Teaching Notes

You must become the flame on the candle. - Thich Nhat Hanh

Monday, February 2, 2009

Shattered Glass

Who or what was to blame for Stephen Glass' deceptions making it into print, and what needed to happen to prevent it?

Please respond before class on Tuesday, Feb. 10.

20 comments:

lisa said...

I think that both Stephen Glass himself and the New Republic staff were to blame for Glass’s deception making it into print. On the one hand, it was obviously Glass who took it upon himself to make up these stories. However, it was probable a combination of him being a “bad person” and external pressures from his editors to get juicy stories that motivated his deceptions. Also, the fact that no one at New Republic verified the accuracy of his stories says a lot about the low quality of reporting of this magazine and the press in general. Since we live in such a fast paced country, the press is under a harsh time constraint, which is probably the reason the truthfulness of Glass’ stories was not discovered.
If New Republic had been more aware of what was being reported, the entire Glass incident could have been avoided. The editors should have verified the validity of these stories before it was put to print, despite pressing time constraints. The focus of the press should been on the quality of the stories, not the quantity. Even if it means slowing down the process of what is put to print, stories must be checked. Or else, the public will be mislead.

Jennifer said...

I feel what is written in the opening paragraphs of this essay are very important in understanding Stephen Glass' immoral and dishonest behavior. "'When 'everybody does it,' or imagines that everybody does it, a cheating culture has emerged,' writes David Callahan" (19). This imagined culture causes people like Glass to view lying as acceptable because it is part of a larger dishonest community. The case may be different if an individual temptation was held up to a world that abides by strict moral behavior.

As for why Glass acted with deception in a job that exalts truth to the upper-most tier of expectations and responsibilities, a struggle for defining oneself within a profession full of pressure, deadlines, and writing void of any subjectivity can be seen as contributing factors. The essay talks about how in the movie Glass is portrayed as always trying to "one-up" Chuck Lane. This points to the competitiveness within the field and the difficulties in standing out when all journalistic writing is supposed to be, essentially, the same: objective, colorless, matter-of-fact. Glass's explanation for lying, to "deceive people into thinking better of me" reveals the pressure that he felt to be the best.

His definition of "the best" though, was tainted with inconsiderate deceit. The excuse of his age seems irrelevant to me. A person's age should not have anything to do with morality. A 50-year-old person could have easily conducted the same fraudulent acts. In fact, the editor, Chuck Lane, was for a time collaborating with the immoral publications: "As for Lane, he not only had allowed some of Glass's fabricated articles to be published but also provided ironic titles..." (28). This lack of editorial guidance and fact-checking was one reason for how the deception occurred. Others include faked notes, phony websites, and fabricated mistakes to make Glass' story seem valid even if looked into. Also, his general disposition toward others in the newsroom, including "flattering and flirting" made him come off as a likable guy, and his "fantastical stories" were a refreshing break from the normal monotonous news. Also, if his stories were receiving public attention, the editors might be hesitant to reveal the deception and possibly ruin their readership.

Unfortunately, ethics are often dismissed when other factors are on the line such as progress, money, and reputation, as was the case with Stephen Glass. In the end, though, one is able to go farther with the truth because a liar always risks the chance of getting caught.

Meg Zanetich said...

I think that our culture always points at someone else to blame. It takes a big person to come out and say they were in the wrong. The fact that Steven Glass was unable to do this makes me believe he was to blame. Besides the fact that he wrote all these false stories it was almost like he had no remorse for it. As a young person myself I do realize the pressure that is put onto someone to make a name for themselves, but when your reputation is on the line, you must put things into perspective.

I do also believe that the New Rebuplic staff was also at fault. The fact that there was no one checking his facts because he was a "star" is unacceptable. I respect the fact that they put themselves on the line and admited their wrong doing. But overall, the New Republic should have taken precautionary measures to prevent this from happening in the first place.

Marcy said...

