CRF Blog

Hello, My Name Is Stephen Glass, and I’m Sorry

by Bill Hayes

In Hello, My Name Is Stephen Glass, and I’m Sorry for the New Republic, Hanna Rosin reflects back on her colleague who almost destroyed the reputation of the magazine and inquires what to make of him today.

Once we knew what he’d done, I tried to call Steve, but he never called back. He just went missing, like the kids on the milk cartons. It was weird. People often ask me if I felt “betrayed,” but really I was deeply unsettled, like I’d woken up in the wrong room. I wondered whether Steve had lied to me about personal things, too. I wondered how, even after he’d been caught, he could bring himself to recruit me to defend him, knowing I’d be risking my job to do so. I wondered how I could spend more time with a person during the week than I spent with my husband and not suspect a thing. (And I didn’t. It came as a total surprise). And I wondered what else I didn’t know about people. Could my brother be a drug addict? Did my best friend actually hate me? Jon Chait, now a political writer for New York and back then the smart young wonk in our trio, was in Paris when the scandal broke. Overnight, Steve went from “being one of my best friends to someone I read about in The International Herald Tribune,” Chait recalled. The transition was so abrupt that, for months, Jon dreamed that he’d run into him or that Steve wanted to talk to him.

Then, after a while, the dreams stopped. The Monica Lewinsky scandal petered out, George W. Bush became president, we all got cell phones, laptops, spouses, children. Over the years, Steve Glass got mixed up in our minds with the fictionalized Stephen Glass from his own 2003 roman à clef, The Fabulist, or Steve Glass as played by Hayden Christensen in the 2003 movie Shattered Glass. It was the book that finally provoked my anger. The plot follows a thinly fictionalized Steve in the aftermath of the affair. It portrays him as humble, contrite, and “a few shades hipper than the original,” I wrote in a review for Slate. The rest of us came off as shallow jerks barely worth apologizing to. Steve sent about 100 handwritten letters of apology that year to people he’d injured, all several pages long and very abject: “I’m genuinely sorry that I lied to you and betrayed you.” But he was also hawking his book, so we saw the letters as an effort to neutralize us. Reading the novel pretty much killed off my curiosity. For years afterward, if I thought about Steve at all — usually when I got an e-mail from a journalism student who had seen the movie in an ethics class — he was the notorious Stephen Glass, still living in the Clinton era.

Then, in 2010, I got a call from a lawyer in California. Steve had filed an application for something called “moral character determination” with the California state bar. He wanted to be a lawyer and the guild apparently did not think he had reformed enough to practice law. Did I want to provide an account of Steve’s wrongdoing? the lawyer asked. Chuck Lane was going to, and Steve had lined up several witnesses to speak in his favor. I said I would think about it and I did. For a few days, I tried to call up the anger again. But after all those years I could only find faint traces of it.

In fact, the prospect of appearing in court revived some of the old protective instincts. I hadn’t seen Steve in twelve years. I couldn’t say he deserved to be a lawyer, but I couldn’t say he definitively didn’t, either. (Since when did lawyers become the measure of purity anyway?) At stake for the lawyers was the sanctity of their guild. But for me, a larger question loomed: Agreeing that Steve could never practice law felt a little too close to agreeing that no one who had done something wrong — even monstrously wrong — in their youth could ever move beyond it. “I don’t wish him ill,” I’d written in my review of The Fabulist. “But I’m not convinced he’s changed all that much.” When the lawyer reminded me that the real Stephen Glass lived on the other coast, that he had professional aspirations, that he had friends who would stick up for him in court, that, in short, he was still making his way through time, it suddenly occurred to me: How could I possibly know if he’d changed or if he hadn’t?

Steve Glass now lives in Venice Beach with his longtime girlfriend, Julie Hilden, a dog, two cats, and a rotating cast of foster pets. (The couple are also vegans.) He works as director of special projects at Carpenter, Zuckerman, Rowley, a personal-injury law firm in Beverly Hills. For anyone who knew him back in the day, this is a comical juxtaposition. Steve is a Jewish boy from the posh Chicago suburb of Highland Park with pushy Jewish parents who insisted on the usual (doctor, lawyer). When they urged him to go to law school, they probably had Supreme Court appearances in mind, not, as the firm boasts, a $2.1 million settlement for a homeless man hit by a garbage truck. But Paul Zuckerman, the partner who hired Steve and has become his mentor, considers this development to be a sign of grace. [more]