It's easy to forget that Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair continue to exist. The phrases now attached to their names relegate them to the past tense. They are the "disgraced" journalists. Newsweek referred to one of them as "a journalistic suicide bomber" and a "young star... self-destructing." The Nation referred to the other as "a chaotic schmuck" who went "down in flames." Glass, the "fallen" New Republic journalist, appeared on national television last year, and Blair, the "fallen" New York Times journalist, has appeared on national television the last two weeks, and their likenesses have been splashed across magazine covers and the big screen, so as cultural constructions they have achieved immortality. But the vocabulary suggests that they are dead to us.
And yet, they are living, breathing, bathing people. Jayson Blair, 27, lives in a Brooklyn apartment with faulty plumbing. Stephen Glass, 30, spent the evening three Mondays ago glued to the conclusion of NBC's Average Joe: Hawaii and resolved afterward to "spend more time in the pool" at the Y near his place in SoHo. If the details of their lives seem strange it's because the details seem ordinary, and ordinariness is incongruent with our ideas of fame and infamy, and these two are the most infamous print journalists in America.
Their incredible notoriety is why, for example, it seemed funny and incongruent to read, after Blair's departure last year from the New York Times--he was the high-profile reporter who, for example, broke a scoop about law enforcement's mishandling of the D.C. sniper case, and was the only journalist to witness an unforgettable moment of grief shared between two injured soldiers in Bethesda, Maryland--that one of his editors once had lectured him on needing to find "a different way to nourish himself than drinking scotch, smoking cigarettes, and buying Cheez Doodles from the vending machines." (Blair's sloppiness, reportorial and otherwise, was a major theme in the 14,000-word, front-page May 2003 New York Times article enumerating his journalistic deceptions--like that sniper scoop, which has been disputed, and the Bethesda soldiers story, which was "as false as it was riveting.")
Similarly, it seemed incongruent and funny--since it was so ordinary--to read, in a Salon interview with Stephen Glass about Shattered Glass (the movie about his professional unraveling at the New Republic when he was 25), that Glass thought the movie's most "creepy" moment was not, for example, anything having to do with the publication of "Hack Heaven," the news story he fabricated in May 1998 that led, ultimately, to his undoing. ("Hack Heaven" was about a teenage computer hacker who broke into a software company's website and then found a way to further profit from the crime, to the frustration of law enforcement. The hacker, his agent, the software company, the website, the hacker's mother, the National Assembly of Hackers, the law enforcement officials, and the crime itself were all--every last one of them--invented out of thin air.) What was "creepy" to watch, Glass said, was "the moment in the office when he"--the Glass character--"didn't have his shoes on.... I tend to take my shoes off in offices."
It is the small things, then, that give a story dimension and "creepy" verisimilitude. Small things like the red, white, and blue flowers Jayson Blair ostensibly saw when he visited the parents of a missing Marine in March 2003, or the emptied bottles of booze from the minibar in a March 1997 story by Stephen Glass about young Republicans breaking the law in a hotel room during a political convention. (Blair never visited those parents in question, we now know, and the hotel in which Glass staged his 1997 story didn't have minibars.)
Reporting facts and details accurately is one of the news media's responsibilities--a responsibility Glass and Blair violated with dozens and dozens of instances of fabrication, plagiarism, and fraud--and its other major responsibility is to make sense of them. However sketchy the media is on the first front--insert here whatever arguments you have about how liberal and biased and unfair and blind the media is--the business of making sense of facts is altogether murkier. Jonathan Chait, Stephen Glass' former colleague, recently wrote, in a New Republic piece about poor political reporting, that "the trouble isn't that journalists are getting the facts wrong, it's that they're getting the story wrong." Chait cited as evidence several examples of recent news that failed to really register with reporters because it didn't fit "preconceived patterns." A preconceived pattern is a way to organize our understanding of a set of facts or a series of events; it is the imposition of a narrative for the purpose of supplying meaning. And for the purposes of understanding the Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair journalism scandals, a number of broad, obvious, contradictory narratives have been used to explain what happened.
I went to New York last week to meet Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair--to bring them together (for the first time) to see what they thought of each other, and to learn what they think about how their scandals have been simplified into "stories." The story about them being "troubled." The story about how they "cracked under the pressure" of an industry that exploits naiveté and ambition. The story about being black in a predominantly white institution. The story about desperately starving for attention, acclaim, love. I went not so much to find a new narrative to add to this pile--I am suspicious of these reductive, knowing narratives--but to find as many holes as I could in all the disingenuous narratives we've been led to believe.
