Stephen Glass is back, with a new bandwagon of defenders.
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If Peretz finds Glass sufficiently reformed, will he offer Glass another opportunity to publish in his magazine regularly? Is he confident that something Glass wrote could be published without a thorough review? Would Jeffrey Rosen (TNR’s legal affairs columnist) be comfortable sharing a blog with Glass?
It depends on how willing they are to look at the details. Peretz is a busy guy, and he might not have examined the full record of Glass’s past decade. Perhaps if Peretz had read Glass’s book, The Fabulist, he might have hesitated.
The fictional account of the scandal allows Glass to do the thing he’s always done. Hanna Rosin, once a close friend of Glass, was struck by how his deception seeped into the narrative. When The Fabulist was published in 2003, Rosin noticed that while the author felt bad about lying to his friends, he described them as unsavory characters anyway:
Our hero, meanwhile, is a soul repentant. He is humble, contrite. He is sad and afraid. He sweats, he shakes, he is haunted by night terrors. And he’s also a few shades hipper than the original: Rather than going to law school, as Glass did in real life, he works in a video store, goes to strip clubs and Vietnamese massage parlors — and always gets his girl after the first date.
In a way we are lucky Steve wrote this book as fiction. With a memoir, he might have strived for a coherent mea culpa. Here we have his imagination unfettered, his true fantasy of how things might have been.
The release of the book, by the way, neatly coincided with the movie that portrayed him negatively (and accurately) as the inveterate liar he was. In the communications world, this is a common technique. By turning negative news about you into an opportunity, you create a soapbox to “tell your side of the story.” Glass surely felt it was necessary given the damning account in the movie.
Our Steve was a lovely, winning, hilarious, endearing person. Christensen’s Steve is not. He’s got all the Glass tics — the endless apologies, the constant helpfulness, the excessive ingratiation — but while Steve made them endearing, Christensen makes them only creepy. Our Steve rubbed off on all of us, made us think that life could be luscious and fun. We loved Steve, but this cinematic Steve seems too weird to love. He doesn’t have enough magic.…
Here is a more troubling thought: Maybe Shattered Glass is right, and my memory has deceived me. Maybe this Steve is the real one. Maybe Steve was creepy in his insecurity; maybe he was constantly manipulating us emotionally, and maybe we were too stupid to notice. Maybe what I remember as his charm would seem noxious to me today. I don’t know. I prefer my memory-bank Steve: It makes me feel slightly less a dupe.
This is reminiscent of Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello, in which the villain Iago banks on his charm and wit to infect the minds of his clueless companions with lies: “When devils will the blackest sins put on/ They do suggest at first with heavenly shows/ As I do now.” Glass’s infecting charm was just that: Infecting. And Rosin and Plotz aren’t the only two people to sniff out the fraud in Glass’s fiction. Even Amazon.com’s review of the book catches the flatness of the characters:
The Fabulist is populated with characters seemingly pulled from the scrap heap of numerous failed sitcoms: the Egotistical Boss, the Girlfriend Who Doesn’t Understand, the Pushy Older Jewish Lady with a Single Granddaughter, and the Comically Mysterious Co-workers. Many of the characters are reportedly based on real people and are portrayed, disappointingly, as jerks and fools more deserving of derision than apology.
Rosin points to how easily (and frequently) he apologized for matters both small and large, so as to remain in the good graces of his company — or, as could now be the case, to ensure his own advance.
The New York State Bar heard those apologies and remained unconvinced. Later, the apologies also failed when presented to the California State Bar, for reasons that Jack Shafer smartly examines:
According to the committee, Glass didn’t begin writing most of his 100-plus letters of apology until after he graduated from law school, with most of the letters sent between 2001 and 2004, and as earlier noted, he waited until 2009 — 11 years — before compiling his complete list of fabricated articles “and only then in connection with these moral character proceedings,” the committee writes. “[T]he full list of fabrications was only compiled when it suited him, and not when it was most needed by his victims.” (The official list now contains 35 New Republic pieces, one at Harper’s, one at Policy Review, two at Rolling Stone, and three at George.)
The committee also noted that he made $193,000 on his book, and that he did not compensate those he defrauded (TNR paid him to write truthful articles, he furnished them with false ones).
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