Whenever I read about the Stephen Glass story I always wonder why he did it. Apparently, he didn’t really know himself. His only explanation was that he wanted “people to think better of him”. He was obviously a good writer, he could have done the actual work on similar stories and he would have been praised just the same. He could have also just made the switch from news to writing fiction. He would have been able to keep his integrity by doing either of those things, not to mention the credibility of the New Republic In the end, Glass was trying to do too much and move ahead too quickly. It all comes down to what type of person you are.

Who to blame for publishing these pieces is a different story. I feel like the editors were too blinded by the glitz of Glass’s pieces to do the fact checking. They were also proud they had nabbed the hot-shot young reporter that was so coveted in D.C. It is sad to think that a reporter from a different publication had to break the news that so many of Glass’s articles were fakes. These editors, all editors, have the responsibility to keep the credibility of their publication intact. They did not do so.

I liked the quote used that was taken from the American Journalism Review about journalistic concerns. These concerns include ‘“a 24-hour, multi-media news world of rampant downsizing” that “pushes reporters to dig-up scoops and attention-getting stories, write it all like the great American novel, [and] do it faster that seems humanly possible”’. This could be an understandable pit-fall for some people (not that it isn’t still wrong) but this wasn’t even the case with Glass. He had the skill, schooling, and drive to do his job correctly. In the end, he was just greedy.

Kelsey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicole Moss said...

The first principle of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics is to "Seek Truth and Report it". It was Stephen Glass' duty as a professional reporter to follow this simple principle and report the truth. It goes on to say "test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error" this principle can place the blame on Glass' editor Chuck Lane for not testing the accuracy of Glass' stories before making it into print.

Not only did Stephen Glass fabricate stories, but he had flat out lied. Creating facts and back up information for his stories. I understand how the media, and people want juicy stories and the papers want their articles to be read or want to be read, but what it comes down to is printing what is truthful and not deceitful to the readers.

I believe that it was the papers editors fault for these fabricated stories making it into print for such a period of time, but I do believe that Stephen Glass is also at fault, he is obviously a person who does not have any moral ethic when it comes to journalism. That being said I do not think it was right for the "New Republic" to put the entire blame on Stephen Glass, but I understand their actions in order to keep a positive face for their company, along with the fact that they trusted their employee to provide the honest information.

I agree with Lisa, in that if the New Republic had been more aware of Stephen Glass reporting the incident could have been avoided, but if the readers were enjoying his stories, how much attention was going to be paid to confirming the details of this previously trusted journalist.

I think the lesson to be learned in order to prevent cases like this from happening is to make sure the stories being printed are in fact truthful in order to keep the status of the paper, the journalists, and the reputation of the media outlets. If this means a lack in "juicy" stories, or taking a little more time to check references and facts, then so be it. The most important thing is keeping the code of ethics up to par.

Kelsey said...

I believe that it was Stephen himself that caused the problem. His obvious lack of ethical judgment proves to be the culprit in this situation. I don't exactly know if things like this can be prevented. Like stated in our textbooks, having an class in ethics can only get you so far. I'm almost positive that Stephen Glass had the same education as our class is getting, but it is the person taking in that knowledge responsibility to apply that in real life situations. I feel that a case like this is why Media Ethics was created. I believe that Stephen Glass isn't an ignorant person but is ignorant in his lack of using his education on ethics in the workplace.

Tyler said...

It's far too easy to blame Stephen Glass on this one, and I believe placing the blame on him would be incorrect. Sure, he is the one who created the false truths, but, as the question states, he is not to blame for his stories making it into print.

I believe the culprits here are the fact checkers, who are guilty of not being professionals. Sure, Stephen Glass looked like a genius, creating mistakes in his articles for the fact checkers to pick up, but how much of your job are you really doing if you miss the fake software firm Glass invented in "Hacker Heaven?" As far as I'm concerned, Glass was merely doing what was working. He was making it to print every time New Republic was release, and he received recognition as a heavily sought-after reporter for the stories he was fabricating. Obviously, he's the root of all the evil here, but can you really blame him? The fact checkers could have, and should have, kept him from ever becoming as notorious as he did.

Arlene said...