It's highly annoying and incredibly helpful that the journalism community is so small. Stephen Glass' e-mail address I got from a friend who used to write for Slate and before that had interned at the New Republic, and, as it happens, I went to college with Jayson Blair. I was two years behind him at the University of Maryland and I never wrote for The Diamondback, the school paper where he was editor, but we have friends in common. (Blair never graduated from Maryland, despite what he claimed to a New York Times recruiter.) Glass has increasingly availed himself of interviews--his coming-out-of-hiding appearance was on 60 Minutes last May--but Blair, when I first contacted him, flat-out rejected my request to meet. ("No can do," he wrote.) I encouraged him to reconsider--"This would be a fair portrayal of your side of things and I think you can appreciate, as a fellow young journalist, what this would mean for me and my career," I wrote--and our mutual friend did some haggling on my behalf, too. Eventually, Blair consented to an interview so long as it could take place after his appearances on Dateline NBC and Larry King Live and elsewhere, which meant I'd have to move my deadline. I moved my deadline.
Glass, once he learned that I had arranged for Blair to be there, tried to back out. Last year, much was made of the fact that Blair's departure from the New York Times coincided exactly with the release of Glass' roman à clef, The Fabulist, about a serial fabricator named Stephen Glass who is fired from a political magazine after his pathological journalistic fabrications are brought to light--exactly what happened to the real Glass. ("Nonfictional fiction" is what the New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg called The Fabulist, comparing it to Glass' "fictional nonfiction"--i.e., his journalism.) In fact, the May 2003 Times story that exhaustively cataloged Blair's deceptions appeared one day before Glass' The Fabulist went on sale, giving reviewers of The Fabulist something timely to hang their thoughts on, but the media's bloated, self-inspecting, Blair-inspired overexposure of the media's own machinations (not the most riveting topic to begin with)--as well as a general annoyance with the bad-journalist-turned-celebrity phenomenon of the moment--seemed to have an adverse effect on The Fabulist's sales. Glass only consented to our interview after I agreed that neither of them would be asked to comment on each other's books or careers. (I was hopeful I might get them to anyway.)
In spite of whatever they seem to have in common, neither Glass nor Blair wholeheartedly claim any of those clichéd narratives--not the "troubled" one, not the "cracked under pressure" one--as their own. And despite the media's attempts to yoke them together (Vanity Fair: Blair is "Glass's soul brother in the lonely business of making shit up"), the narrative that Glass offers in The Fabulist is almost exactly opposite in virtually every aspect to the one Blair offers in his new memoir, Burning Down My Masters' House: My Life at the New York Times, which went on sale two weeks ago.
The narrative of Glass' The Fabulist is that of confession and apology. Mark Lewis in Forbes called it a "novelized apologia." Emily Nussbaum in the Nation called it an "apology shaped suspiciously like a grenade." (She also called it a "memoir wrapped in a novel wrapped in a film deal," but that's another matter.) "Often I had invented stories about imaginary people who were part of fictional institutions, which had put forth invented arguments about purported events that had never happened," Glass writes in The Fabulist, and goes on to admit that his most absurd stories (for the New Republic, Glass invented things like the First Church of George Herbert Walker Christ and a skydiving-industry newsletter called Jump Now) were nothing compared to the things he fabricated about real people and real institutions--the phone psychic industry, young Republicans, Vernon Jordan. He has "no defense" for his fabrications except this: His fabrications were all about him; they were steppingstones to reportorial glory. "When the first few fabricated stories were done," he writes in the book, "...and the articles were turned in, my editors loved them; more than that, they loved me." Glass did what he did, he would have us believe, because he was insecure and needed love.
