One of the most notorious liars in American journalism has been denied a shot at redemption.
Stephen Glass, who shot to fame in the late 1990s with dozens of too-good-to-be-true articles for The New Republic and George magazines that were later exposed as largely fabricated, lost his case before the California Supreme Court on Monday that he had hoped would clear the way for him to be granted a license to practise law.
The court found that he had only tried to come clean about his misdemeanours in recent years to help his career, and had stonewalled attempts by his previous employers to conduct a forensic audit of his fraudulent stories. "Many of his efforts … seem to have been directed primarily at advancing his own well-being rather than returning something to the community," wrote the Court.
For almost two years, beginning in June, 1996, Glass fabricated juicy details for dozens of extraordinary stories that made him a star with his editors and readers. There was an article about a pot-fueled sex orgy among young Republicans at a Washington, D.C. convention, another about a church that worshipped President George H. W. Bush, and a story about a vibrant market in Monica Lewinsky novelty items such as the Monicacondom (used for oral sex).
Glass, then 25, was fired in May, 1998, shortly after his editors got a tip from a rival publication that he had fabricated an article. "Hack Heaven" told the extraordinary – and entirely false – story about a teenage hacker who had been hired at an eye-popping salary by a computer company whose security system he had supposedly penetrated. (The article began memorably, with the hacker yelling: "I want more money. I want a Miata. I want a trip to Disney World … I want a lifetime subscription to Playboy, and throw in a Penthouse. Show me the money!") Glass had tried to cover his tracks after a reporter from the website of Forbes magazine called him to find out more details about the hacker.
Charles Lane, The New Republic editor who fired Glass, declared the entire article "a hoax." In the subsequent weeks, the magazine discovered dozens of such frauds. Glass quit journalism and began extensive psychotherapy, and later published a thinly veiled roman a clef titled The Fabulist – for which he was reportedly paid handsomely – in which the protagonist is a fabricating journalist named Stephen Glass. Despite promotional interviews with 60 Minutes and other media outlets, the book bombed. Shattered Glass, a 2003 independent film starring Hayden Christensen as Glass, was well received but did poorly at the box office.
Glass, meanwhile tried to rebuild his life. After applying to become a member of the New York bar in 2002, he withdrew the application when it appeared he would fail a moral character test. The California court wrote Monday that, in applying for the New York bar, Glass "exaggerated his cooperation with the journals that had published his work and failed to supply a complete list of the fabricated articles that had injured others." Later, after moving to California and applying for the bar there, the court said, "Glass was not forthright in acknowledging the defects in his New York bar application."
In its decision, the court noted that Glass had damningly depicted fictitious members of identifiable groups, such as an African-American limo driver who had quit driving a taxi because he was "sick of those curry people," and who was later held up at knife point by a young African-American passenger. In another article, Glass fabricated a scene in which a group of pot-smoking young Republicans sexually humiliated a homely young woman.
It appeared Glass might finally be granted a second act. At a 2010 hearing held by the California State Bar, he received wide support from present and former co-workers, including the former New Republic publisher and editor-in-chief Martin Peretz. But on Monday the Supreme Court disagreed with the State Bar Court recommendation, saying that Glass, "has not sustained his heavy burden of demonstrating rehabilitation and fitness for the practice of law."