Archive for December, 2011

Dishing on Eat, Pray, Love

Posted on December 31st, 2011 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

I haven’t seen the movie or read the book because I know I would hate them both and I already have too many things that make me dyspeptic without seeking out more.

But I do love a good piece of writing trashing Eat, Pray, Love, and this short essay on Videogum by someone named Gabe is it. Absolutely wonderful, visceral, smart, funny, Eat, Pray, Love hatred.

By the way, if you have a few minutes, watch that TED talk of Elizabeth Gilbert’s (it’s in the Videogum piece). It’s very hard to say just exactly why it’s as annoying as it is, but….it is really annoying. If I ever give a talk about how hard it is being a divinely inspired genius—seriously, this is what she says—and not killing myself, shoot me before it’s over.

Watching Gilbert deliver that talk reminds me of William Hurt in Broadcast News—they’re strikingly similar— which prompts me to post this classic scene from that film. It’s such a pleasure to hear again the writing in it, which is both so poignant and so smart at the same time. I don’t wish I’d written Eat, Pray, Love, but if I had written this one scene in Broadcast News, I’d feel pretty good about myself.

Joe Nocera Gets It Wrong On Stephen Glass

Posted on December 30th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

The New York Times’ Joe Nocera is a great business columnist, and his recent column on former journalist Stephen Glass proves it.

In Glass’s Road to Redemption, Nocera argues that Stephen Glass has done all he can to rehabilitate himself, and that the California state bar is being “petty and vindictive” for opposing Glass’ bid to join the bar association.

We like to tell ourselves that we believe in the power of redemption. People can make mistakes — even big mistakes — and, in time, recover from them. Stephen Glass is someone who made a big mistake. The infamy of his misdeeds will follow him forever. But if anyone can be said to have redeemed himself by his subsequent actions, it is Glass.

Well…no. Forgive the pun, but saying that Glass is the epitome of redemption is truly lowering the bar.

Here’s the story of redemption as Nocera describes it:

Glass was unhireable as a lawyer when he got his degree. A sympathetic professor, Susan Low Bloch, helped him land a clerkship with a District of Columbia judge. Then he moved to New York where he passed the bar but withdrew his application when he learned he was going to be turned down. To support himself, he wrote a fictional account of his misdeeds. He underwent intensive psychotherapy and sought out those whom he had wronged to apologize. He fell in love, moved with her to California and took — and passed — the California Bar exam.

Mr. Nocera gets this technically correct, but substantively wrong–particularly the part about the fictional account and the apologies. I was the recipient of one of those apologies, so I should know. And since later in his column—we’ll get to that—Nocera takes aim at me and a few other of Glass’ “enemies”, I feel compelled to set the record straight here.

Because I had been his editor at George magazine, where Glass fabricated parts or most of four articles, Stephen Glass sent me a note of apology in the spring of 2003, asking if I would have a cup of coffee with him so he could explain in person. (I was one of a handful of editors most affected by Glass’ lying; I don’t think every note recipient got the same invitation.) Much has since been made of those notes by Glass and his defenders, but I can tell you, there wasn’t a lot to it—a small note card containing maybe a paragraph. It was pretty thin gruel.

Mostly, I’m an open-minded person, and was more than willing to hear what Glass had to say. (And, I’ll admit, I was curious.) So we did have that coffee, and Glass tried to explain—but the truth is, he really didn’t give much of an explanation at all. (Certainly not the “I was traumatized by my parents” defense he’s since developed.)

What was really upsetting was the timing of all this. First, it was almost five years after Glass’ lies were exposed, and he hadn’t reached out to me—or any other of his editors, to the best of my knowledge—in the meantime. Five years is a long time.

And second, it happened to be a week or so before the publication of Glass’ novel about his lying, called The Fabulist.

It’s pretty hard to take an apology seriously when it’s part of a pre-publication publicity blitz. More: It’s pretty hard to take an apology seriously when the perpetrator of a fraud makes sure to sell—and write—his book about it first.

(And don’t even get me started on the book, which I’ve already written about. Let’s just say it wasn’t exactly self-critical. Why Glass didn’t write a memoir in which he could deal with what happened more…I don’t know, honestly? rigorously?—I’ll never know. The most likely reason is that Glass was considering becoming a novelist/screenwriter and wanted to use that book to test the waters.)

Nocera goes on to characterize me and a few other folks who’ve commented or written about Glass’ attempt to become a lawyer, saying,

His only enemies are those who remain mired in the past, still angered by what he did. None of them have had any serious contact with him in the subsequent 14 years.

