A woman locks herself in the bathroom, crying and shouting out the name Samuel.' ") Glass, the magazine says, made up the "accounts of drug use, drinking, and sexual harassment by young conference attendees."
How could all this have happened? Lane says Glass "deliberately deceived the fact-checkers" with forged notes, fabricated documents, fake press releases and, in one case, a bogus Web site. In other instances, Lane said, Glass told fact-checkers that "certain sources he had were so deep and so dark that they'd asked not to be called back" -- a tactic he also used at George. After Glass wrote "Hack Heaven," the piece that ultimately led to his downfall, Lane insisted that Glass drive him to Bethesda to find the site of a Sunday hackers' conference described in the story. Lane says Glass took him to an office building lobby where he insisted the event had taken place, even after the security guard said the building had been closed that Sunday. Finally, Glass admitted he hadn't been at the conference but still maintained it was not imaginary.
Friends say Glass, who had been in seclusion at his parents' suburban Chicago home, is back in Washington and recently took final exams at Georgetown Law School, where he is attending night classes. Vanity Fair is working on a profile, and two screenwriters are said to be interested in the rights to his story.
On the night he was fired, Glass told Kelly, his former boss, that he had been dismissed for an "exceedingly minor" mistake in his latest story, Kelly said. The next day, Kelly said, Glass called to admit "that he had done terrible things" -- but still insisted "he had not made anything up" in the story about the beer-swilling, pot-smoking young conservatives. Lane sees one clear lesson from the debacle: "You've got to be more careful about blind quotes."