The novel contains clues that support an even less attractive narrative than that, one that Glass doesn't own up to. "Life had yielded easily to my desires," Glass writes solipsistically. The character based on Glass, like the real-life Glass, has well-off parents, a prestigious education, and a job at a magazine whose office is the kind of place that "makes a perfect impression on one's mother." As if to deflate some of this, Glass has the character in the novel get a job at a video store, "heightening the pathos" of the plot, as Emily Nussbaum noted in the Nation, "and neatly eliding [Glass'] real-life privilege." The real-life Glass had a six-figure income, a greedy appetite for attention, and the comfort of knowing that if the floor ever fell out from under him, his family reportedly had the means to support him--all of this adds up to an unseemly narrative born of an ingrained sense of entitlement, superiority, and disregard for the rules most people have to play by. His fallout was unlike what it would have been for most people. Following the calamitous implosion of his career, Glass went on to graduate from Georgetown University Law Center. One critic and professor there explained to Washington City Paper: "It always pays to have a wealthy family."
Jayson Blair's preferred narrative--Burning Down My Masters' House--is one about race. (If you couldn't glean it from that title, he's black.) Like Glass, Blair begins his book with self-flagellating confession: "I lied and I lied--and then I lied some more. I lied about where I had been, I lied about where I had found information, I lied about how I wrote the story...." They both have self-pity to spare, but where Glass' book is contrite, Blair's is proud and wrathful, full of vitriolic assertions about, for example, Gerald Boyd, "the first black managing editor" of the New York Times, who, according to Blair, seemed "to take a special interest in not promoting the careers of minorities over others in the newsroom in order to protect his standing," and who, Blair says, "devour[ed] the careers of more blacks than he saved." Blair uses race as a kind of general excuse for why he did not rise through the ranks of the paper as quickly as he wanted to; but rising from intern to star reporter in four short years is a rapid ascension by any standard. He details his reckless, unprofessional behavior throughout the book (skipping around the office, perpetuating newsroom gossip, writing articles while drunk and high), but remains absolutely convinced that certain advantages were withheld from him on account of his race (and whenever advantages were afforded him, he's convinced that the only reason was because of his race). At the end of the book, without explanation, he contradicts all that stuff he said earlier about Gerald Boyd by portraying Boyd as the only top editor who ever genuinely cared about him.
The book's inside jacket flap describes Blair as a person who is "descended from slaves," and in the preface to the book he admits that the title, Burning Down My Masters' House, is an "obvious allusion to slavery." But he goes on to prevaricate convolutedly about the title's meaning: "There are many masters to this house, hence the careful placement of the apostrophe after the 's' in the word 'masters.' Ultimately, I am the master of my own destiny, and the flames of the fire that I set consumed me." Equivocating about the title and what it means is an admission, basically, that the narrative it pretends to belong to does not really apply. But there is no narrative more compelling or sorrowful than the history of slavery in America, and nothing else galvanizes sympathy--or, put another way, sells books--in quite the same way.
The race narrative is a theatrical conceit, then, but it doesn't work. In any case, it's just one item in Blair's arsenal of excuses. He also blames scotch, cocaine, and undiagnosed manic depression, and mentions childhood sexual abuse--all of them, conveniently enough, sympathetic sites of blame, and in our overly therapeutic culture they are hard to hold against a person. Blair tends to throw around generalizations like "a black recovering drug addict at the Times was not going to be given the same leeway that a white one might be"--a conflation of the alcohol excuse and the race excuse--while failing to take into account the leeway granted to him with numerous second chances and countless trips to the office of a New York Times in-house emotional counselor. And, when it comes to mental illness, it doesn't seem to occur to Blair that his manic depression does not so much explain his side of things as undermine it, since, as he puts it, startlingly, his psychosis got to that heightened state where a person "cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is not."
The tragedy of race does not sufficiently explain Blair's undoing, just as the pain of being in need does not sufficiently explain Glass'. They were not troubled, they were the trouble. They didn't crack under pressure, they invented the pressure. It has gotten to the point where none of the popular narratives really hold up--not even the outside ones: The New York Times relied on the substance abuse excuse in its account of Blair's fraudulence, but Blair, by his own account, had given up drinking and using coke in January 2002, long before his most extravagant deceptions.
The New York Times issued a memo a few weeks ago saying that Blair's book spews "imaginary blame in all directions" and "does not merit much attention," which is hilarious, because right now Blair's book is getting more attention (the New York Times just ran its second review of it) than any other book in the country. But that New York Times memo is perfectly understandable. Obviously the New York Times has its own narratives to protect.
Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair and I met on an afternoon last week at Pentimento, an uncrowded dive bar on a residential street in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, near where I was staying. Like many journalists, I often have certain narratives in mind before a given interview ever begins, but this time, on principle, I made only a few notes beforehand. The notebook I decided to use was a movie-studio promotional item; the movie it advertised was Shattered Glass. I thought Glass might find the notebook amusing--featuring, on its cover, the face of Hayden Christensen, who plays Glass in the movie--but sitting in a booth at the back of Pentimento, it occurred to me that it might annoy him, so just before his arrival I ripped the cover off.
I had expected Glass to arrive first, and he did, a couple minutes late, looking slightly heavier than he had on 60 Minutes last year, and flustered. ("I'm sorry. The train," he said.) He looked at my notebook, which has the phrase "Are you mad at me?" printed at the bottom of every page--in the movie, that's what Glass says whenever he gets called into his editor's office--and Glass said, "Oh, from the movie?"
He had seen these notebooks before. A friend in the entertainment industry had given him a case of them. It hadn't yet occurred to me to think about who his friends might be. I asked if he found it tough making friends now, especially with media people.
"Well, it's New York. I mean, people...." His voice trailed off. "I guess I don't want to talk about my personal life," he said, adding, "I have great friends. Different people--not too many writers. Some nights I entertain. Some of them came over a couple weeks ago for Average Joe: Hawaii."
He explained the premise and full trajectory of the show to me.
"She got down to an average guy and a very, very attractive blond guy," Glass said, sipping a Brooklyn Lager, "and at the end, no big shocker, she chose the attractive guy.... The best part was she said to the average guy, when she dumped him, she said, 'But I think you are the most interesting person I have ever met.' Interesting! That's the worst. You knew it, though. You knew she'd ax the Jewish guy."
Stephen Glass, reality TV fan. It made sense: Reality TV offers a manufactured version of reality along preconceived narratives (usually romantic); Stephen Glass was a master at manufacturing versions of reality along preconceived narratives (usually political). And Glass' versions of reality were about as close to actual reality as reality TV is. The hacker who Glass invented in "Hack Heaven" didn't exist, not strictly, but hackers like him did, and the First Church of George Herbert Walker Christ didn't strictly exist either, but there were undoubtedly people who had, at the time he invented that story, reverence for the former president on the order of religious devotion. Like fans of reality TV, Glass' editors believed his stories because they were, on some level, believable, and also because they wanted to believe them. As Tom Scocca wrote in the Boston Phoenix, Glass' "most colorful material usually involved people from outside the New Republic's readership: old folks in retirement homes, menial laborers, backwoods Christians. The behavior he described may have been improbable, but it conformed to stereotype." Like the people on reality TV.
Glass himself, after all this time, is reluctant to talk about "Hack Heaven" or the First Church of George Herbert Walker Christ or any story he wrote in particular, though he has said elsewhere that appealing to his colleagues' and editors' tastes (read: cultural biases) was a motivation. "I loved the electricity of people liking my stories," he told 60 Minutes last year. "I wanted them to love the story so they would love me." Sitting in a back booth at Pentimento, he told me, "Like this story today, what you're writing now. Some editor in Seattle is going to eat this up, right? And you're going to love that they love it," he said. "Right?"
My editor in Seattle isn't going to love it if Jayson Blair blows us off, I almost said--it was more than a half hour after the time we had all agreed on and the "fallen" New York Times reporter was nowhere in sight. Eventually, it seemed clear that Blair wasn't going to show--Glass was now on his second beer--and Glass said, "It's fine if it's just me, then?"
Blair did arrive, finally, 55 minutes late, wearing a knit cap and a heavy brown jacket that made Glass, in a collar shirt, seem dressed up. Glass had gotten up to use the restroom and was coming back to the table as Blair walked in. The two introduced themselves with an awkward handshake, and Glass said, somewhat strangely, "I'm taller," as if he hadn't expected that. "Normally I think of myself as kind of short," Glass mumbled, scooting back into the booth.
About a year ago, the New Republic's literary editor, Leon Wieseltier, called Glass' novel, The Fabulist, "contrition as a career move," and Katie Couric hinted at something similar in her interview with Blair on Dateline NBC two weeks ago. "Some people might claim, 'Hey, this guy is completely amoral,'" Couric said. "'He has no integrity. He has no character. He has no sense of the difference between right and wrong. He does not deserve to profit from what he did and the deceitful lies he told.'"
