Accuracy in Media

While virtually all of the attention paid to the new magazine, Brill’s Content, was about the cover story regarding actions and ethics of the media and of Independent Counsel Ken Starr in the first three weeks of the Monica Lewinsky story, there were other very interesting articles . One was called “Slipping Past The Fact Checkers,” which focused on the story of Stephen Glass, a writer for The New Republic who was caught fabricating many of his stories. This is another in a series of journalistic scandals including a similar case involving Patricia Smith, a Boston Globe columnist, and the CNN nerve gas scandal. The common thread is the failure of fact checking by the editors.

The utter absurdity of many of Glass’s assertions raises serious questions about how they could withstand even a smell test, much less careful fact-checking. For example, what were The New Republic editors thinking when they ran a cover story in June of 1997 about the “First Church of George Herbert Walker Christ,” supposedly an account of a cult whose purpose is to rehabilitate the image of President George Bush? Or how about an April 1998 story about a non-existent National Memorabilia Convention that exhibited “more than 3000” Monica Lewinsky items, including condoms and an inflatable sex doll that recites “Leaves of Grass?”

One of the most disgusting glass deceptions appeared in the March 31, 1997 issue of The New Republic. Titled “Spring Breakdown,” it was intended to show the demoralization and hypocrisy of young conservatives attending the Conservative Political Action Conference at Washington’s Omni Shoreham Hotel in March 1997. Here’s an example of how Glass tried to defame the young people who attended this outstanding conference.

“The minibar is open and empty little bottles of booze are scattered on the carpet. On the bed, a Gideon Bible, used earlier in the night to resolve an argument, is open to Exodus. In the bathroom, the tub is filled with ice and the remnants of three cases of Coors Light. The young men pass around a joint counterclockwise. ‘I’m telling you, I’m telling you, we don’t know what we’re doing,’ says Jason, a brown-haired freckled boy from Iowa, between puffs. ‘We’ve got no mission. We’ve got no direction…The other seven young men nod and mumble in agree- ment…..This is the face of young conservatism in 1997: dejected, depressed, drunk and dumb.”

Letters to the editor exposed the many inaccuracies and preposterous “incidents” in this story that should have set off alarm bells at the magazine. For example, there are no minibars in the rooms at the Shoreham Hotel and young women do not frequent the mens’ rooms. This should have caused the editors to check on Glass’s reporting over a year ago.

Perhaps the fact that Glass had once worked for the conservative Heritage Foundation led the editor, Michael Kelly who is by no means a liberal, to accept this incredibly preposterous story. Perhaps he couldn’t believe that a young conservative would make up such lies about young conservatives. We doubt that Stephen Glass is a conservative. He is just an exceptionally good liar.

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