Stopping Stephen Glass
The new movie "Shattered Glass" believes that Stephen Glass's mad genius made it impossible to stop him before he was caught. There is evidence to suggest otherwise.
11:00 PM, Oct 30, 2003 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
Take, for example, Michael Kinsley. Kinsley, a former New Republic editor, was running Slate when Glass was fired. At the time Kinsely derisively described those who questioned the New Republic's editors as "hindsight artists" and bragged that Slate didn't employ fact checkers. "We do have a group of people whose duties include making sure our writers are as accurate as possible. They are called 'writers.' And we have another group of people who skeptically examine what our writers produce and try to catch errors of fact. . . . These people are called 'editors.'"
Then, in 2001, readers and other outsiders suspected that Slate had it's own Glass in the form of Jay Forman's "monkeyfishing" stories. Kinsley took an aggressive, nearly belligerent, line of defense. "The accusation is that Slate published a fraudulent story," he thundered. "Where's the evidence?" Twelve days later, a team of New York Times reporters supplied the evidence. The Slate headline: "Slate now concedes that key details of the article in question were fabricated." Editors should embrace, not concede, the truth.
MAKE NO MISTAKE: The New Republic is a good and important magazine; it is better and healthier today than it was five years ago. And reporters and editors will always make mistakes. The good ones fix them by working graciously with those who point them out.
"Shattered Glass" wants you to believe that there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent Stephen Glass from doing what he did. That may be true. But he should have been stopped much, much sooner.
Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.