In this world of what is now “truthiness,” the chaotic most absurd articles are the ones that the public are mostly attracted to. I believe that this is what drove Stephen to write these stories and he did in fact fool the new republic readers with his phony stories. Not only was he violating his professionalism as a journalist but he also ruined the reputation of the newspaper once he was discovered. He committed a journalistic crime of feeding lies to the public over 26 times. He is the only one to blame for not following the 1st commandment of journalism: “Thou shalt not lie”(pp.23). I find it very ironic that no one from the new republic staff verified his stories, but I don’t blame them for not doing so. Stephen had a phenomenal background that it was almost impossible to doubt his work. He was “the most sought-after young reporter in the nation’s capital”(pp.22). Who would doubt a person with a background like his and especially because Glass was an associate editor at his own magazine. Lane knew his ethical responsibilities and commitment as an editor so why would he question another editor’s ethics as a journalist?
I believe the only way to have prevented this from happening was to validate Glass’s stories before making it into print. As humans, people don’t always make the ethical decisions and we sometimes believe in people too much. The New Republic staff believed in Stephen Glass and that was the problem. The only solution would be to not believe in people so much and expect the unexpected from those least expected. It is not so common to meet people who would risk their profession like Stephen did and especially because he was highly ranked due to his accomplishments in college. Such situations are bound to occur . . . There is always someone who gets away with their unethical actions.

Scott Broskie said...

The blame for Stephen Glass can be pointed any which way you want to. Glass was caught by Editor Charles Lane in 1998 for fabricating hundreds of facts, quotations, individuals, and events in dozens of stories. Glass hid from the public, finished law school at Georgetown University and clerked for a D.C. judge. Glass has written a book about his experiences and has a movie being made about him, due out November, 2003. Glass was rewarded once again for his lies and deceit.

I feel that Glass himself is to blame. No one was in the room telling him what to lie about or make up, to create a racy story; he did it on his own. His actions were found out and he was exposed. The New Republic should have fact checked his stories, don’t they have to? Isn’t that their job as editor? The blame cannot be put solely on Glass, he pushed the envelope as far as he could and go caught, he was looking for the easy way out and he found it.

Joanna said...

Stephen Glass defied the first principle of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics,"Seek Truth and Report it." For this, he is certainly to blame. He deceived his readers and New Republic for an absurd period of time, producing catchy stories that were blatant lies. For what? To "deceive people into thinking better of me," said Glass. That plan certainly backfired. Sure, Glass was feeling the competitive pressures to produce successful stories, but no one ever told him to fabricate these stories.

As for Glass' stories making it to print, the New Republic staff is to blame. Distracted by the success of the articles, they failed to determine the validity of Glass' work before it hit the press. What's worse is that it happened repetitively. Sure, Glass went as far as to put "fake mistakes" and "fake notes" into his articles so the fact checkers wouldn't pick up on the lies, but how did he get away with doing this for 26+ stories? Clearly the staff was too blinded by the potential for success and praise, too willing to settle for truthiness rather than search for the truth.

Arantza said...

Stephen Glass was supposed to be a professional writer for the New Republic. However, he proved to himself, the newspaper's readers, and his staff that he was much less than a professional. I think that Glass was to blame for all of the deceptions and lies he included in his work. How could a journalist, who is supposed to stay faithful to the Code of Ethics of journalism actually call himself as a journalist? He obviously violated the first part which is to Seek TRUTH & Report It. The last part of the code says that a journalist is Accountable. Well he obviously didn't seem to think it was a big deal to do this, and because of the pressure it was OK to mess with the actual facts.

I think that in this case Glass and his staff are to blame, however I do not think that his staff is more to blame than him. He chose to be a journalist and he should abide by not only the Code of Ethics but to the honorable way of doing his job. He messed up (plenty of times) and by this point he probably didn't see anything wrong with what he was doing. He is to blame for writing lies and sending it to his editors as if it was all truth. However, his staff is to blame as well because they never seemed to check his work, at least not thorough enough to find the deceptions. They did not do their jobs up to par and for that they should get in trouble as well. As editors they should realize that they are gatekeepers of news and facts. If they don't EDIT & VERIFY what they are sending out to the public, then what are they there for?!


I really liked Scott's point, he said that through his lies and deceit he was only rewarded.That seems to happen in our society...

