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

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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: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #818,134 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

About the Author

Seth Mnookin is a former media columnist for Newsweek, where he also covered politics, crime, and popular culture. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, Slate, Spin, and elsewhere. A 2004 Joan Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School, he lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

It's so good that once you get into it, you'll find it hard to put down.
Jon Hunt
This is a book I would highly recommend, especially to anyone interested in journalism or the media.
Kriselda Gray
It's really fascinating, and the book is consistently well-written and gripping.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful 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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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By John Braith on November 10, 2004
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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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By mr_bookman_the_librarian on December 2, 2004
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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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By lb136 VINE VOICE on September 4, 2005
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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More About the Author

Seth Mnookin is the co-director of MIT's Graduate Program of Science Writing and is the author of three books. His most recent, 2011's THE PANIC VIRUS: THE TRUE STORY BEHIND THE VACCINE-AUTISM CONTROVERSY, won the National Association of Science Writers Science in Society Book Award, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and was named one of The Wall Street Journal's Top 5 Health and Medicine books of the year. In 2006, he published the national bestseller FEEDING THE MONSTER: HOW MONEY, SMARTS AND NERVE TOOK A TEAM TO THE TOP, which chronicled the rise of the Boston Red Sox and their 2004 World Series win. Seth's first book was 2004's HARD NEWS: THE SCANDALS AT THE NEW YORK TIMES AND THEIR MEANING FOR AMERICAN MEDIA, which was a Washington Post Best Book of the Year.

Seth began his career as a rock critic for the now-defunct webzine Addicted to Noise. He's been a police reporter at The Palm Beach Post, a political reporter at Brill's Content, a music columnist at The New York Observer, and a national affairs reporter at Newsweek. Since 2005 he's been a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, where he's reported from Iraq, written about Stephen Colbert, and delved into plagiarism accusations against Dan Brown. His work has also appeared in The New Yorker, New York, The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World, Spin, Slate, Salon, and other publications. He graduated from Harvard College in 1994 with a degree in the History of Science and was a 2004 Joan Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. A native of Newton, Massachusetts, he and his wife currently live in Brookline with their two children and adopted dog.