Shattered Glass


posted to on December 8, 2004


Although I missed the first 10 or 15 minutes or so, I have no problem recommending "Shattered Glass," a film I stumbled across on the always rewarding HBO network. This is a film based on a true story. Stephen Glass was a writer at the centrist New Republic magazine who was nailed by Forbes Magazine's online edition in 1998 for making up a story about a teenaged hacker being hired as a security expert by the Silicon Valley company whose site he had hacked. Although such things were going on the world in 1998, Glass's story was fabricated out of whole cloth. He was the Jayson Blair of 1998.


This story and everything else that Glass wrote is still online at Lexis-Nexis. From time to time, Marxmailers will ask me to remove an incriminating post from the archives. Unlike me, Lexis-Nexis has no need to keep the likes of The New Republic happy, which will have egg on its face for all eternity. The story that got Glass fired would strain a normal person's credulity, but then again New Republic readers are not very normal:


The New Republic, May 18, 1998

Hack Heaven

By Stephen Glass


Ian Restil, a 15-year-old computer hacker who looks like an even more adolescent version of Bill Gates, is throwing a tantrum. "I want more money. I want a Miata. I want a trip to Disney World. I want X-Man comic book number one. I want a lifetime subscription to Playboy, and throw in Penthouse. Show me the money! Show me the money!" Over and over again, the boy, who is wearing a frayed Cal Ripken Jr. t-shirt, is shouting his demands. Across the table, executives from a California software firm called Jukt Micronics are listening--and trying ever so delicately to oblige. "Excuse me, sir," one of the suits says, tentatively, to the pimply teenager. "Excuse me. Pardon me for interrupting you, sir. We can arrange more money for you. Then, you can buy the comic book, and then, when you're of more, say, appropriate age, you can buy the car and pornographic magazines on your own."


The Forbes article is still online:


Lies, damn lies and fiction Adam L. Penenberg, 05.11.98, 12:00 AM ET


It's tough proving a negative. It is even tougher proving that something or someone does not exist.


That was the challenge after The New Republic story, "Hack Heaven," which appeared in the May 18 issue, proved to be unverifiable. At first it appeared that Forbes Digital had been scooped by a weekly political publication.


"Hack Heaven" detailed the exploits of Ian Restil, a 15-year-old computer hacker who broke through the online security system of a "big-time software firm" called Jukt Micronics. Once inside, the cheeky youth posted every employee's salary on the company's web site alongside a bunch of nudie pictures, each bearing the caption "THE BIG BAD BIONIC BOY HAS BEEN HERE BABY."


But instead of calling in the Feds, Jukt executives, according to The New Republic, decided to hire the teenage hacker, who had obtained the services of an agent, Joe Hiert, described as a "super-agent to super-nerds." The magazine also claimed that such deals have thwarted efforts to prosecute hackers and that law enforcement officials in Nevada got so desperate that they ran radio advertisements: "Would you hire a shoplifter to watch the cash register? Please don't deal with hackers."


A frightening story. But not true.


The article was a complete and utter hoax perpetrated by one of the magazine's own associate editors, 25-year-old Stephen Glass.


Our first step was to plug Jukt Micronics into a bunch of search engines. We found no web site, odd for a "big-time software firm." Our next step was to contact the Software Publishers Association of America. Nothing. Next on our list was the California Franchise Tax Board. An official from the Tax Board confirmed that Jukt Micronics had never paid any taxes. Further investigations revealed that Jukt Micronics, if it existed at all, was not listed under any of California's 15 area codes. Sarah Gilmer from the office of the California Secretary of State said there was no record of the company, "as a corporation, a limited liability or limited partnership."


A search of Lexis-Nexis' extensive database turned up only one reference to Jukt Micronics: Glass's New Republic story.




Glass is played by Hayden Christensen as a needy, whining, wunderkind who desperately seeks approval from his editors. When the film starts, that editor is Michael Kelly who is depicted as a man of principle, fired for simply refusing to kowtow to owner Morty Peretz, the insufferable Democratic Party DLC'er and Zionist. Kelly is played by Hank Azaria, who has a regular gig as the voice of Apu the Kwik-E-Mart owner and Police Chief Wiggum on "The Simpsons".


Kelley is replaced by Charles "Chuck" Lane (Peter Sarsgaard), who is represented as a Morty Peretz sycophant at the start of the film. Gradually, he serves as a kind of hero uncovering Glass's lies shred by shred--with the prompting of Forbes Magazine, of course. Adam L. Penenberg is played by Steve Zahn.


