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Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media Hardcover – November 9, 2004

4 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Seth Mnookin is one of the best and brightest journalists of this ominous post-American century. And here he’s written the book that’s the answer to the question I’ve been wondering about for a long time: How could something like this happen at The New York Times, a paper the country desperately needs to survive.”
–HUNTER S. THOMPSON

“I read Hard News in a single sitting, long into the night. Seth Mnookin has written a gripping narrative, a thoughtful media study, and a fascinating portrait of some very strange characters. This book is undoubtedly the last word on a low moment in the history of a great institution.”
--JEFFREY TOOBIN

“This is two terrific books in one: a riveting thriller, starring a heroic Dirty Dozen team of reporters risking their careers to unearth dangerous truths, and a Shakespearean tragedy about hubris and race and good intentions and self-destruction featuring a pathetic, half-mad villain and a noble, deluded king. Seth Mnookin has written the definitive chronicle of this extraordinary upheaval at the most important newspaper on earth. But Hard News is also a heartening reminder that some powerful institutions take virtue seriously, and can right themselves quickly when things go awry.”
–KURT ANDERSEN

“In Hard News, a con man is the center of attention, but the ideal of ‘getting it right’ is the book’s true heart. This is a juicy morality tale for the information age.”
–SARAH VOWELL

From the Inside Flap

On May 11, 2003, "The New York Times devoted four pages of its Sunday paper to the deceptions of Jayson Blair, a mediocre former "Times reporter who had made up stories, faked datelines, and plagiarized on a massive scale. The fallout from the Blair scandal rocked the "Times to its core and revealed fault lines in a fractious newsroom that was already close to open revolt.
Staffers were furious-about the perception that management had given Blair more leeway because he was black, about the special treatment of favored correspondents, and most of all about the shoddy reporting that was infecting the most revered newspaper in the world. Within a month, Howell Raines, the imperious executive editor who had taken office less than a week before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001-and helped lead the paper to a record six Pulitzer Prizes for its coverage of the attacks-had been forced out of his job.
Having gained unprecedented access to the reporters who conducted the Times's internal investigation, top newsroom executives, and dozens of Times editors, former "Newsweek senior writer Seth Mnookin lets us read all about it-the story behind the biggest journalistic scam of our era and the profound implications of the scandal for the rapidly changing world of American journalism.
It's a true tale that reads like Greek drama, with the most revered of American institutions attempting to overcome the crippling effects of a leader's blinding narcissism and a low-level reporter's sociopathic deceptions. "Hard News will shape how we understand and judge the media for years to come.

"From the Hardcover edition. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (November 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400062446
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400062447
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,018,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jon Hunt on January 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Seth Mnookin has written a sensational book regarding the downfall of two employees of the New York Times in 2003 and the sullied reputation for which the Times has fought hard to atone. The story revolves around an aspiring reporter, Jayson Blair, who finally got caught plagiarizing many columns while inventing others, and Howell Raines, the Darth Vader of the journalism world. If there ever was a boss one wouldn't want to have, Mnookin shows us that Raines was that man.

The larger element is the world of the Times, the most important and influential newspaper in the world. Mnookin has a way with narrative and for those of us who have grown up with the Times he reveals the underside of a finished product. Like the old saying, "the two things no one wants to see made are laws and sausages", the author spins a chilling tale of how the incidents with Blair and the heavy-handedness of Raines brought the Times to its knees. When you read the Times on a daily basis it's sometimes hard to believe what goes on behind their closed doors. Mnookin takes us inside that world and reveals a site of petty politics, bruised egos, ambitious reporters and a workplace that often borders on the chaotic. There are good and bad people in this book.

I highly recommend "Hard News". It's so good that once you get into it, you'll find it hard to put down.
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Format: Hardcover
I have to admit, I was less than enthusiastic about reading what I assumed would be yet another sensationalistic account of the Jayson Blair scandal. I had always felt that the Blair scandal, though it clearly captivated the media world in New York, had received coverage out of proportion to its actual significance. It was beaten to death: a story told ad nauseam simply because a) the media was obsessed, much more than the average citizen was, with such lunacy at an august institution like the New York Times, b) the Blair story contained so many lurid, tabloid-style details.

But a friend who had received an advance copy of the book recommended it to me, and, despite my reservations, I picked up a copy. From the first page, I was captivated. Mnookin is a truly special writer, blending pithy, relevant reportage with suspenseful plotting and effortless style. More importantly, it was refreshing to see that Mnookin had removed the Blair story from the center of the narrative, focusing instead on the much more interesting issue of the New York Times as an institution: its history, its philosophy, and the internecine struggles that created an environment conducive to error and failure. This book offers a fascinating window into the heart of American media. This is what the Jayson Blair story SHOULD have been about from the beginning: though Blair's individual case is certainly eye-catching, and though he deserves blame for his completely irresponsible actions, Mnookin makes the case that his failures were symptomatic of much more serious issues at the nation's paper of record. It is a fascinating, well-constructed, and well-argued thesis, and in the process of making it, Mnookin reveals much about the nature of journalism and truth-telling in America.

This is an engrossing book with great significance for our country and culture, and it would be a shame if it were dismissed, wrongly, as just another reheated retelling of an overheated scandal.
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Format: Hardcover
I'd followed the Jayson Blair saga and Howell Raines's resignation pretty closely, and I didn't think I needed to know any more about the scandals at The Times. But still I picked up Hard News, and I surprised myself by finishing it in two sittings. Mnookin has an easy, effortless style, and he tells a fast-paced tale we haven't heard before -- what happened inside The Times as it was chasing one of the most important news stories in its history. Hard News is really a detective story with a cast of characters -- Times reporters -- who make you feel that the paper as an institution will long survive. My only quibble is with the subtitle -- this book doesn't tell us what the scandals' meaning is for American media. And it doesn't need to. It stands on its own as a smart, well-researched and above all entertaining story about an exceptional American institution.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Hard News," Seth Mnookin's fascinating and well-researched account of the now-infamous Jayson Blair scandal that shook the foundations not only of the New York Times but also the way journalists do business, is a crisp read. The author is always objective, and his sourcing would seem to be impeccable. For the most part he uses sources who will speak on the record, and when they would not he claims to have verified what they've said with others. And source notes and a bibliography are provided.

In Mr. Mnookin's version, the story focuses on what happens to people who make wrong choices that they easily could have avoided--that is, if they were not the prisoners of their own ideology and life experiences. The account starts with the misguided notion of New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. that the head of the op-ed page, Howell Raines, a narcissistic, inflexible left-wing ideologue best known for his invective-laden editorials against, mostly, conservatives, but also Bill Clinton, could function as the newspaper's executive editor, in which position he would be in charge, not of a small group of like-minded ideologues, but of a newsroom with hundreds of employees of varying opinions and, of course, abilities.

Generalissimo Raines couldn't function in that job, and in the process of failing he managed to alienate most of the staff while turning the newspaper into the journalistic version of a banana republic, led of course by himself.

Then, the author moves on to the equally bizarre decision by Raines and his no. 2, managing editor Gerald Boyd, to send Jayson Blair out on big stories (the DC Sniper, Jessica Lynch).
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