Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Slippery Slope Made of GLASS

A 15-year-old boy, named Ian Restil, hacked into the computer systems of big-time software firm, Jukt Micronics. Inside the company’s system, Restil posted the salaries of all of Jukt Micronics employees on the company website as well as naked pictures and a caption for each that said “THE BIG BAD BIONIC BOY HAS BEEN HERE BABY.”

Sounds good right? Just wait. Instead of filing suit against the teen, Jukt Micronics decides it would be better if they hired him on as a security specialist, so Jukt’s people meet with Restil and his mother and his agent (hackers have agents), Joe Hiert, to negotiate his new job at the place where the National Assembly for Hackers was being held.

What would you do if a report that you worked with came to you with a story like this? Would you be skeptical or would you buy into it? It’s a great story. It meant that rebellion can be rewarded and stickin’ it to the man might actually pay off.

Unfortunately, not a single word of it was true. Jukt Micronics, Restil, his agent, his mother, and even the National Assembly for Hackers were all fabricated.

Everyone who worked at The New Republic in 1998 bought into it, and the story “Hack Heaven” was published in TNR on May 18, 1998.

At 25 Stephen Glass was the youngest reporter at TNR, and he made a decision that would change the rest of his life. He decided to lie, and figured out how to get past TNR fact checkers. He created phony notes, diagrams of conferences that didn’t take place, phone numbers and emails of people who didn’t exist, phony voicemail boxes and phony business cards, and even fake news letters.

You might be thinking “Why on Earth would any journalist in their right mind decide to do this?” In a 60 Minutes interview on August 17, 2003, it seems that Glass wasn’t in his right mind. What started as a few lies to bolster one story turned into completely fabricated whole pieces of journalism.

“I remember thinking, ‘If I just had the exact quote that I wanted to make it work, it would be perfect.’ (…) And I said to myself what I said every time these stories ran, ‘You must stop. You must stop.’ But I didn’t,” Glass said in the 60 Minutes interview.

According to the 60 Minutes interview, soon after joining TNR as an editorial assistant in 1995, Glass was assigned a story on a piece of Washington Legislation. He decided it needed a little “sprucing up.”

That was just the beginning of a career of lies. Glass became caught up in his lies because he loved the feeling he got from people liking his stories.

Unfortunately, we can't see any of Glass' other fabricated stories. A great compilation of most (if not all) of his fabricated stories once existed at A Tissue of Lies--The Stephen R. Glass Index. However, none of the stories are accessible, presumably because The New Republic and other publications took them all down. The site still exists as a reminder to all of the damage that one bad journalist can do to the entire industry.

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