Talked Up

Recycled Glass

Almost a year after Stephen Glass was exposed as a fabricator, glossy magazines are still trading on his name. Indeed, the same editors who once fell all over themselves to assign stories to the rising star now rely on his notoriety to justify publishing any little crumb of Glass gossip.

That would seem to explain an unsigned item called "Tripping Over Glass," which appears in the front of the book of the March issue of George magazine. The item begins with a snicker: "What do you do after you've been drummed out of journalism because of a lack of ethics? Become a lawyer!" Then it gets down to reporting the "news," which is that Glass, now a law student at Georgetown University, made law review last summer— only to withdraw after colleagues complained that he might stir up controversy.

The item certainly meets the schadenfreude test, but it ain't news: the same story was reported by Howard Kurtz in an August 31, 1998, media column for The Washington Post. In fairness, Kurtz pointed out that it was Glass's excellent grades and writing skills that qualified him to work on the law review.

George executive editor Richard Blow says the magazine was not aware of the Kurtz story, but should have been (ironically, Kurtz is a contributor to the magazine). "We're not the first publication to be scooped by Howie," he added. Neither is it the first time they've suffered from the Glass curse: last spring, after the New Republic fired Glass for fabrications, Glass admitted that the profile of Vernon Jordan he wrote for George also contained a number of cooked quotes.

Says Blow, "Stephen Glass has not been good karma for George."

Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?

New York Post reporters Gregg Birnbaum and Douglas Montero have won much praise for their investigation of New York's state-run psychiatric institutes. Since January, the series has exposed a netherworld in which pharmaceutical giants pay millions of dollars a year to state facilities, which in turn conduct risky drug experiments on "human guinea pigs," including mental health patients, teenage criminals, and children under the age of 10.

But some fans of the exposé were alarmed to read a March 3 editorial in the Post, called "A Thank You for Pharmaceuticals." Without mentioning the series by name, the editorial downplayed the reporters' revelations and sent what some interpreted as an order to lay off the drug industry. "Pharmaceutical companies . . . have done wonders— literal wonders— for people," the editorial singsonged. "They should be celebrated, not demonized. And the doctors and scientists who help them deserve a lot of credit too."

The editorial took aim at Birnbaum and Montero's latest scoop, a February 28 cover story called "Shrinks for Sale?" which revealed that key figures at the New York State Psychiatric Institute "are raking in extra personal income from consulting deals, board memberships and speaking fees from the world's pharmaceutical giants." Doctors on the take include an NYSPI deputy director who received $140,000 in lecture fees and travel expenses in the last year alone. Drug money is also lining the pockets of two psychiatrists who serve on the panel that approves and oversees NYSPI clinical trials.

To critics, these payments create the appearance of a conflict of interest, because doctors on the take are more likely to approve the drugs of their benefactors than to protect the rights of their patients. But that's hogwash, according to the March 3 Post editorial, which said blithely, "The revelation that New Yorkers in charge of testing new drugs on mental patients get payments and honoraria from the drug companies doesn't disturb us."

The editorial defended such payments as a routine practice in a competitive world, accused anyone who opposes them as having an "anti-business bias," and argued that if a scientist put out biased research, it would be exposed very quickly.

Was the editorial meant as a rebuke? Post editor Ken Chandler did not return calls for comment, and Montero denies that any pressure has been exerted from above. "In fact, my supervisors are encouraging me and Gregg to march forward," he says, "which is what we intend to do."

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