Here’s the background in a nutshell: They made a movie about how full of crap this guy is, and in recently denying his bid to become a lawyer, the California Supreme Court agreed that Stephen Glass is an unreformed, serial liar (and a bigot).
The court’s decision is the document your mother warned you about. The first few sentences alone hooked me, and as I continued reading I couldn’t help but pause to appreciate how good I have it.
I may be a convicted armed robber who the state of California once sent to Folsom prison, yet to the best of my knowledge and documentation retrieval efforts no court decision or official determination of me is anywhere near as condemning as this decision on Glass. Blame it on Hayden Christensen’s wooden acting if you must, but not even Hollywood’s version more indelibly reinforces the expression that cheaters never prosper. (Yeah yeah, they often do, but journalistic fraud circa 1998 doesn’t quite reach the heights of today’s macroeconomic mega-scams or the cheating wars teachers and Chinese-trained GPA hackers are now waging.)
America is a nation of second chances, yet the court’s decision essentially stamped “NO DO-OVERS” across Stephen Glass’s doughy face. How harsh is that!?
But consequences and bells that can’t be un-rung are my point.
Stephen Glass will forever be known as a “serial liar,” and to some (for maligning certain ethnicities in phony stories for various print magazines), a racist. He lacked the character to do his own footwork or risk failure, so he’s become a character. Glass has allowed himself to become a guy we point at, the new face of cheaters never prosper.
And technically, back when he was writing for The New Republic, Glass didn’t even risk failure. He might have missed out on a few pats on the back had he failed to produce conventionally cultivated editorial content, but that’s something that coulda, woulda and shoulda made him relatable to his peers and known to himself.
Instead, Glass chose to zoom right past all that to the victory party. He fabricated quotes from sources he invented to support nonexistent news items, and once questioned, had business cards printed to prove these people existed. He even went so far as to impersonate some of these ghost-leakers in phony voice messages he left for his skeptical editors. Read the court’s decision or watch the movie: he created fake websites, whole newsletters, and more.
When you break the law in pursuit of becoming the exceptional individual you believe yourself to be, other life lessons become casualties along the way. You miss out on epiphanies and corner-turns. And this only highlights your lack of character. From that point on, when you make a bad decision, you allow others to declare they saw it coming. The essence of get character or become one is that you let others to decide who you are, rather than maintaining control of your brand yourself.
(Further exploration of such a soul crushing, life altering wake-up call can be found in this account of my pre-trial hearing, wherein I sat dumbfounded and powerless to protest state witness embellishment and exaggeration.)
But back to sacrificed life lessons:
Among those Stephen Glass apparently lost out on is what it means to be humbled by apology. In 2003, he admitted to 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft that he hadn’t apologized to anyone despite coming clean about hurting coworkers, family, and friends. “I didn’t apologize to people. Because I was so ashamed.” It came off back then like an excuse from someone of little character, like a snake eating its own tail. The California Supreme Court’s current assessment, all these years later, is the same.
Unbeknownst to Glass, he also lost out on learning to manage his sense of entitlement. Even after a movie exposed what creeping ground fog he’s made of, the schmuck couldn’t leave well enough alone. He nabbed a six figure book advance for a novel about a reporter who’s a pathological liar, and not even that was enough. Standup comedy was next – because apparently that’s what you do (So I look at the guy and I say, Buddy, I’m so full of shit I should have flush levers instead of ears!). When the state of New York denied Glass’s application to practice law because he couldn’t pass a standard “moral fitness test,” he didn’t skip a beat.
He moved to Los Angeles in 2004 and talked his way into paralegal job at a Beverly Hills law firm. There, still unable to let sleeping dogs at least take a nap, Glass began his fight to join the California Bar Association.
Just this week, though, Glass got his ass royally handed to him via the mother of all moral character determinations. After hearing arguments from the state bar examiners that the issue isn’t Glass’s past sins as much as his current lack of character, the California Supreme Court decided he hasn’t proven himself rehabilitated or even repentant.
Wrote the court: “…if Glass were to fabricate evidence in legal matters as readily and effectively as he falsified material for magazine articles, the harm to the public and profession would be immeasurable.”
So uh, he won’t be practicing law in the sunny state.
The moral of the story is that the rest of us now get to decide anything we want about Stephen Glass, for the rest of his life.
Get character or become one – period.