Rachel said...

In the case of ‘taking responsibility for your actions’, Glass was obviously to blame for his deceptions. He made the wrong decisions again and again that flat out went against the code of ethics that his profession was based on. One should not blame the New Republic, or the profession of journalism in general, since the majority of others work well and ethically within the system. The increasing amount of greed and vanity within society could be used to blame a wide range of audacities that span professions—steroid use in sports, tax fraud in government, or taking bribes within large corporations.
The deception may have been prevented if Glass’s work was checked more accurately and backgrounds questioned more in depth—however unnecessary and time consuming that would become if all journalists “hands were held” because of lack of trust in their work and credibility.

Bridget said...

The blame can't be placed on just one person in this instance. Certainly Stephan Glass is a main perpetrator. He wrote the stories and presented them as truth. Because he was respected and a talented writer his editors and the journalists around him were predisposed to believe his stories.

Despite his popularity, though, his stories--especially the ones that were complete fabrications--should never have made it to print. It is deplorable that Glass put fake mistakes in his stories for the fact checkers to catch, but it also means that they were lazy. Having caught one of two mistakes they never looked past the obvious.

The editors also should have been paying more attention to Glass. The first clue should have been when Michael Jacobson challenged a story's truthfulness. Although I think it is important for editors to defend their reporters... Kelly also should have looked into the accusations and made sure there was no basis for them.

What really confuses me, though, is how Glass was able to reach that point in his career without any remorse or ever getting caught. If he was willing to fabricate stories, and was capable of doing so with such skill, then he was probably doing the same thing in college. It is incomprehensible to me that anyone can go through all of college, especially in a journalism major, without being caught and without learning any of the ethics of the profession. Whatever else can be learned from Glass' story, one moral is that ethics classes in college are necessary.

Ryan Smith said...

There was a chain of people who read Glass’ fabricated stories before they were printed so I wouldn’t solely blame Stephan Glass for this mess. Yes, Glass wrote stories with “truthiness”, he was deceitful and immoral but there were editors and fact checkers who also didn’t fulfill their duties. Because Glass’ stories were popular and he was popular in the newsroom it was easy for editors to overlook his lies. Money and fame can blind a person from the truth. His stories were good and he was trusted to do his job correctly.It’s hard for me to believe that no one caught on to his made-up websites and notes. This wasn’t just a one time thing, Glass consistently wrote lies and the New Republic printed them all. I wouldn’t blame his age or inexperience, a liar is a liar.I think this is a poor example of journalism and professionalism. Journalist have a duty to report facts and the readers of New Republic were trusting Glass to tell them truth and not “truthiness”.

Amy said...

Stephen Glass clearly was not an ethical journalist. Ethical journalism involves reporting truth ("seek truth and report it") but Glass chose to instead fabricate his stories and allow them to be published in the New Republic. Clearly, Glass is responsible for his own actions. No one made him fabricate those stories - it was his choice to write them and submit them to his editor. In this sense, he is at fault.

However, Chuck Lane is correct in saying that printing fabrication as fact is "indefensible." The New Republic is partly to blame in this situation because they allowed Glass to get away with all this. The entire scandal could have been avoided if only the staff at the Republic practiced fact-checking. It blows my mind that two dozen stories made it past their eyes. Yes, Glass did a horrible and unethical thing, and he is first and foremost to blame, but how in the world could the New Republic not have caught his lies? In my opinion, both Glass and the New Republic need a lesson in ethics. Unfortunately, this scandal damaged both the credibility of the New Republic, and the credibility of journalism as a profession.

Matthew Conti said...

In this case Stephen Glass is not the only one to be blamed for the deception that was printed. Yes he did make up many stories and made up “facts” to tell the public and that is a very unethical and a very unprofessional thing to do. On the other hand the people from New Republic should have been professional and checked their recourses. If they were doing their job to the fullest extent then they would have looked at the recourses and then double checked if what was being printed was the truth.

I think the way to prevent something like this from happening is by making sure your journalists are trustworthy and professional. Also the staff from the New Republic needed to step up there game and take notice of articles and check to make sure they were factual. If you don’t and you print a false article then you make the paper look bad and not just the writer. In this case I feel like there was a bad combination of people being unethical and unprofessional.

