Stephen Glass, the former New Republic reporter who fabricated more than 40 articles, lost a bid earlier this week to pursue his second career of choice: the law. Working from the (perhaps questionable) assumption that lawyers, like journalists, are not entitled to their own facts, the Supreme Court of California turned down Glass’ appeal to be admitted to the California bar. The court wrote that Glass “has not sustained his heavy burden of demonstrating rehabilitation and fitness for the practice of law.”
Glass, known for perpetrating one of the most infamous cases of journalistic fraud in history, has long been interested in the legal profession. He attended evening law school at Georgetown University beginning in 1997, during which time he made up characters, quotes, and events for his stories in The New Republic.
Glass wrote stories that were either partly or wholly fabricated from 1996 to 1998. The former reporter was careful to cover his tracks, writing detailed notes to support the made-up facts and interviews in his popular stories. In one 1996 article, “Taxis and the Meaning of Work,” Glass claimed a taxi driver of Middle Eastern descent had been mugged by a young African-American passenger, who threatened the driver with a knife and took his wallet. But the event never happened, and the characters were fictional, along with the cabdriver’s alleged words: “These things happen. … I give them whatever they want. I just want my life.”
In the story that led to his downfall, “Hack Heaven,” about a (fake) 15-year-old hacker trying to extort money from a (fake) software company, Glass went so far as to print up business cards, set up a website, and set up a voice mail box—all bogus—to fool his editor. He convinced his brother to pose as one of the software executives he had supposedly interviewed.
When New Republic editor Charles Lane confronted him, Glass continued trying to lie his way out of the situation, as described in a now-famous Vanity Fair article, “Shattered Glass.”
In 2002, a few years after being fired, Glass applied to join the New York bar, but withdrew his application after learning bar officials planned to reject it on moral character grounds.
He passed the California bar exam in 2006, but a bar committee rejected his determination of moral character application in 2007. Glass appealed, and argued he had made efforts to mend his ways and demonstrate morally upright character. In an initial bar court proceeding, a panel of judges agreed he had.
But in reviewing the case, the California Supreme Court noted that Glass hadn’t been fully transparent when he applied for the New York bar. In his California application Glass admitted including fabrications in four additional articles that Lane, his former boss, testified he’d never been made aware of.
“Many of his efforts from the time of his exposure in 1998 until the 2010 hearing seem to have been directed primarily at advancing his own well-being rather than returning something to the community," the court wrote.
Slate editor David Plotz, though, thinks the court’s decision was “cruel” and “self-righteous.” He notes Glass, now 41, has spent the past 10 years working as a law clerk in California, and has been described as reliable and honest by his new boss. “Exactly how much longer would he need to work in this dedicated way for the justices to forgive?” Plotz writes.
But the court concluded: “Despite his many statements concerning taking personal responsibility … it was not until the California Bar proceedings that [Glass] shouldered the responsibility of reviewing the editorials his employers published disclosing his fabrications, thus failing to ensure that all his very public lies had been corrected publicly and in a timely manner.”