Devil in the Details


This year's hottest political fiction isn't in paperback. As anyone familiar with Beltway journalism knows by now, the New Republic fired associate editor Stephen Glass in May after Forbes Digital Tool uncovered extensive fabrications in one piece. Since then, TNR has disclosed that 27 of Glass's 41 articles for the magazine were at least partially products of his vivid imagination.

What hasn't been widely noted is that before joining TNR, Glass was an assistant editor at the Heritage Foundation's Policy Review. There he cultivated his ardent free market views, writing such articles as "Happy Meals: When Lunch Subsidies are Chopped, Kids Eat Better" and "A Pension Deficit Disorder: Teacher Unions Betray Their Members." Howard Kurtz, media columnist for the Washington Post, has reported that an incident Glass described in a Policy Review piece -- a supposed speech at a graveside in praise of privatized Social Security -- never happened. Apparently, the people Glass mentioned are fictitious.

Even before the recent revelations, shouldn't suspicions at Heritage have been aroused by some of the details in Glass's stories? In his "Happy Meals" article, Glass reported that after school lunches were privatized in Rhode Island, "students ate almost all of their carrots." And he quotes a sixth grader as saying, "The other stuff was, you know, welfare food, and it tasted like it." Amazing how privatization can get kids to eat their carrots and provide zingers against federal programs. Glass obviously had the editors at Policy Review eating out of his dish.

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If there were a 1998 Award for Misspent Political Money, Al Checchi would run away with the prize. After spending $40 million of his own money in the race for the Democratic nomination for governor of California, the best the former Northwest Airlines chairman could manage was a distant second.

Checchi may never have run for office before, but he was hardly new to politics; throughout the 1990s, he exerted considerable influence as a contributor. In 1997 alone, he donated $108,000 to Democrats, in addition to the $140,000 donated by Northwest Airlines. That same year Checchi's co-chair, Gary Wilson, gave $112,000 to Republicans. Were these political contributions more effective than Checchi's spending on himself? According to a study by the Center for Public Integrity, Congress consistently failed to act on legislation to protect airline safety during the 1980s and 1990s. During the 11 years beginning in 1986, the industry donated $43.8 million to congressional campaigns. Checchi's donations were an important part of the industry's overall spending. When it comes to purchasing political influence, sometimes the old ways work best.


In recent months, groups on the religious right have begun advocating broad internet content filters to protect us from online nudity, violence, bad language, and homosexuality.

In a pleasing irony, the American Family Association (AFA), longtime supporter of internet filtering, has now itself been blocked by Cyber Patrol, a filter from Micro systems Software. AFA's offense was not violence or lang uage but statements against gays and lesbians that violate Cyber Patrol's guidelines against intolerance. An AFA spokesman has protested the move, saying, "We object to the unfairness of blocking and labeling 'intolerant' the Scripture-based stand AFA takes against homosexuality."

After the AFA expressed its protest at being blocked, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) encouraged them to join GLAAD in combating internet censorship in all forms and "oppos[ing] all policies requiring its use by schools and libraries." So far the AFA has declined to offer its support.

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