Deidre Drewes said...

Both Glass and his editors are equally responsible for deception. As we read from the Public Editor of the NY Times last week, errors in fact reporting came on behalf of people just not doing their job correctly. Had Glass' editors been following up on his sources and information, which is their job to do, the false information should never have been printed or Glass would have been caught earlier.

I don't believe that there was such a painstaking pressure on Glass to get the hottest stories out there. He must have obviously faced the same amount of pressure that any professional journalist faces from their bosses and their audiences. Glass seemed to be a greedy person who blatently lied to get the prestige and admiration from his peers. Which is anothe big ethical no-no.

Furthermore, I think the portrayel of the editors in Shattered Glass is absolutely absurd. Both editors should have been fired for not doing their job right (ethical issue #1) rather than glorified for their laziness (ethical issue #2). The worst thing about the film portrayel is that most likely more Americans watched the film rather than reading the correct, not doctored, information about the New Republic staff. So popular media portrayed the editors in a positive light, even though half the movie was a big old lie. And probably 90% of the people who saw the movie believed the film to be truthful. Which is ethical issue #3...confusing actual truths with new entertainment. Needless to say, Glass and his editors made a mockery of journalism. But I'm sure everyone got a nice royalty check from it.

John Purcell said...

The core root at whom to blame is Glass. This is different than making a factual error unknowingly, because Glass was purposely fabricating stories. Of course, copyeditors are also to blame. The newspaper was “desperate for good stuff,” so they weren’t going to spend the time and effort questioning a great story. The editors have pressure to sell newspapers, though, so it is all about money. Without cash the newspaper would crumble. Right now “it is set up to generate maximum profits for news media companies.”

It seems the focus should be on money, but this is what runs business. Should something that fulfills a civic duty be a business? I think that should be the real question. With “nearly three-quarters” of journalists using some form of deception in their reporting, we should also look at how they are getting their information. I am a believer of the utilitarian philosophy, but I could see how it creates a loose ethics code. There are always going to be people that lie — we just have to make sure they are not journalists.

Arlene said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

Is Media Ethics Education DOA?

It sounds like a joke Jay Leno would tell during his opening monologue on The Tonight Show. Hear about the graduate students at the prestigious journalism school? They got caught cheating on an ethics exam. Ha ha ha. Except that’s actually what happened at Columbia University in late 2006.

Students had been given 48 hours to sign onto a Columbia Web site to take the final exam in a required course called “Critical Issues in Journalism.” They then had 90 minutes to answer two essay questions.

The students were warned to not discuss the questions with each other, but apparently they did. As the headline over a story reporting the scandal put it, “Ivy J-Schoolers Fail Ethics, Ace Irony.”

No one admitted cheating despite pressure from the school’s administrators and pleas from classmates, who feared the scandal would damage the market value of their degrees. Meanwhile, the teacher of the course, New York Times columnist Samuel G. Freedman, refused to comment. But if the disgruntled posts on RateMyProfessors.com are any indication, his students hadn’t exactly been soaking up knowledge. “Maybe he could e-mail his ‘speeches’ to the students instead of making everyone suffer through the most wasted class in j-school. . . ,” one read.

There’s an old cowboy saying that goes, “When your horse dies, get off.” Journalism ethics education is a dead horse. Or else those aren’t vultures circling in the sky.

A Question for Socrates


The question of how ethics is learned, or even if it can be, is as old as Western philosophy. In Plato’s dialog Meno the title character asks, “Can you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue is acquired by teaching or by practice; or if neither by teaching nor practice, then whether it comes to man by nature, or in what other way?” Of course, Socrates, being Socrates, resists giving a definite answer. But we can’t. The sad fact is, students had better get an effective ethics education now or they may never.


Last summer I conducted an ethics workshop for some reporters and editors at the Poughkeepsie Journal, a small daily in upstate
New York owned by Gannett Co., Inc. The woman in charge of organizing the workshop had supplied us with several case studies to examine. I remember one dealt with a classic conflict of interest, a copy editor who moonlighted at a local radio station.