As just demonstrated, this is factually wrong—unless Nocera is contradicting himself and calling Glass’ apologies unserious.

I’d add that I and the other people involved wouldn’t consider ourselves Glass’ “enemies” who are “mired in the past.” (We just remember it.) Skeptics, probably. But enemies makes it sound like we are irrational, and there are plenty of rational reasons to think that Stephen Glass should not be allowed to become a member of the bar.

Yet Nocera writes:

I e-mailed John P. McNicholas III, the [bar] committee chairman, to ask him why his group was being so petty and vindictive. He hasn’t written me back.

Imagine…not returning an email from a journalist asking why you’re being “so petty and vindictive.” What on earth would make you think that the journalist didn’t plan on giving you a fair shake?

There’s another issue that Nocera doesn’t address and Glass has certainly never acknowledged: It’s that the editors and readers of Glass’ stories aren’t the only people he should have apologized to. (I don’t think he’s ever actually apologized to the readers, though, come to think of it.)

As I’ve argued before, Glass created lies that people believed because they played on stereotypes: of college Republicans (drunk and obnoxious), of Wall Street financiers (so greedy they genuflected to a statue of Alan Greenspan), of hicks (they belonged to a church of George H. W. Bush), of black/poor people (so dumb, easy fodder for a fake phone psychic, or hyper-sexual and obsessed with white women, as Glass portrayed Vernon Jordan in George, or lazy, too shiftless to drive Washington taxis).

I could go on, but you get the point. In all the fuss about people like me—made, frankly, by people like me—who were conned by Glass, there’s been virtually no mention of people who were caricatured by Glass in stereotyped and bigoted ways—the subject-victims of his writing.

Nocera says that everyone who knows Glass since the scandal thinks that he’s incredibly honest. Well, we who knew him beforehand thought the same thing, and Glass’ behavior sounds to me as pathological as it was before—and the story that he tells of abusive parents sounds almost exactly like the kind of story he used to make up with facility.

The California Bar should be so lucky as to have him as a member, Nocera writes. Nonsense. The legal marketplace probably has more lawyers than it needs, and why would it need one about whom such question marks hover?

I’m not Stephen Glass’ enemy. I don’t wish him ill. I hope he has a happy and productive life. But he really hasn’t done much in the way of redemption, and much of what he has done isn’t very persuasive. It’s unpleasant and sort of tedious to have to keep pointing that out, but it’s the truth.

More Signs of the Dumb-Dumb-Dumb Wall Street Journal

Posted on December 30th, 2011 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

“Kelly Clarkson’s Ron Paul Endorsement Draws Fire on Twitter.”

A headline, every word of which is trivial, on WSJ.com now.

Could it be a coincidence that Rupert Murdoch owns both the Journal and Fox, which airs American Idol, the show which made Kelly Clarkson pop-famous?

Friday Morning Zen

Posted on December 30th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Willsboro, New York. Lake Champlain is directly behind me.

Willsboro, New York. Lake Champlain is directly behind me.

Thursday Afternoon Zen

Posted on December 29th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

World's End, Hingham, MA

World's End, Hingham, MA

I’m back from a little holiday break, with lots to blog about….Hope all are well.

Why Rhodes Scholarships Matter

Posted on December 22nd, 2011 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Because if you lie about being a finalist to receive one, you have to resign as Yale’s football coach

“I am extremely proud of my academic, athletic and coaching career. If there was confusion created, I take full responsibility. The timing of this inquiry has been difficult for everyone. At this point I believe it is in the best interest of my student-athletes and Yale University that I step down.”

There was confusion created!

Of course, it didn’t help that Tom Williams couldn’t beat Harvard….

Update: It turns out that WIlliams is a serial liar….

They Just Don’t Get It, Do They?

Posted on December 21st, 2011 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The 1% defend themselves in this infuriating Bloomberg article…

“Acting like everyone who’s been successful is bad and because you’re rich you’re bad, I don’t understand it,” the JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) CEO [Jamie Dimon] told an audience member who asked about hostility toward bankers. “Sometimes there’s a bad apple, yet we denigrate the whole.

Of course the criticisms of the 1% are over-broad and inaccurate sometimes; no protest movement is perfect.

But if the 1% are so successful, and it’s all the result of their own intelligence and hard work, they should be mature enough to overlook those flaws and consider the fundamental message of Occupy Wall Street: Income inequality in America is threatening the future of the country.

When you look at the numbers, that’s a very substantive and serious argument. You may not agree with it, but it’s a real issue, and it deserves to be listened to with respect.

My Second New Favorite Video

Posted on December 19th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Book of James, by We Are Augustines.

