Before May 18, 1998, Stephen Glass was a 24-year-old reporter for The New Republic. His articles were funny and informative, and always pretty sensational. And, sure, there were plenty of subjects that screamed "Fraud!" after Glass had written about them, but no one likes the way they get represented in the paper. Especially when you lie about them, which Glass did, unabashedly. Despite all the complaints, what really brought Glass's downfall was a short article titled "Hack Heaven," which described both a hackers' convention and a business meeting between a teenage hacker and a "large California software firm" Jukt Micronics:
Another Hack Heaven.
Ian Restil, a 15-year-old computer hacker who looks like an even more adolescent version of Bill Gates, is throwing a tantrum. "I want more money. I want a Miata. I want a trip to Disney World. I want X-Men comic [book] #1. I want a lifetime subscription to Playboy--and throw in Penthouse. Show me the money! Show me the money!" Across the table, executives from a California software firm called Jukt Micronics are listening and trying ever so delicately to oblige. "Excuse me, sir," one of the suits says tentatively to the pimply teenager. "Excuse me. Pardon me for interrupting you, sir. We can arrange more money for you..."
According to the story, Jukt Micronics was so eager to hire and please Restil because Restil hacked into their database, posted the salaries of every employee in the company on the company's homepage and garnished the entire hack with several pictures of naked ladies (also displayed prominently on the company's homepage). This was all, of course, total bullshit and, even though the story went through several fact checkers, no one noticed just exactly how bullshitty it was (so bullshitty, you guys). To be fair to The New Republic this was 1998, a time when many people actually did believe back-end mouth breathers were capable of taking down large corporations with just a few key strokes, presumably while listening to techno and posting pictures of boobs on the front page of the CIA website.
We guess the technology of '98 was so new and scary to the staff of The New Republic that they couldn't be bothered to club "Jukt Micronics" into a search engine. The article did, however catch the attention of Forbes Digital, and when word got around to Glass that those nerds at Forbes smelled a rat, he whipped up fake business cards, phony voicemail accounts in California, a dummy AOL members website for the software company and actually got his brother to pose as the voice of the CEO of Jukt Micronics. And he would've gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for those meddling Forbes fact-checkers, and also logic. Glass was fired within a day, and went on to write an unsuccessful novel based on his experiences.
Stephen Glass and Dateline are opportunists. Ben Franklin's a Grand Imperial Dick Wizard and Mark Twain just likes screwing with people. But Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, ladies and gentlemen, are the fathers of yellow journalism.
Hearst and Pulitzer: total fuckbaskets.
In the late 1800s, Joseph Pulitzer (owner of The New York World) and William Randolph Hearst (owner of The New York Journal) were engaged in a vicious battle over who had the larger circulation. In an ethically questionable display of one-upmanship, the two media giants dick slapped moral reporting several times a day to out-circulate the other, each paper coming out with a story more sensational than the other paper published the day before.
When a rebellion in Cuba against the Spanish started brewing, Hearst and Pulitzer saw a golden opportunity; they'd report on the situation in Cuba to sell papers, and if the situation wasn't interesting, they'd make shit up because journalism is easy when you don't have a soul. Hearst and Pulitzer would take sensationalized, unverified stories of made-up atrocities, make those stories even more sensationalized and then feed the twice-baked-sensationalizations to the American people as the truth. And the people, thanks to the papers, believed that America had an ethical obligation to step in and save those Cubans.
Every John Q. Public with a paper assumed that the Spanish warlords were raping and murdering the poor, defenseless Cubans and leaving them in rotting piles on the side of the road, because that's the kind of story you write when you own a newspaper and are bored. When a Journal news photographer attempted to leave Cuba, reporting to Hearst that the situation wasn't as bad as Hearst had reported, Hearst sent a cable boasting, "Please remain. You furnish the pictures, I'll furnish the war." Then the USS Maine, an American warship, blew the fuck up under questionable circumstances.
Post-explosion, President McKinley demanded an immediate investigation, but Hearst and Pulitzer demanded even more immediate "THE SPANISH DID IT" headlines. Their reporting was so immediate, in fact, that word had reached the American people about Spain's involvement in the sinking before the investigation even started. To this day, we don't know why exactly the Maine exploded, we just know why it didn't: the Spanish. But that didn't get in the way of headlines! What a scoop!
The catchy rallying cry that resulted--"Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain!"--was just the propaganda tool a young and soon to be outstandingly mustachioed Teddy Roosevelt was looking for to satisfy his itch for a new war. Proving that no mere mortal can withstand Teddy Roosevelt, the war was over in a matter of weeks and Pulitzer and Hearst basked in the afterglow, all while continuing their reporting charades which included failing to mention that the iconic battle in the Spanish American War was actually thanks to an African American cavalry. Shine on you crazy diamonds!
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