But what I remember most is the air of defeat that clung to the staff as we sat on hard plastic chairs in the break room discussing the cases. I could hear in their voices the bitterness and cynicism of employees forced to follow corporate policies they despised. Recently, for example, the paper had started running display ads on the front page and section fronts, a much more grievous ethical lapse, their mumbled asides suggested, than anything the case studies might have to offer.

I don’t want my students to ever wear the gray, defeated expression I saw that day on the faces at the Journal. But given the downward direction in which the media are moving, and fast, how in the world can I prevent it from happening?

Teaching Media Ethics by Telling Stories

A friend of mine who teaches at a big Midwestern university recounts in class the events of her first week as a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune. She was sent to Duluth to cover Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey on the campaign trail. When they were introduced, Humphrey vigorously shook her hand. “Oh yes, Susan,” he said, “I read your stuff all the time.” He couldn’t have read her stuff, though; she hadn’t written anything yet. “Just a few words,” she explains to her students, “but words that taught this fledging reporter a great lesson about pols and the little lies they tell.”

I usually find occasion during the semester to quote I. F. Stone’s dictum, “Every government is run by liars and thieves, and nothing they say should be believed,” to make the same point. But Susan’s story makes the point better. That’s because it has existential force. Her story vividly captures in a way a secondhand quote can’t the realities of a reporter’s life.

Some might think telling “war stories” is a waste of precious class time. I’ve a colleague who didn’t want to fall into the “trap” of regaling students with stories ad nauseam (“which, let’s face it, is easier than teaching or grading,” he said). So one semester he kept track. When he toted it all up at the end, he was surprised that he’d used less than an hour - out of 45 – talking about his newspaper experiences. And yet, he admitted, it was his stories that students seemed to remember most.

“Stories teach us how to live,” Daniel Taylor said in his essay, “The Ethical Implications of Storytelling.” What he meant was that stories preserve our experience for contemplation and evaluation. Although not all stories carry a heavy message, there’s an entire category of stories, so-called “exemplary tales,” that are told to convey a moral.

Our war stories are potentially just such tales. They can provide evidence, in ethicist John Barton’s words, of “how real human beings live through various crises and trials and remain human.” My colleague who kept tabs on his storytelling has described his stories as cautionary. Most, he said, deal with “screwups I learned from.”

But sometimes the storyteller and the audience can’t agree on what exactly the moral of a story is.

When Susan was a cub reporter on the Tribune, she interviewed the Beatles, who were on their second tour of the States. She got into their hotel room by dressing up as a waitress in an ugly, mustard-colored uniform and accompanying an actual room service waiter upstairs. Ringo took one look at her little plastic name tag – it read “Donna Brown” – and snorted, “What kind of name is that?” The waiter nudged her in the side. “Tell them what you real name is,” he urged. She did, as well as her reason for being there. Rather than throw her out, the Beatles politely answered her questions. They even let her phone for a photographer. The next day her story ran on the front page, with a photo of John sitting at a table and looking up at her and laughing as she poured coffee in his cup. She still has a glossy print of that photo somewhere.

Many of Susan’s students think she’s nuts for not having the photo hanging up in her office. They also think she’s nuts for saying she’d never participate in the same kind of stunt today. To her celebrity-struck students, disguising herself as a hotel waitress to get an interview with the Beatles seems soooo cool. They lose all sight of the fact that it wasn’t a story of vital public interest that demanded undercover methods.

Susan intends one lesson when she talks about her hard day’s night, but her students, living in a paparazzi-saturated culture, draw another. “It may be a lost cause,” she remarked to me.

Or maybe not. Negotiations over what the point of a story is can be part of the point of the story. In the process of negotiating, we test different interpretations, try out different themes. This is helpful. This is educational. Lawrence Kohlberg, the Harvard psychologist famous for his research on the stages of moral development, contended that “the teaching of virtue is the asking of questions. . . not the giving of answers.” Stories don’t necessarily have to yield clear moral rules to be of value. It’s enough sometimes if they just give us something to think about.