“You’re a total charlatan, you’re a total fake, you get the job,” former NPR host Liane Hansen says to a not-yet-disgraced Stephen Glass in a 1998 interview.
She’s referring to his time posing as a phone psychic, an experience he wrote about for Harper’s Magazine in a piece called “Prophets and Losses,” but in the end, her words ring true for much of Glass’ career in journalism as well.
The interview took place in February of 1998, just before Glass, an associate editor at The New Republic, was revealed as a fraud. Like much of Glass’ work, the Harper’s story, which featured primarily African-American callers with poor grammar, generated a lot of buzz. Also like his other stories, it turned out to be mostly fabricated.
In his latest attempt to rectify years of deception, disgraced journalist Stephen Glass submitted a letter to Harper’s in which he describes exactly which parts that 1998 story were fabricated. It reads, in part:
“I fabricated the text from ‘The man’ to ‘the psychic’ in paragraph 5; ‘Sharona’ and the attributed quote in paragraph 6. I exaggerated and fabricated the facts in paragraphs 7, 8, 9, and 10. I fabricated the text from paragraph 13 to ‘August 1.’ I fabricated the last sentence of the first paragraph following ‘August 1,’ the following discussion with Ruth, and the last sentence before ‘August 3.’ I fabricated the events labeled ‘August 4’; ‘August 8’; ‘August 9’; the last paragraph of ‘August 10’; ‘August 12’; ‘August 13’; the first, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, and eleventh paragraphs of ‘August 15’; ‘August 19’; ‘August 21’; ‘August 22’; ‘August 23’; and ‘August 24.’
“In addition to the content of the article, I fabricated notes in support of this story. I lied to the staff of Harper’s. I fabricated in interviews about this story. I engaged in egregious misconduct. This story should not be relied upon in any way.”
The retraction, Harper’s first in its 165-year history, appears in the January 2016 issue, nearly 18 years after the original piece ran. Corrections and confessions were published in a steady stream as the depth of Glass’ deceit came to light in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Glass has apologized for his misdeeds in the past, so what prompted this tardy disclosure?
NPR’s calls to a Beverly Hills law firm where Glass works went unanswered, but, as the Los Angeles Times notes, the letter may be part of Glass’ quest to obtain a California law license. As we reported last year, Glass was rejected in 2014 because of his “significant deceit sustained unremittingly for a period of years.” However, he’ll be eligible to reapply in 2017 and he will have to prove to the court that he is fully reformed. Glass also returned the $10,000 he was paid for the piece.
Glass’ letter itself hints that something more than desire for forgiveness motivated the confession. It starts: “I have been asked to identify what was fabricated in my article ‘Prophets and Losses,’ which ran in the February 1998 edition of Harper’s Magazine.”
For its part, the magazine welcomed the clarity, no matter the motivations of the tardiness:
“We welcome the opportunity to correct the record — even almost eighteen years after the fact. Glass’s letter makes clear that at least 5,647 of the 7,902 words of ‘Prophets and Losses’ were based on fabrications.”
In the 1998 NPR interview, Glass says he stopped working as a phone psychic because he “started to feel extremely guilty” about conning people.
Guilt was just part of Glass’ deception; in his letter to Harper’s, there’s no such expression of remorse.