Blair told Couric, "Well the first thing I'd say is that I'm not sure exactly what I'm supposed to do to show my remorse other than to say that I'm remorseful. And the second thing is that in America collectively we believe in giving people second chances. If they come clean."
At Pentimento, Blair said that he rejects "this whole thing about me profiting unfairly," and that he plans to give "a big chunk" of the proceeds to "mental health hospitals and universities doing mental health research." (How much he will give, he said, lighting a cigarette, "depends on how well [the book] does.")
In my notebook, I had jotted down two lines from James Wolcott's August 2003 Vanity Fair article about Blair--"He disgraced himself, dishonored his newspaper, and handed the opponents of affirmative action a gift basket of I-told-you-so's"; and, "Out of his inglorious flameout a phoenix shall rise, clutching a book deal"--and I read these quotes aloud to him.
Blair studied my face.
Glass seemed to be studying Blair's face.
Blair moved aside his water glass--he has given up drinking--and put his elbow down on the table. "Let me tell you something," he said. "This isn't about affirmative action. I did a lot of work for the New York Times, more than most people there do, because they're lazy or they don't want to or whatever their reason is. Take a look at how many stories I wrote. Why'd they give me those stories? Because I'm a good writer and [I'm] fast. Not because of affirmative action."
Then why, I wanted to know--if it wasn't "about" affirmative action--such a racially loaded title for his book? "Whether race had to do with why I was promoted or not--that isn't as important as the fact that the issue of race is why the newsroom was damaging to me," Blair said. "Everyone said that affirmative action was to blame for what I got away with at the New York Times. But, you know," he paused, "no one blamed affirmative action for what you got away with at the New Republic." Blair turned toward Glass.
Glass, not expecting this, looked down at his beer.
"I mention you in the book. Did you read the book?"
"Not yet, no," Glass replied.
"I really don't think anyone can understand it unless you're a young black man in that newsroom," Blair said. "Everyone thinks they've got it figured out and they all write these things. A lot of it is deserved. But a lot is garbage."
"I was called the greatest con man of my generation," Glass said, quietly. "Or the Western world? The biggest lying con artist in the Western world? Something like that. In the Pennsylvania Gazette. And old college friends wrote stuff in the Daily Pennsylvanian, where I was the editor way back."
"You were editor of your college newspaper? I was editor of my college newspaper. You know we used to read your New Republic stuff in class? At Maryland. Did you ever read his stuff in journalism class there?" Blair said, looking at me. He has an uncomfortably intense gaze.
"I didn't take any journalism," I said.
Blair said to Glass, "They made us read current stuff. What's that phrase? Show-don't-tell? Your stories were in-class examples."
"Thanks," Glass said.
"Man, were we jealous," Blair said. "What happened?"
"What do you mean?" Glass said.
"Like, what's your story?" Blair said. "Are you in the program?"
"No, I'm not a...." Glass didn't seem to know how to phrase it. "I wasn't drinking. That wasn't the problem, I mean. Anxiety, I guess. Immaturity."
"Yep," Blair said.
"And. Uh. I don't know," Glass said.
"The rush?" Blair said.
Glass looked at him. The question stilled him. I wrote "the rush" in my notebook and put a question mark next to it.
"Something like that," Glass said. "It's kind of an ugly thing to talk about. Or, unflattering. But, yeah. The rush. Knowing you had a killer [story] that no one else had."
"I wrote my killer stuff in Brooklyn. That's a crying shame. Those are the, you know, the 'bad' stories"--Blair made quotation marks in the air--"when I was supposed to be in Maryland or wherever but I was taking a bath [in Brooklyn]. Those were my best stories."
"I'm doing another novel," Glass said. "Total fiction."
"My Times stuff wasn't fiction," Blair said. "My book's not fiction."
"I like having a book," Glass said.
"What do you mean?" I said.
Glass shrugged. "I like giving interviews."
There was a general silence.
"You like being famous," I said.
Glass shook his head. "No, that's not--"
"Yeah it is," Blair said. "Who doesn't?" He grinned. "Right now, in this country? You [have to] get your name out there. Tell your side of the story. Make a difference. You don't make a difference at City Paper. You go to the New Republic."
"I'd just like to write my novels," Glass said.
