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The New Republic Plays The Victim

Just a few months after owner Marty Peretz bounced Michael Kelly for being too tough on Bill Clinton, The New Republic finds itself with an even greater embarrassment to its reputation. Associate Editor Stephen Glass, hailed by magazine staffers as a brilliant, mercilessly accurate young journalistic ace, has been exposed as a total fraud.

The staff of Forbes Digital Tool exposed Glass's final New Republic article, a cheeky look at young hackers who, it turned out, did not exist. Oh, what irony. To the dismay of all those high-faluting liberal Internet bashers from the print press, it was online journalists that uncovered fraud in a formerly respectable print outlet. And how delicious that the fraud occurred at The New Republic, which ran at least two (literally) unbelievable Stephen Glass articles that attacked the right.

First there was a slimy March 31, 1997 article on Generation X slackers hanging out at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or as the table of contents breathlessly promoted it "A lost weekend with conservatism's drunk, dejected and angry younger generation." Glass reported walking into the men's room and discovering "a wiry mustached twentysomething getting to second base with a svelte blonde...His face is buried between her breasts." That anecdote, believe it or not, was about the tamest tall tale in the piece, which recounted wild orgies and drug fests in hotel rooms while Trent Lott spoke below.

Everyone now knows what the CPAC organizers know all along: it was unbelievable because it was invented, a la Janet Cooke. What bothers David Keene, the head of CPAC, most, however, is that The New Republic had to know it wasn't true, either. "The editors at the time certainly had good reason to know what he was turning in wasn't true," Mr. Keene told me. "It boggles the mind that an editor wouldn't demand sourcing for a seemingly incredibly timed, perfectly scripted hit piece."

Another Glass special arrived in February of this year, titled "Plotters," which New Republic Editor Charles Lane has already repudiated as a fiction. The fictional group was called the "Commission to Restore the Presidency to Greatness," one member of which believed Bill Clinton is really a woman. Glass ended by suggesting his fictional group "stages both sides of their rallies when their opponents don't show up. It's not a bad way to exaggerate strength and media attention. I used to work at a pro-choice group that did the same thing."

Lane began his apology in the current issue: "The New Republic has always been a stringent magazine - stringent about intellectual honesty and stringent about telling the truth. We have not hesitated to hold others to account when they have, in our judgment, transgressed against those norms." Mr. Keene sees it differently: "Theirs is a corporate culture that doesn't place a high price on truth."

Regardless of how stringent they've really been, let's review some of TNR's attacks on The American Spectator, which resembled the bashing the rest of the 89-percent pro-Clinton media have dished out. When David Brock's "Troopergate" expose appeared in December of 1993, Michael Kinsley went on the attack. "David Brock's dishonesty announces itself in its very first paragraph." Kinsley acidly claimed that Brock incorrectly claimed Betsey Wright's use of the term "bimbo eruptions" went unnoticed, when he found 342 references to it in Nexis. (Kinsley did note how many of those were attacks on Bush campaign aide Mary Matalin for using the phrase in a Bush campaign fax.) Kinsley also noted Wright never said she "spent the better part of her time" on bimbo eruptions, as Brock claimed: "These minor matters don't prove the untruth of Brock's major accusations. But they do prove his fundamental bad faith, and that of his editors. Who would believe anything this fellow wrote?"

To underline their disdain for sloppy journalism, TNR ran a satire by "David Crock," joyfully noting "What follows here is vulgar tabloid fare, ordinarily not worthy of a publication of any journalistic repute. But what the hell." The Crock satire ends by declaring the phone numbers of Clinton mistresses will not be revealed, but "If you subscribe to The American Spectator you can have them too, free of charge."

Perhaps that's the greatest irony of all: a reporter for The New Republic is found to be a flat-out liar and he, not his publication, is being held accountable. But when TNR - and virtually the entire mainstream liberal press - simply disagree with articles in The American Spectator, it becomes a license to kill The American Spectator. "If anything is found wrong in a conservative publication," explains Mr. Keene, "It's because that publication is evil. But if it's in a liberal publication, it's the writer's fault. The publication is simply a victim."

TNR's "Notebook" complained: "The way in which David Brock's tabloid sleaze infiltrated the mainstream media is truly sickening. We doubt whether most of his allegations are true. But even if they are, they're of no relevance to his public duties." Three years later, they were running fictional tales of boozy naked young right-wingers who had no public duties. Is this long, hard fall for The New Republic really over yet?

Glass wrote" "This is the face of young conservatism in 1997: pissed off and pissed; dejected, depressed, drunk and dumb." related hearsay: "A hotel janitor says he discovered two college students having sex on the dais in the middle of the night." In the last paragraph, he goes to a "get-naked room" with nine stoned college students, and "Cynthia, a Dole supporter" tells Glass: "Why would give you the idea we're having problems?...What was I saying? Oh yeah. This is, like, just how the movement is now. Get used to it."