Last weekend, Fuzzy and I watched the movie Shattered Glass. It tells the story of Stephen Glass, a rising star at The New Republic, known for his extremely interesting and colorful stories. It turned out, though, that many of those stories were made up. We're not talking about a doctored quote here, a made-up source there; we're talking about people and companies that never existed doing things that never happened. He made stuff up out of whole cloth.
Take for example, the Hack Heaven, the story that got him caught. Read this story. The people in it don't exist. The software company doesn't exist. The conference didn't happen. The legislation he said had been proposed in 21 states had not been proposed in any. The New Republic supposedly had an extensive fact-checking system, yet he only got caught after another reporter at Forbes online tried to write a follow-up story [warning: very spoilery if you might see the movie] and couldn't find any of the people mentioned. A Slate article addresses some of the reasons he wasn't found out sooner. Another Slate article discusses the film.
In addition to Hack Heaven, Glass fabricated dozens of other articles, indexed here. After looking at this list, I realized that I had probably been fooled by him too. One of my favorite This American Life stories is in the episode "How to Take Money From Strangers." It's the story of former phone psychic; he tells us really moving and compelling stories about his callers, his interactions with them, his guilt over lying to them about his psychic abilities, and his guilt over bilking money out of people who can least afford it. The former phone psychic? Stephen Glass. I feel so betrayed.
Glass has since been interviewed by CBS [also spoilery], and he acts all contrite, but I don't buy it.
Anyway, see the movie. It's a fantastic story.