What is true redemption? That’s among the questions explored by the California Supreme Court in the case of Stephen Randall Glass, the disgraced journalist who wanted to be a lawyer in California.
The court handed down its decision this week, and it surprised many who felt Glass had indeed redeemed himself after falling very far from ethical grace more than a decade ago.
Glass was the subject of the 2003 movie, “Shattered Glass,” which I routinely show to my introductory mass communications class at Delta College. The movie always sparks healthy debate about ethics and journalistic standards.
If you aren’t familiar with the Glass case, a quick refresher. Glass was a journalistic wunderkind, a writer for The New Republic, Rolling Stone and other magazines who seemed to score stories and angles no one else could. There were questions about his work’s veracity early on, yet Glass managed to bamboozle his colleagues and editors at The New Republic. Then a reporter from Forbes sniffed out fabrications in a story titled “Hack Heaven,” a piece by Glass about a precocious 15-year-old hacker named Ian Restil. The Forbes reporter contacted Chuck Lane, who was Glass’s new boss, and Lane took a fresh, hard look at his writer’s work.
Lane found that “Hack Heaven” was largely made up. There was no Ian Restil. Digging deeper, he found that Glass had not just made up portions of stories. He also falsified notes and business cards to back up his lies. He wove a stunningly complex tapestry of deceit.
Glass was fired, but later graduated from Georgetown law school and applied to enter the bar in New York. He withdrew his application after learning he would be rejected on grounds of being morally unfit. Glass moved to California in 2004, where he has worked as a paralegal at the Los Angeles law firm of Carpenter, Zuckerman and Rowley.
Glass made a strong case for admission. He presented lawyers and law school professors who vouched for his diligence, his honesty, his compassion. Glass had spoken at several media panels about his transgressions, had appeared on “60 Minutes” to discuss his case, and written numerous letters of apology. Witnesses said Glass, who is now 41, has gone through years of difficult therapy to become a changed and better man.
I was among those who felt that, on balance, Glass deserved admission.
The court, though, disagreed. They have denied his application, drawing accusations that they are moralistic and self-righteous. (The court heard the case after a bar review committee rejected his application and Glass appealed.)
In reading the court’s decision, I was struck by several things. The decision is clearly and concisely written and wholly accessible to a lay community. More to the point, it argues convincingly that Glass’s sins of deceit did not end with his departure from The New Republic.
In fact, the decision asserts that Glass continues to manipulate and dissemble when it serves his own purposes.
The justices point out Glass wrote letters of apology only when he had applied for bar admission in New York. He accepted $175,000 for a book he wrote titled “The Fabulist,” a fictionalized account of his transgressions, but never offered to pay restitution to any of the people he harmed, let alone contribute any of that sum to journalistic or ethics organizations.
He appeared on “60 Minutes” before his book was released, probably more an act of marketing than contrition.
What’s most striking, though, is the fact that Glass, in all the years since his fraud was uncovered, has not fully and thoroughly come clean on his misdeeds.
He was not honest with representatives of the New York bar when he applied for admission there, understating the number of articles he had fabricated and exaggerating his attempt to work with magazine editors to identify the offending articles.
For example, he declined to meet with the editor of George magazine to pinpoint lies in articles he had done for that publication. He told his lawyer to work with Harper’s magazine to identify fabrications, but his lawyer apparently never did, and Glass did not follow up.
In fact, until the California bar hearings, he had never provided a complete list of tainted articles published by The New Republic.
Even during the California hearings, the judges contend, Glass was evasive if not dishonest. From the court’s decision: “Our review of the record indicates hypocrisy and evasiveness in Glass’ testimony at the California State Bar hearing, as well. We find it particularly disturbing that at the hearing Glass persisted in claiming that he had made a good faith effort to work with the magazines that published his works. He went through many verbal twists and turns at the hearing to avoid acknowledging the obvious fact that in his New York bar application he exaggerated his level of assistance to the magazines that had published his fabrications, and that he omitted from his New York bar list of fabrications some that actually could have injured real persons.”
The 33-page decision suggests that Glass’s redemption has been, at best, incomplete.
At worst, it has been a self-serving charade.