Stephen Glass is back, with a new bandwagon of defenders.
Applying to the bar is very difficult, but New York Times columnist Joe Nocera would have you believe that it should be a cinch for a recovering pathological liar. He writes that Stephen Glass, who had fully or partially fabricated anywhere from 35 to 50 articles for the New Republic, Harper’s, Rolling Stone, and elsewhere, has had a hell of a time trying to become a lawyer on account of the scandal. California’s Committee of Bar Examiners has rejected his application, a decision which was overturned by the State Bar Court, and which is now heading to the state’s Supreme Court.
But should the rest of his life also be destroyed? That, apparently, is the view of the Committee of Bar Examiners, which vets bar applicants for the State Bar of California. Given how Glass has turned his life around (more about that in a minute), it is a little hard to understand its resistance. So far, the committee has lost in two separate judicial proceedings, but it continues to press on, making this last-ditch appeal to the California State Supreme Court.…
The line, “But should the rest of his life also be destroyed?” betrays too much hyperbolic self-absorption to be taken seriously. There are a number of livelihoods Glass can pursue without a license, ones that won’t become a joke because of his participation. The California legal system has more to lose than he does.
Besides, the California State Bar hasn’t set fire to Glass’s house or maimed his dog, but rather upheld its own ethical standard. And how is this a surprise? When enrolling in law school, students are prepared not only to pass the bar, but to expect a rigorous moral and ethical examination from the state bar. Suffice to say, lying is a big no-no. That Glass would push on with his law degree so that he still might take the bar tells us something about Glass’s moxy.
Nocera buys in fully, summarizing Glass’s road to redemption as sign enough that he’s done his penance:
…Enrolled in Georgetown University Law Center when the scandal broke, Glass was unhireable as a lawyer when he got his degree. A sympathetic professor, Susan Low Bloch, helped him land a clerkship with a District of Columbia judge. Then he moved to New York where he passed the bar but withdrew his application when he learned he was going to be turned down. To support himself, he wrote a fictional account of his misdeeds. He underwent intensive psychotherapy and sought out those whom he had wronged to apologize. He fell in love, moved with her to California and took — and passed — the California Bar exam.
Not only did Glass press on, by the way, but he also appealed when California rejected his bar application, enlisting 22 witnesses:
In all, 22 witnesses testified to Glass’s good character, including Professor Bloch, the judge he had clerked for and, most remarkably, Martin Peretz, who was the sole owner of The New Republic when Glass fabricated his stories and was deeply embarrassed by the scandal. “I always thought redemption was within his means because he was fundamentally a good kid,” Peretz told me.
His prodigious, phoenix-like success and his ensuing battle is reminiscent of the first go-round. Glass hasn’t lost his touch. He is still capable of recruiting sympathizers who will argue on his behalf. In so doing, these people turn a blind eye to the many questions that would naturally arise when dealing with someone deserving greater scrutiny.
There’s nothing remarkable about Glass finding character witnesses. He has always found ways to hide behind others. Recall that when Glass was first exposed, it wasn’t by his friends at the New Republic, but rather by an online Forbes publication. Distance from Glass’s charms appears to be the only way to see through the smoke and mirrors. (Peretz, on the other hand, still infantilizes him with the words “a good kid.”)
Richard Blow, who had edited Glass’s faked stories for George magazine, recounts times he stood by his friend “Steve” as editors questioned the material. Others would similarly stand up for him. As Blow wrote in Salon:
Steve was a delight to edit. I’d call him about a manuscript, and as soon as I said hello he’d blurt, “You hate it, don’t you? It’s terrible, I know. I’m so sorry. I know. It’s awful. Just kill it. Really. I won’t mind.”
He was disarming, like a little kid who’s pissed off at himself; you couldn’t help reaching out, reassuring him that everything would be OK. “Steve, it’s great,” I’d say. “It just needs a little tweaking.”
“You really like it?” he would ask, his voice brightening. “Really?
So it was that the “disarming little kid” would skate past scrutiny by playing on the sympathies of his colleagues.
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