Ben Levi Ross in The Connector. (Joan Marcus)

Give Stephen Glass a Break

An off-Broadway musical rehashes the story of disgraced journalist Stephen Glass. Enough already, says Joe Nocera.

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The Connector, an off-Broadway musical, is closing this Sunday, and I can’t say I’m sorry to see it go. I went a few weeks ago because Jason Robert Brown, one of my fave composers, wrote the music and lyrics, and because my friend Jessica Molaskey, the singer and actor, has a prominent role.

They didn’t disappoint. So why did I leave the theater with a sour taste in my mouth? Because the story is about a young journalist, working at a small but influential publication, who writes a series of articles that knock the socks off the magazine’s editor but turn out to be fabricated. In other words, nearly three decades after the Stephen Glass scandal rocked journalism, his sad tale is being repurposed again. 

Enough already.

There’s no excusing what Glass did. As a young staff writer at The New Republic in the mid-1990s, Glass wrote some 42 stories that were either partly or wholly made up. When he was drummed out of the profession, I applauded. What’s hard to fathom is why, of all the journalistic fraudsters over the past decades, his is the story that just won’t go away.

It’s been told in Vanity Fair, and in the 2003 movie Shattered Glass. When Glass tried to gain admission to the California bar in 2010 (the California Supreme Court ultimately denied his application), it generated a whole new round of nasty stories, with the press critic Jack Shafer calling him “a whiny excuse-maker.” When The New Republic celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2014, it sent Hanna Rosin, once a close friend, to interview Glass and retell the sordid tale. Just last year, Washingtonian magazine ran an “oral history” of the making of Shattered Glass. I mean, seriously?

And now, with The Connector, we have Stephen Glass: The Musical. What the show leaves out—what just about everybody leaves out—is the exemplary life Glass has led since leaving journalism. After the scandal, one of the few people who gave him a helping hand was a personal injury lawyer named Paul Zuckerman, who, after first tossing Glass’s résumé in the trash, decided to give him a second chance. 

Stephen Glass in 2003. (Photo by Neville Elder/Corbis via Getty Images)

Glass has served as a law clerk for Zuckerman ever since. Zuckerman has a lot of indigent and homeless clients—and Glass is the one who helps them through the legal process. In its otherwise harsh decision, the California Supreme Court was forced to concede that Glass was “an employee who conducted excellent legal research, was assiduous and hyper-scrupulous about honesty, and stopped to think about ethical issues.” 

Glass committed his fraud when he was in his mid-20s. He was 42 when California refused to admit him to the bar. A few years later, he paid $200,000 to The New Republic and the other magazines as a form of restitution. For much of his 40s, he cared for his wife, who died of early onset Alzheimer’s. The guy has not had an easy life. 

We like to think of ourselves as a nation that believes in redemption. Michael Milken is today a “philanthropist” instead of a convicted felon. (Also: Donald Trump pardoned him.) After doing time for insider trading, Martha Stewart is a national treasure. The quarterback Michael Vick was convicted of running a dog-fighting ring—and became the NFL’s comeback player of the year after he got out of prison. The 1969 Chappaquiddick scandal hung over Ted Kennedy for years, but by the time of his death in 2009, he was heralded as a great statesman. Like these bad actors, Stephen Glass deserves a second act that trumps the terrible mistakes of his past. What The Connector shows is that, sadly, it’s never going to happen.

Joe Nocera is a columnist for The Free Press, and the co-author of The Big Fail. Follow him on X @opinion_joe.

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