Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Stephen Glass and second chances. The normally reliable Globe columnist Cathy Young made a whopper yesterday, and she did it in service of a dubious argument: that former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair was given more chances to screw up than a white reporter would have because he is black.

Her example: Stephen Glass, who left the New Republic in 1998 after it was revealed that he had extensively fabricated people, organizations, universes, you-name-it in his feature stories over the previous few years. Young writes:

No one says that Blair lied and plagiarized because he is black, only that an obsession with diversity may have helped him get away with it. Glass was promptly investigated and fired after the first alarm signals; Blair got promoted despite an editor's memo urging his dismissal.

Wrong. In August 1998, the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz offered up this tidbit about how one of Glass's editors, the late Michael Kelly, reacted when Glass's integrity was challenged:

Stephen Glass, the New Republic staffer fired for serial fabrications, once wrote a piece savaging Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Jacobson was depicted as a fastidious eater, zealot and hype artist in attacking such products as Olestra, the fake fat made by Procter & Gamble.

Now Vanity Fair reports that Michael Kelly, the New Republic's editor at the time of the now-retracted piece, fired off a letter after Jacobson complained: "Mr. Jacobson, you lied, and you lied because lying supported your thesis, and you attempted to cover up your lie.... I await your apology to Stephen Glass and this magazine."

"Never in my life have I gotten a letter with the kind of vitriol Kelly was spewing out," Jacobson said. "He was defending an indefensible position, as was subsequently shown to be the case with the unmasking of Stephen Glass. "

Kelly says he was responding to an "outrageous" news release from Jacobson's group accusing the New Republic of mimicking other newspaper articles in "a larger, industry-backed smear campaign to undermine CSPI's credibility."

The Glass article in question appeared in TNR in December 1996. He was allowed to keep falsifying for more than a year after that.

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