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The Stephen Glass of 9/11

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Interesting story in the NYT about a woman who appears to have made up an elaborate public 9/11 survival story out of whole cloth. As with Glass, there are giveaways about her verisimilitude that are obvious once you know the story:

She has told people that she is the daughter of a diplomat, and is described on the Survivors’ Network Web site as “a senior vice president for strategic alliances for an investment think tank.”

Investment think tank? But, obviously, you’re not inclined to poke into the story of an ostensible 9/11 survivor, just as people accepted what should have been egregious howlers in Glass’s stuff because the stories were too good or because they were consistent with underlying ideological assumptions.

In a sense, though, my headline is unfair because she doesn’t seem to have profited from making up the story, so it’s hard to be too hard on her. Much worse, I’m reminded of one of my students who tried to use the Alaska Air crash as an excuse…to submit an assignment late. She said she hadn’t handed in her paper because she was an airline employee tending to survivors. I didn’t believe it, but as with the iconic Apocryphal Dead Relative it’s a clever story because the teacher feels like a jerk for requesting proof and would feel like an even bigger one if it was true. It turns out, though, that she had gone to the professor first with a story that didn’t work with the timeline, and then cleaned it up to go to the TA, so it was pretty clearly bogus. Using the give ’em enough rope theory I noted the timeline difficulty, gave her one more day to hand in the paper with only modest penalties, and never heard from her again. But, really, would you use the deaths of hundreds of people to blow off a college assignment?

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