10 Really Smart People Who Did Really Dumb Things

Stephen Glass Fabricates Most of his Journalistic Work
Stephen Glass performs comedy at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles -- one of the ways he's kept busy after leaving journalism. Michael Schwartz/WireImage/Getty Images

At just 25 years old, Stephen Glass was already an associate editor at the prestigious publication The New Republic. He was a journalist wunderkind with a promising career ahead of him, but in May 1998, that came crashing down when Forbes reporter Adam L. Penenberg outed Glass for making up the facts in his piece "Hack Heaven" [source: Peneberg]

"Hack Heaven" was about a teenaged computer hacker who busted into a major software company's system, and posted internal information on the company Web site. According to the riveting story, rather than prosecute the teen, the company offered him a job. It's a dream scenario for any young hacker, but the problem is none of it was true.

Probably the most damning detail Penenberg uncovered was that the company in the story, Jukt Micronics, didn't exist. Glass's editor at The New Republic launched an investigation into the rest of Glass's work and discovered that 27 of his 41 pieces for the magazine were total fabrications or contained some made-up facts [source: Bissinger]. Glass even faked backup notes, phone numbers and created false Web sites to get through the fact checking process at the magazine. He also falsified articles that appeared in George and Rolling Stone magazines. Vanity Fair called it "the most sustained fraud in the history of modern journalism."

So, what drove such a talented young reporter to do this?

Glass said he felt extreme pressure to succeed at any cost. He was a social outsider growing up who never felt that he had his parents' approval. Those childhood anxieties followed him into his career, and stress and a fear of failure drove him to do anything -- even violating journalistic ethics at elaborate lengths -- to succeed [source: O'Neill and Karas]. While his rocky childhood doesn't totally excuse Glass's actions, we can all identify a little bit with the pressure to perform.

The scandal haunted Glass even after he left journalism. In 2000 he graduated from law school, but despite passing the California and New York state bar exams, in 2012 he was still fighting for the right to practice law because of the plagiarism in his past [source: O'Neill and Karas].