The film entertains in a sort of morbid way, giving you an experience not unlike watching a highway accident.


Glass is a sniveling creep and a typical Ivy League hustler who gets high-paying jobs at a place like New Republic or the Washington Post for knowing whose ass to kiss. The film does not mention this, but Glass's first job was with the neoconservative Heritage Foundation, where he first sharpened his skills as rightwing writer. The film pays scant attention to the politics of the New Republic, but Glass was an avid purveyor of the sort of neoliberal poison found there. Leaving aside their differences on abortion, etc., the Heritage Foundation and the New Republic (like Bush and Kerry) agree on practically everything else of economic importance.


Here's a typical Stephen Glass screed on social security. One imagines that Nancy "Let's put everything on the table" Pelosi must have absorbed the lessons of this article well:


The New Republic, January 27, 1997

Holy Trinity

By Stephen Glass


The gospel of Saints Paul, Warren and Pete.


Susan is an 80-year-old widow. She had hip surgery five years ago, and since then she has spent most of her time indoors. Until two years ago, she had never shown much interest in politics and government. She subscribed to The Chicago Tribune to read Ann Landers and the "Tempo" section. She had voted for president only once, in 1960; she can't remember if she picked Kennedy or Nixon. Each morning, she woke up early, spent most of her day watching soap operas and talking to her three cats--Larry, Moe and Curley. Each night, after cleaning the dishes, she read romance novels in bed until she fell asleep. But on March 1, 1994, all that changed. Intrigued that " Larry King Live" was promising to talk about the British royal family's new mail-order catalog, Susan decided to stay awake past 8 p.m. "But Larry took forever to get to Prince Michael," she recalls. "Beforehand, he had Paul Tsongas and Warren Rudman talking about their group, the Concord Coalition. All of a sudden I saw what was happening. Both parties working together. It must be on target. These men were going to save my children."


Susan became, at once, a convert, a deficit-hawk of unmatched zeal. She has written, by her own estimate, more than 900 letters to congressmen asking for Social Security and other entitlements to be curtailed. In her wallet next to photos of her grandchildren, she has a picture of Warren Rudman. She can tell you what the deficit will be at noon on all major holidays. She even renamed her cats: Paul, Warren and Pete (the last one named after Pete Peterson, the Concord Coalition's president). What does she do when she's bored? She tries to convert others. "I trick my friends into giving me the phone lists of their senior citizen homes and then I call everyone on the list," she says. (She adds a request that her last name not be used so she doesn't lose these friends.)


We can assume that there was no such person as Susan, although to be sure Warren Rudman did exist.


Michael Kelly died last year in Iraq, when his Humvee accidentally overturned into a ditch. Although he is depicted as a saintly figure in "Shattered Glass," in life he was a typical flatterer of the national security state.


Chuck Lane now writes about legal affairs for the Washington Post. After Jack Kelley, the virulently rightwing reporter for USA Today, was caught up in Stephen Glass type fabrications, Lane wrote a piece for the Washington Post trying to explain why such things happen:


When the first indications of Kelley's fabrications emerged last fall, the reaction of many at USA Today was to accept his claim that he was being singled out for unjust punishment. When I started investigating Glass in response to a call from Forbes Digital Tool, a now-defunct online magazine that had found it impossible to verify one of Glass's stories, I didn't know exactly what I was dealing with. The Forbes journalists thought that, perhaps, Glass had simply swallowed phony information supplied to him by devious sources. Meanwhile, Glass was circulating among the New Republic's staff, exploiting the due process that he was being given, spreading the lie that he was being persecuted.


Thus does the charming sociopath, through his instinctive grasp of human motivations and how to manipulate them, build up an illegitimate fund of political capital, then draw on it in extremis. For the charmer, there are no human beings in the world -- only marks. We thought Glass was interested in our personal lives, or our struggles with work, and we thought it was because he cared. Actually, it was all about sizing us up and searching for vulnerabilities. What we saw as concern was actually contempt.


Of course, what Lane does not address is the other kind of lie that can be found routinely at the New Republic, the Washington Post and the New York Times and for which nobody will ever be fired. I speak here of the lies surrounding US foreign policy, which have little to do with whether characters like "Ian Restil" or "Susan" exist. These are the Orwellian lies in which Grenada or Nicaragua becomes a threat to the national security of the USA. The New Republic, the Washington Post and the NY Times all happily joined in together to spread these Pinocchio type tales, but nobody ever got fired. Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass will never have jobs as reporters again, but Judith Miller certainly will.