- 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 (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,717,473 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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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“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.”
“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.”
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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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). Blair, a dimestore sociopath, fantasist, and substance abuser, had already been warned by his direct supervisors about his job performance, but Raines and Boyd would eventually claim, improbably, not to know of this when the scandal broke.
And scandal there would be. Blair would repay their trust in him with plagiarism, after which he graduated to fabrication, and ended up writing stories with out-of-town datelines without ever having left the Times Building on West 43rd St. in New York. (In the process, as Mr. Mnookin outlines, he demonstrated creative uses for cell phones and photo archives.)
When Blair was exposed and forced to resign, the Times assembled a group of reporters and editors to investigate every story Blair had written, and the result was the sensational report that appeared in the paper one fateful Sunday in May 2003.
That report made the Times the butt of jokes, and within two months Raines and Boyd were fired; then, after a brief interregnum in which the previous executive editor, Joe Lelyveld, who Raines disdained, returned to pick up the shattered pieces, Sulzberger selected Bill Keller, who had been passed over in favor of Raines two years before. Keller moved rapidly to restore order and institute changes, among them the hiring of the Times's first public editor.
As for Mr. Sulzberger, he escaped unscathed--which is unsurprising: his family owns the New York Times Corp.
The book is compulsive reading. Even though the outcome is known, "Hard News" nevertheless has the feel of a police procedural. Maybe you'll start imagining who might be cast as the principals if (or should I say when) there's a movie made of this cautionary tale.
Hard News has three parts (Before, Spring 2003, and After), and provides a good overview of the history of The Times, the workings of the newsroom, Blair's quick rise as a reporter, details of the Blair fiasco, and how the Times dealt with it.
Mnookin concludes the book with a thoughtful Note on Sources, more than 250 source notes, and a good bibliography.
If this is a topic you followed, or you are a journalsim junkie or a Times-ophile, this book is a must read.