Letters

Readers respond to Richard Blow's essay about Stephen Glass, "Fool Me Once."


Salon Staff
May 20, 2003 11:00PM (UTC)

[Read "Fool Me Once."]

Blow writes, "I wanted Steve to show that celebrities were effective -- the story wasn't a story if they weren't -- and he came through, digging up a Virginia political consultant who'd studied this very question." This statement, more than anything Glass did, underscores the real problem with American journalism. Editors, like Blow, tell writers, "Tell a story that goes like this," before any reporting is done, before the facts are known. The intellectual process more closely resembles the way fiction is generated than the way facts are documented.

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Is it any wonder that Glass dutifully delivered on these sorts of assignments again and again?

-- John McCloskey

So Richard Blow doesn't buy Steve Glass. Well, I don't buy Richard Blow. He takes zero responsibility for the damage Glass' highly entertaining slanders did to his own credibility and that of his profession, which he allowed to happen on his watch. Then he dares to ask us to pity him too, the poor man, duped as much as we readers were by his charming, duplicitous protégé. Yet by his own admission, he was anxious for dirt on a public figure who foiled him by not making himself an easy target (what, objectivity gone out of style these days?). And he tells an obviously insecure, desperate-to-please young man exactly what he is salivating for and -- what a surprise! -- he gets it in spades. No matter that Glass' spurious and frankly incredible bra quote implies that any professional woman at a prestigious D.C. law firm would consider wearing a bra on the job to be optional -- the fact it would be deliciously embarrassing to a public figure made it fact enough to justify printing it.

With unthinking hypocrisy, Blow goes on to claim that Glass "nimbly leapfrogged" over the career of the honest young fact checker at his magazine as if he, in his eager haste to join in the condescension and contempt of the targets of Glass' mockery, had nothing to do with that favoritism.

Personally, given an apology and a promise to give up journalism permanently, Salon should give Glass a chance, at least as a writer of fiction. It's Blow who deserves to be drop-kicked into obscurity.

-- Deirdre McGlynn

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Richard Blow makes Stephen Glass sound like a weasel in his article "Fool Me Once." In that respect he succeeds, I guess. But he makes Richard Blow sound every bit as much like a weasel, and while Glass obviously wants to manipulate the public, Blow appears to honestly believe that his own half-apologies are sincere.

The end of "Fool Me Once" is "shame on me." Blow makes some transparent nods to his own vague "weakness," but he seems to regard his being serially deceived as fundamentally Stephen Glass' fault. The fact that Glass was able to pawn off so many inventions before he was caught seems to an outsider like a clear example of systemic failure. (I've never worked at a newspaper, but any one of Glass' stories is enough to shatter my bullshit meter.) Blow treats it as an isolated abuse. He refers to his own tendency to look for the angle first and the facts second as if it were nothing special. I'm left with the impression that he's still practicing the sloppy journalism that allowed Glass to dupe him.

His meager mea culpa (worthy of Stephen Glass) for his desire to "dig up some dirt" on Vernon Jordan refers matter-of-factly to Clinton's "shenanigans." Blow blithely carries on in that Beltway alternate universe where there was something dastardly at the heart of Whitewater -- never mind that Ken Starr spent millions of dollars and couldn't find it. Even five years later he traipses right past the real reason he was so easily deceived -- he wanted to get Clinton, and the facts be damned.

He makes some sympathetic noise about the poor underappreciated fact checker who almost lost his job, but again takes no responsibility himself. If it was such an injustice that Stephen Glass "leapfrogged" the hardworking fact checker, why did Blow promote Glass? Stephen Glass is responsible only for his lies, not for the pushover star treatment that Richard Blow gave him.

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Five years from now, someone like Blow will undoubtedly be telling us how unfair it was for one of his reporters to cover up scandal X, Y or Z about George W. Bush. (God knows there are enough to choose from.) It still won't be his fault that his prejudices (that Bush can do no wrong, that Clinton must be guilty of something, etc. ...) came before the facts. And I'll still feel contempt for him, not sympathy, because just like Glass he still won't really have changed.

-- Matt Segur

I read Richard Blow's account of Stephen Glass' journalistic deception with interest -- but the most telling detail was Blow's admitting to a "salacious desire to get something on Vernon Jordan" while he was an editor at George magazine.

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Sadly, the kind of feeding frenzy that journalists and editors gorged on during the Clinton years has morphed into kid gloves when it comes to this administration. A revelation about Vernon Jordan was avidly sought, while I have yet to read exposés about billions of dollars of contracts being rewarded to Halliburton, for example, or Enron officials helping to form energy policy.

Blow's own admitted "salacious desire" in deciding what stories will get published and where is much more disturbing to me than the fact that some individuals -- including Glass, and Jayson Blair apparently -- lie pathologically.

-- Phyllis Maguire

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Excellent piece.

Pardon me for sounding like a fabulist when it comes to the matter of truth, but truth is the magic ingredient for creating a just, modern, open society.

Cultures that develop no sense for truth are doomed to an endless loop of benighted squabbling and dread, like we see in the Mideast.

In other words, if general enlightenment is to prevail, people like Glass must be condemned, then ignored. Sadly, Glass and his ilk -- smug, cute, unapologetically self-serving -- seem to be taking over the world.

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I'm a longtime New Republic subscriber, not so much for its views but for its exceptional intellectual rigor. (And I'm not that old.) Glass burned me.

If Glass was sincere in his contrition, he'd simply go away. His talents are perfect for a lucrative law career anyway. Or a prominent job in latter-day presidential administrations.

-- David J. Swift

After reading Richard Blow's review of the "The Fabulist" by Stephen Glass I would like to ask why is it so important to know if Glass has "changed" or if he hasn't?

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When I completed Glass' novel, I felt absolutely ill. Not because Glass had mauled the sanctity of journalism and the integrity of those who report "objective" news, not because he ran and hid and now stands to gain from this new novel, but because I see myself in his writing.

What ultimately resounded to me was that this novel wasn't really about journalism or Washington or any job or place, but about our nature at its ugliest. Reading "The Fabulist" reminds me that even when you disappoint everyone and yourself so greatly, when you feel such shame and loss, you can still find hope within yourself.

This is what I get out of Glass' novel -- so really it doesn't matter to me if it's a work of fiction or journalism, or if Glass has changed and turned over a new leaf or if he hasn't. I'd suggest to Richard Blow that maybe this shouldn't matter so much to him. Forgiving others is never so difficult as forgiving oneself.

-- Marie Mayhew

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