The song apparently was inspired by the brother of lead singer Bill McCarthy, a schizophrenic and drug addict who hanged himself in prison. McCarthy’s mother, who was also schizophrenic, died of a drug overdose. (This is recounted in the “Story” section of the band’s website.)

When McCarthy was nineteen years old his mother, after years of struggling with chemical dependency and psychic deterioration, ended her life by overdosing on painkillers and cocaine. Her body was discovered on a cot in a homeless shelter. Next to her was a business card from the local mortuary, her children’s names scrawled across the back.

Puts one’s problems into perspective, doesn’t it?

My New Favorite Video

Posted on December 18th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

It’s a song called “Chapel Song,” by a Brooklyn band called We Are Augustines.

The video’s almost a parody (presumably unintentional) of Brooklyn hipsterdom, but hey, that’s what life here in the BK is really like…

The Petition of Stephen Glass

Posted on December 17th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

A few days ago Beth Karas, a legal reporter for CNN, interviewed me for an article she was writing about Stephen Glass, the serial fabulist whose story was turned into the film Shattered Glass.

For several years Glass has been trying to convince the California bar association that it should accept him into its ranks, and the matter has progressed all the way to the California Supreme Court. (Here’s a nice summation by Jack Shafer of how the case has developed.)

Karas wanted to talk because Glass wrote for me when I was an editor at George, and I subsequently wrote this short essay about the experience.

To really understand why the story of Steve Glass still causes such pain, you have to know that making up facts was only part of what Glass did to his colleagues. We opened ourselves to him, and in turn he probed our minds, pinpointing our vulnerabilities, our vanities, our prejudices. He exploited the worst in us and betrayed the best. And then he just vanished — until now. Now he’s back, promoting a tale of fall and redemption.

Promoting a tale of fall and redemption…. Those words remain almost exactly true; Glass is now telling the court that the reason he made up dozens of articles is because he wanted to impress his parents, who disapproved of him going into journalism.

As Karas reports in her CNN piece,

“If [Glass’ mother] was upset with you, she would stop speaking to you in the house, except for the most minute things,” he testified. During the freeze-outs, which could last weeks, she showered “over the top love” on his brother “so I could see what I was not getting.” His father would react in a manner Glass described as “rageful, stomping around, screaming and yelling.”

Glass’ parents declined to comment.

And because Glass was a nerd in school, things like this supposedly happened:

Classmates mocked him. During a health class focusing on the dangers of teenage pregnancy, the teacher “married” him to a classmate, and they were to jointly care for a doll. The girl was horrified, and she and her parents lobbied to have the marriage annulled.

Adam Penenberg, who first investigated Glass’s lies, is skeptical of Glass’ rehabilitation, and so am I.

(It’s important to note—I asked Karas to do this when quoting me, but she didn’t, how frustrating—that I haven’t seen Glass since 2003 or ’04, and I have absolutely no firsthand knowledge of his life since that time. He had written me a letter to ask if he could apologize to me in person. It happened to coincide with the publication of his dreadful novel.)

But reading that anecdote about the girl in school, I have this unpleasant sense of deja vu. Her parents lobbied to have the marriage annulled? I call bullshit; what kind of parents would do that? Like all of Glass’ stories, it’s possible. But it has exactly the color of all those invented stories from Glass’ pre-rehabilitation days.

And as for his family—well, look, I concede that something has to happen for a guy to turn out so f’ed up. Without question, Stephen is a very psychologically complicated guy. Maybe his parents did mess with his head. But still…his parents aren’t talking. I’d feel better if they were.

Ultimately, though, I go back to some Harvard book-learning on this one. As Donald Fleming, one of the members of my oral examination committee in graduate school, discussed with me, lawyers’ bar associations are simply guilds—trade organizations whose purpose is to elevate the profession (and its salaries), and protect consumers, by imposing some quality control. Some people get to be lawyers, some don’t.

If the California Bar Association can’t exclude someone who’s lied in public, in print, hundreds of times, who could it exclude?

In his article linked to above, Adam Penenberg makes a joke about Glass wanting to join one of the few professions as distrusted as journalism is. I’m not so cynical; the lawyers I know actually take this stuff pretty seriously. (An old friend of mine, for example, traveled from New York to Washington to dig up police records of an old traffic ticket he’d received for riding a motorcycle without a license so that he could file an accurate application for the bar. Of course, the DC police had lost the record.)

I don’t wish Stephen Glass harm; I hope his protestations of rehabilitation are true. But I don’t feel obligated to give him the benefit of the doubt, and I don’t see why the California bar should take a similar leap of faith.