The incomplete contrition of serial liar Stephen Glass.

Media criticism.
Nov. 7 2003 9:51 PM

Half a Glass

The incomplete contrition of serial liar Stephen Glass.

(Continued from Page 1)

Glass's inadequacy on the contrition front rang as false as anything he's ever written. Although he has recently penned personal letters of apology to many of the New Republiccolleagues he duped, his "faction" novel undercuts those regrets. He portrays himself as a victim in The Fabulist and presents easily identifiable co-workers as the ass, the flunky, and the backstabber. (Please don't tell me it's "just a novel.")

There are many paths to redemption the wicked can choose. Confession, for example. Regret and apology often work, as do acts of contrition and humility. But a roman à clef in which the evil-doer comes out on top to the detriment of those he harmed would not make my list.

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Glass probably thinks that his therapy has set him on a course that will return him to humanity's good graces, and that his five years of self-imposed silence and urban hermitry constitute some sort of penance. They don't, of course. But what gestures could this pariah make that would satisfy me and dull Andrew Sullivan's righteous anger? Because Glass swaddles himself in the language of recovery, I'm not out of bounds to prescribe him a 6-Step Program for making amends. To wit:

1) Sullivan makes an excellent point when he notes that The Fabulist compounds Glass' sins because he deliberately traded on his notoriety for commercial gain. Nobody would have published this book had it been a pure act of imagination. Glass should repudiate the book, return the money to the publisher, or give it to a charity.

2) Glass should block the publication of a paperback edition of The Fabulist to avoid any additional gain from his heinous behavior. Lest I be accused of Comstockery, I propose that Glass make his novel available for free on the Web for the edification of the curious.

3) There are at least a dozen Glass articles that the New Republichas never been able to verify. Glass, who parried questions about the veracity of those articles, should correct the record. Until he comes completely clean about his journalism, his remorse is empty.

4) Glass recently wrote a piece for Rolling Stone, indicating a desire to return to journalism. Until he completes Steps 1, 2, and 3, he shouldn't even think of writing for publication.

5) Glass passed the New York state bar exam and awaits the review of the bar's character and witness examiners. Unless they find evidence of criminal wrongdoing, he'll probably win approval. Washington City Paper's Tom Scocca made an excellent observation at the discussion when he pointed out to Glass in so many words that becoming an officer of the court might be a little presumptuous for someone who broke so many journalistic laws. Glass should withdraw his application from the bar and not think about practicing law … until I say so.

6) Last, Glass should think of spending a couple of months (at the very least) on an endeavor that does not benefit him or his ego—he should shelve that new novel he's working on immediately. Glass needn't bathe lepers, or join Charles Colson's prison ministry, or donate a kidney to a Guatemalan peasant, but he needs to do something symbolic that shows more remorse than mumbled and scribbled apologies. Send your suggestions to pressbox@hotmail.com and I'll amend this piece with the most constructive ones. (Click here  for the reader contributions.)

Not being any sort of Christian, I don't believe in redemption. But criminals, jerks, and even chronic prevaricators such as Stephen Glass should get second chances if they prove worthy. If, by coming out of his shell, Glass means to pave some sort of path to normality, I'm willing to entertain sincere gestures on his part. Shutting up and doing something substantive to regain our trust would be a good place to start.

Correction, Nov. 11, 2003: The original version of this article stated that The Fabulist was published in August 2003, instead of May. Return to the corrected sentence.

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