Disgraced journalist Stephen Glass seeks law license in California
The former 'DP' executive editor's colleagues share insight on the Glass they worked with
January 17, 2012, 9:38 pm·
When it comes to second chances, members of the Penn community see the glass as half full.
Disgraced journalist — and former executive editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian — Stephen Glass is awaiting a ruling on his request for a law license in California. Whether or not he deserves a second chance has been a topic of debate among professionals in the field.
While the Committee of Bar Examiners does not believe Glass should be allowed his law license, those who have known him longer think he deserves a second chance outside of journalism.
After graduating from Penn in 1994, Glass began a career at The New Republic. In addition to holding a position there from 1995 to 1998, he wrote for other publications such as Rolling Stone and Harper’s Magazine. Glass was known in the journalism world for producing unbelievably good articles — and in fact, they were.
Glass’ editor at The New Republic Charles Lane asked Glass to verify a source for a story he had written in 1998. The source was fictional, and Glass began to create a string of lies to cover his tracts. Lane eventually saw through them, and the numerous lies that had built up Glass’ career began to unravel.
During his career, he fabricated quotations, sources and even entire events.
Over a decade later, Glass claims to be rehabilitated. He has apologized to those who were directly hurt by his lies. He attended therapy and has gained forgiveness from many of his former employers. He has not, however, impressed the Committee of Bar Examiners, which turned Glass down in 2007 when he applied for his California law license.
Glass appealed and won in a July 2011 decision by the State Bar Court, which ruled in his favor by one vote. The CBE is now appealing that decision to the California Supreme Court, which may make a decision by this fall.
Bar attorney Rachel Grunberg, who is appealing on behalf of CBE, does not believe Glass is morally qualified to be a lawyer.
“Journalism and law share core fundamental principles — those of common honesty and trust … [he] has not established the requisite showing of rehabilitation, given his past misdeeds that have lingered without redemption, to be certified as an attorney,” she wrote in the petition to be reviewed by California Supreme Court.
Glass provided 22 witnesses to speak on behalf of his reformed character, including Lane.
Retired Penn Law School legal ethics professor Geoffrey Hazard — who is not involved in the case — believes the BCE is “over-reacting to horror of falsification.”
“Many of us hope the courts overrule the Bar committee,” he wrote in an email.
While the public may know Glass as the notorious fabulist, his peers at the DP have a different insight on the man behind the lies.
“He was the standard for ethics [at the DP],” said 1996 College graduate Charlie Ornstein, journalist at ProPublica and the _DP_’s executive editor in 1995.
Glass surprised everyone who knew and looked up to him when his scandal unraveled in 1998. However, though he may have lost his right as a journalist, his colleagues do not believe he should be punished forever.
1994 College graduate Scott Calvert, who now works at The Baltimore Sun, worked along with Glass as the _DP_’s managing editor. He said Glass was “very likable, very easy to get along with.”
“He was super dedicated to the DP … to making people feel welcome and good about what they were doing,” he added.
Along with Calvert, Ornstein recalls Glass constantly asking, “Are you mad at me?”
Calvert said no one was ever mad at Glass, but upsetting others was something Glass continuously worried about. Ornstein simply saw this behavior as “Steve being Steve.”
Calvert viewed it as an “obvious insecurity,” but neither colleague found reason to believe there was a deeper issue at hand.
However, Calvert found one particular article by Glass to be suspicious.
A 1991 Summer Pennsylvanian article written by Glass, “A Day on the Streets,” relays his experience within a 24-hour period, during which he met a drug dealer, prostitutes, two convicted murderers and an AIDS victim.
Peter Spiegel, who was the DP_’s managing editor when Glass was a first-time beat reporter and who is now a reporter and the Brussels Bureau Chief at _The Financial Times, jokes that he taught Glass everything the former journalist knew. He recalls Glass as an “incredibly sweet guy.”
Spiegel noted that Glass definitely wanted to succeed, but no more than anyone else did at the DP. He “clearly had his eyes on the prize [of becoming executive editor,]” but Spiegel does not think Glass was overly ambitious.
“He was an interesting guy,” Calvert said. “He didn’t own a pair of blue jeans. We would play softball [on the field by the high rises], and Steve would show up in his khaki pants.”
Since his scandal came to light, Glass’ biggest disappointment to his former friends and colleagues was his decision to profit from his lies by writing a book, The Fabulist — a fictional account of his journalism career.
“I could not buy his book. In fact, I don’t know anyone who did. The last thing we wanted to do was support him,” Ornstein said.
Given Glass’ age and assumed maturity, Calvert and Spiegel believe he should be granted his law license. Ornstein does not believe he is qualified to make that judgment because he has not spoken with Glass since 2003 when he wrote a story on their relationship for The Los Angeles Times.
“Assuming he does get his law license, he will be watched very closely,” Calvert said.
“I have a hard time getting worked up about the ethics of lawyers … but if he tried to get back into journalism I might have a problem with it,” Spiegel said.
Glass and his new attorney, Jon Eisenberg, declined to comment for this article.
This article has been updated to clarify Peter Spiegel’s current position.