Your Ethics Will Follow You

If you have very been faced with an ethical dilemma, you know that the decisions you have to make in reference to them are never easy. Along with the stress of having to make a decision, there is extra stress because you want to make the correct decision. When you make a correct decision, everybody loves you. However, if you make an incorrect decision, you are vilified and that choice can follow you for the rest of your life.


While taking an ethics class for my masters degree, I was introduced to a move titled “Shattered Glass.” The screenplay is based on a September 1998 Vanity Fair article by H. G. Bissinger. In it he chronicled the rapid rise of Stephen Glass (played by Hayden Christensen) and his journalistic career at The New Republic during the mid-1990s and his steep fall when his widespread journalistic fraud was exposed.
Although Glass enjoyed loyalty from The New Republic staff, his reporting repeatedly drew outraged rebuttals from the subjects of his articles, eroding his credibility and leading to private skepticism from insiders at the magazine. After the scandal broke, the magazine’s majority owner and editor-in-chief, Martin Peretz, admitted that his wife had told him that she did not find Glass’s stories credible and had stopped reading them. In December 1996, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) was the target of a hostile article by Glass called “Hazardous to Your Mental Health”. CSPI wrote a letter to the editor and issued a press release pointing out numerous inaccuracies and distortions, and even hinted at possible plagiarism. The organization Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) accused Glass of falsehoods in his March 1997 article “Don’t You D.A.R.E.”.

In May 1997, Joe Galli of the College Republican National Committee wrote a letter to the editor accusing Glass of fabrications in “Spring Breakdown”, his lurid tale of drinking and debauchery at the 1997 Conservative Political Action Conference. A June 1997 article called “Peddling Poppy” about a Hofstra University conference on George H. W. Bush drew a letter to the editor from Hofstra reciting Glass’s errors. The New Republic, however, stood by and defended him. Editor Michael Kelly wrote an angry letter to CSPI calling them liars and demanding the organization apologize to Glass. 

When Glass was finally caught in May 1998, he had risen to become an associate editor at The New Republic. The story that triggered his downfall was “Hack Heaven,” which appeared in the issue dated May 18, 1998. It concerned a supposed 15-year-old hacker, named Ian Restil, who intruded into the computer network of a company called “Jukt Micronics,” which allegedly then hired the teen as an information security consultant.

As with several of Glass’s previous stories, “Hack Heaven” depicted events that were almost cinematically vivid and told in present tense, implying that Glass was there as the action took place. Upon the publication of “Hack Heaven,” Adam Penenberg, a reporter with Forbes magazine’s digital division, undertook the task of verifying it, initially to find out how The New Republic had managed to scoop Forbes. Penenberg immediately became suspicious when he was unable to find a single search engine result for “Jukt Micronics.” Further contact with several government agencies solidified his suspicions that Glass had fabricated the entire story. More suspicious was the fact that “Jukt Micronics” only had one phone line, and its website turned out to be an amateur AOL webpage, which seemed very odd for a supposedly big-time software company. When Penenberg and Forbes confronted The New Republic, Glass claimed to have been duped by Restil. Lane had Glass travel with him to Bethesda, Maryland, to visit the Hyatt hotel where Restil had supposedly met with the Jukt Micronics executives and the room where the conference had supposedly been held. Despite Glass’s assurances, Lane discovered that on the day of the alleged meeting the conference room had been closed. Afterwards, Lane dialed a Palo Alto number for Jukt Micronics provided by Glass and eventually had a phone conversation with a man who identified himself as George Sims, a Jukt executive. This was the first piece of evidence substantiating Glass’s article. However, Lane learned from a passing remark by another of his editors that Glass had a brother at Stanford University, located adjacent to Palo Alto. Realizing that Glass’s brother was posing as Sims, Lane immediately fired Glass.

In the end, Glass’s final editor at the magazine, Charles Lane, was instrumental in exposing Glass’s fraudulent writing in 1998. In 1998, it was revealed that many of his published articles were fabrications. Over a three-year period as a young rising star at The New Republic, Glass invented quotations, sources, and events in articles he wrote for that magazine and others. Most of Glass’s articles were of the entertaining and humorous type; some were based entirely on fictional events. Several seemed to endorse negative stereotypes about ethnic and political groups.The New Republic subsequently determined that at least 27 of the 41 articles Glass wrote for the magazine contained fabricated material. Some of the 27, such as “Don’t You D.A.R.E.”, contained real reporting interwoven with fabricated quotations and incidents, while others, including “Hack Heaven”, were completely made up. In the process of creating the “Hack Heaven” article, Glass had gone to especially elaborate lengths to thwart the discovery of his deception by The New Republic‘s fact checkers: creating a shill website and voice mail account for Jukt Micronics; fabricating notes of story gathering; having fake business cards printed; and even composing editions of a fake computer hacker community newsletter.

As for the balance of the 41 stories, Lane, in an interview given for the 2005 DVD edition of Shattered Glass, said, “In fact, I’d bet lots of the stuff in those other 14 is fake too. … It’s not like we’re vouching for those 14, that they’re true. They’re probably not either.” The magazines Rolling Stone, George, and Harper’s also re-examined his contributions. Rolling Stone and Harper’s found the material generally accurate yet maintained they had no way of verifying information because Glass had cited anonymous sources. George discovered that at least three of the stories Glass wrote for it contained fabrications. Specifically, Glass fabricated quotations in a profile piece and apologized to the article’s subject, Vernon Jordan, an adviser to then-President Bill Clinton. A court filing for Glass’s application to the California bar gave an updated count on his journalism career: 36 of his stories at The New Republic were said to be fabricated in part or in whole, along with three articles for George, two articles for Rolling Stone, and one for Policy Review.

After journalism, Glass earned a law degree, magna cum laude, at Georgetown University Law Center. He then passed the New York State bar exam in 2000, but the Committee of Bar Examiners refused to certify him on its moral fitness test, citing ethics concerns related to his plagiarism. He later abandoned his efforts to be admitted to the bar in New York.

On November 7, 2003, Glass participated in a panel discussion on journalistic ethics at George Washington University, along with the editor who had hired him at The New Republic, Andrew Sullivan, who accused Glass of being a “serial liar” who was using “contrition as a career move.”

Glass later applied to join the bar in California. In 2009, the Committee of Bar Examiners again refused to certify him, finding that he did not satisfy California’s moral fitness test because of his history of journalistic deception. Insisting that he had reformed, Glass then petitioned the State Bar Court’s hearing department, which found that Glass possessed the necessary “good moral character” to be admitted as an attorney.

The Committee of Bar Examiners sought review in the State Bar’s Review Department and filed a Writ of Review, thereby petitioning the California Supreme Court to review the decision. On November 16, 2011, the Supreme Court granted the petition, the first time in 11 years the court has granted review in a moral character case. On January 3, 2012, Glass’s attorneys filed papers with the Court arguing that his behavior has been irreproachable for more than 13 years and this is proof that he has reformed.

On November 6, 2013, the California Supreme Court heard arguments in Glass’s case and ruled unanimously against him in an opinion issued January 27, 2014. The lengthy opinion describes in minute detail the applicant’s history, record, the bar’s applicable standard of review, the appeal, and its own analysis of how Glass failed to satisfy the court’s standards, concluding “On this record, he has not sustained his heavy burden of demonstrating rehabilitation and fitness for the practice of law.” Based on this decision, Glass will not be allowed to practice law in the State of California.