Stephen Glass was once a respected young journalist, loved and cared for by his editors and co-workers at The New Republic magazine.
Glass was 25 years old in 1998 when editor Charles Lane fired him from The New Republic after editors discovered that a number of his articles had been fabricated. Glass created fake Web sites, voicemails and notes to back up his false stories.
Five years later, Glass is back in the spotlight with the publication of his autobiographical fiction book – “The Fabulist,” which mirrors Glass’ life – and the release of “Shattered Glass,” a movie based on his story.
Glass came to GW Friday to participate in “Pressure, Plagiarism and Professionalism,” a panel discussion about ethical issues in journalism and other professions. Associate professor of Media and Public Affairs Mark Feldstein and philosophy professor William Griffith also participated.
Glass nervously wrung his hands as he sat before an audience of students, professors and journalists.
When asked to comment on his actions, Glass did not deny his transgressions and admitted that he betrayed readers, friends and co-workers.
He repeatedly apologized, and told the audience that he lied because he felt that inventing stories would cause people to think better of him.
“I had a self-loathing, a self- hatred and a deep and profound insecurity. I felt that I was not good enough in every respect,” he said. “And just to be absolutely clear, in no way do I think that I have something meaningful to tell you in terms of what is ethical and not ethical in journalism.”
Prior to the discussion, Feldstein was asked about faculty objections to the panel.
“I’ve heard some grumblings,” Feldstein said. “The main thing I think is that we’re journalists and believe in free discussion and free debate. It means getting all sides of an argument even from people we may find despicable.”
Former New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan, who originally hired Glass, made an unannounced appearance at the event.
Sullivan criticized Glass for profiting from his new book. “You’re talking to students here who are getting a lesson,” Sullivan said. “The lesson is, lie and betray and get a six-figure contract for a big book and a movie about you.”
The panelists also debated whether Glass was an “anomaly” in a profession that emphasizes truth or if he is a product of journalism.
“I actually don’t believe that I am evidence of journalism being broken,” Glass said. “I think I am evidence of a very broken person.”
Feldstein agreed and said that Glass’ case was too outside the norm of journalism to offer useful lessons about the profession. He warned that Glass was too easy a target because his deviant behavior made others feel “good and smug” about their own mores.
“I’m more concerned about journalists that act as conveyer belts for the lies that are told by public officials and pass them out to the public,” Feldstein said.
Glass looked pained as he struggled to deal with the questions posed by the audience. He offered apologies for his wrong doings and was careful to blame only himself and not those who had worked with him. Often as he responded he looked down at his hands and let his voice fall to an inaudible whisper.
Although he did not attend the discussion, Lane, The New Republic editor who discovered Glass’ transgressions, said in an interview after the event that Glass’ actions were reprehensible.
“He didn’t do it to be loved,” said Lane, who now works at The Washington Post. “He was making a mockery of all the people, the editors, the staff.”