"You don't dwell on that in your book, either of you," I said. "Making a name for yourself." These were hardworking journalists and, as the ongoing evidence suggests, they were out for notoriety, but in their books they come across as naive, confused, and used.
"How could I?" Blair said. "How could I say that, yes, I wanted to be the best black journalist in America, and I'd do anything to get that?"
"That's the part of the story no one wants to hear," Glass said.
The part of the story no one wants to hear. I jotted that down.
"Either you are totally, totally sorry, and you are so, so wrong, or it's not good enough for people," Glass said. "There are limits to what people are willing to accept. Did you read Jonathan Chait's piece in the New Republic a couple weeks ago?"
I smiled and said I had.
"I really respect Jonathan and he's right. You can't tell the whole story. No one wants the whole story. They say they do," Glass said, "but they don't. They want the story that's already been written in their heads."
"They really called you the biggest con man in the Western world?" Blair said. "I want to be the biggest con man in the Western world!" He slapped the table and laughed. The tape recorder on the table shifted; Blair picked it up. He spoke directly into it: "I'm just kidding, I'm not a con man." Blair was recently coached, as has been reported, on giving interviews.
"What's your other quote there?" Blair said to me. "About the book deal? My book is a cautionary tale. It's about self-destruction. There's not very much Jessica Lynch or any of that, but I mention all that. There are young black men and women who go and work in America and have no idea what they're getting into. That's who my book's for."
Blair added, "It will sell pretty well and I'll be able to donate a lot of money to mental health research. You know why [it will sell]? I just thought of this at lunch. Here's why it will sell and why it should sell. Because the New York Times is a flawed institution."
He let this hang in the air for a moment.
"Not that it breaks the law, but it's just, you know--"
Glass offered, "Imperfect?"
"Yeah, imperfect," Blair said. "It's this big, huge, imperfect, powerful, loaded-with-money, out-for-itself company. It's a Fortune 500 company! It's a system. Systems are flawed. Everybody knows that. But when a flawed system points the finger at one person and says, 'Look how flawed this one person is'--and I was really, really flawed--people sympathize with that person, because it's hypocritical. Because the whole fucking system is flawed."
Here was a new view on things, a new narrative to consider, and it did seem to contain something sympathetic. It was a narrative larger than Blair, exonerating him in the name of flawedness as a general condition. Still, this was justification by way of equivocation, by virtue of favorable comparison. Like when Jayson Blair's agent was asked by the New York Observer last year whether he felt it was "ethical" representing a known liar and the agent responded, "He's not eating babies, you know?" Or like a scene early in The Fabulist, when the Glass character, having recently been caught, drives by the White House. "I thought of President Clinton inside," Glass writes. The year is 1998. "He was in worse trouble even than me." They had done bad things, but others had done worse: This is the one narrative Glass and Blair can agree on. And in terms of getting us closer to any new understanding, it's practically useless.
We ordered more drinks. Blair ordered a cranberry and seltzer. Glass started talking about The Apprentice--"You're fired!" he kept thundering--and neither of them, maybe because they felt like they had already said too much, had anything else on-topic to say. Their professional camaraderie only surfaced once again in the conversation, when Glass offhandedly said, "You said you call your book a cautionary tale?" Blair nodded. "That's what I call my book, too. That's the only way that people would accept it."
The conversation ended shortly thereafter--"Your questions were good and interesting," said Glass, appreciative and a little tipsy, and I said, mimicking the line he had quoted from the reality TV show, "Well, I think you are the most interesting person I have ever met"--and the three of us walked outside together. In the twilight, the two of them suddenly seemed like strangers again. They said polite things to one another and went separate ways, even though they were, as far as I knew, headed to the same subway station.
On the walk back to the apartment where I was staying, I began thinking about what Glass had said about my editor and how he was going to love this story, and the irony of my job was not lost on me: I had to make this into a story. The task that now fell to me, a person suspicious of narratives, was to add another narrative to the innumerable narratives that have been written about these two and to make it the truest story I knew--in spite of overwhelming evidence that there is no "true" story.
I glanced down at the tape recorder in my hand and froze. I couldn't remember if I had turned it on. A flash of panic. But then, just as quickly, it passed. Worst comes to worst, I figured, given who the article was going to be about, I could always make it up. Maybe mix in some factual elements, too--to make it seem a little more real.