“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 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
“Seth Mnookin, a former media reporter for Newsweek, has done something that’s hard to do: He has written a book about journalism that is hard to put down. Hard News reads like a thriller, a fast-paced novel unfolding inside a newspaper long viewed as the gold standard of American journalism.”
“…a richly dramatic, hugely entertaining story, replete with egos run amok, duplicity, hypocrisy, and all the other stigmata of massive institutional failure, in the media and beyond.”
Los Angeles Times
“Using an absorbing and well-researched narrative style, Mnookin chronicles the series of tectonic episodes that have in recent years sent shock waves through the paper. While he catalogs fraudulent reportage, sloppy use of sources, egomania, mismanagement, and good intentions gone awry that are by now well-known, he never allows bad news to lessen his unspoken custodial concern for this irreplaceable American institution….
As if a Greek tragedy were unfolding, the story begins with the epic deeds of a brilliant but tragic hero, Executive Editor Howell Raines. After his paper wins seven Pulitzer Prizes in the wake of 9/11, it is plagued by disclosures of serial disgraces: the Augusta National Golf Club column debacle, Jayson Blair, Rick Bragg, Judith Miller’s distorted reporting on weapons of mass destruction. It ends with the fallen hero’s bitter exile. As told by Mnookin, this is a cautionary but mesmerizing tale of a talented, visionary leader who through the collective success of his paper’s staff comes to believe in his omnipotence and invincibility, only to be brought down by hubris.”
“This is two terrific books in one: a riveting thriller, starring an 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.”
“With vigorous, purposeful prose and a killer knack for building suspense, Mnookin (a former Newsweek media columnist) traces the systemic meltdown that brought The New York Times to its knees in May 2003. Instead of doling out Southern comfort, Howell Raines–who began his stint as executive editor a week before 9/11–quickly provoked staff resentment with his brusque, hard-driving style. More fatally, he missed the deception of cub reporter (and plagiarist) Jayson Blair. Mnookin crisply captures the tit-for-tat tenor of the Gray Lady’s newsroom, describing how its historically significant foundation of trust was nearly obliterated by two men from vastly different backgrounds. He doesn’t miss the gossip, either, peppering his account with dozens of tiny inter-office tiffs and angry anecdotes from past and present Times employees who remain fascinatingly optimistic about the paper’s future. A-” –Nicholas Fonseca
“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.”
“A heck of a good yarn….Mnookin sets the stage with a brief summary of the Times‘ history, enough to give the story context, and then plunges ahead with a rip-roaring tale about audacious deception and how the Times let it happen by failing to enforce its traditional high standards.”
The Buffalo News
“Seth Mnookin has done the improbable: Written a book about a newspaper’s personnel problems that not only reads like a crime thriller but says some important things about American culture.
How did he do it?
The old fashioned way — through painstaking reporting and engaging writing. He shows a wonderful ability to take all the gossipy bits and pieces of the New York Times‘ well-known debacle of 2003 and form it into a big-picture whole….
It’s a hell of a story, even for those who don’t spend their days inside a newsroom or read the Times each day as if it were the Dead Sea Scrolls….
Mnookin finds the drama, sees the story arc and delivers it beautifully. Vision, narrative thrust, and telling detail: It’s all here.”
“In Hard News, a con man is the center of attention but the ideal of ‘getting it right’ is the book’s true heart—a juicy morality tale for the information age.”
The Boston Globe
“A juicy, fly-on-the-wall account of the upheaval that engulfed America’s preeminent newspaper.”
The Financial Times
“An important new book….In the end the good guys prevailed, but Mnookin rightly is less interested in the Times‘ individual winners and losers than in the powerfully cautionary lesson his riveting account offers to all journalists. “Never let a compelling story get in the way of a true story,” Mnookin says, and that’s a precept that Mr Raines’ New York Times repeatedly violated, not only in the cases of Mr Blair and Mr Bragg but also in Judith Miller’s now largely discredited accounts of Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction. Distorted advocacy through journalism can mislead both readers and rulers, and never more so than when a paper as hugely influential as the New York Times is at fault. Hard News is a memorable warning that reporters and editors worldwide should heed.”
San Antonio Express-News
“This is an enthralling tale that’s part soap opera, part Greek tragedy, and part detective story….Hard News is not only a good book, it’s also a good read.”
“A gripping account of the Jayson Blair scandal and the brief, disastrous reign of former New York Times executive editor Howell Raines. …Mnookin provides an admirably full account of this ultimate crash-reporting assignment and the foxhole mentality it bred among the investigative team. It’s compulsive bedside reading…”
“Hard News is a finely scripted tale that should appeal not only to journalists and news junkies, but also to anyone in corporate America interested in what happens when an egocentric manager abandons meritocracy for favoritism and is driven by a specious ideology.”
The Palm Beach Post
“An edge-of-your-seat thriller that details the fall of both a mighty institution and its leader, the cocky Howell Raines, the editor who was in charge during the Blair scandal.”
“A fascinating book. …suspenseful and Shakespearean. …You don’t have to be a newsroom employee or media geek to enjoy Hard News. Mnookin’s story reads like a taut thriller, and in Raines it even has a tragic hero. It is one of the best books on the Jayson Blair affair I’ve read, largely because it focuses more on the New York Times itself, an institution that is always fascinating, but perhaps especially so in crisis.”
The Village Voice
“…a comprehensive, well-argued, humanizing narrative.”
“Mnookin…has written a book that is definitive, balanced and as gripping as a detective novel.”
The Harvard Crimson
“Impressively, Seth Mnookin has turned a New York Times plagiarism scandal into riveting reading for those outside the insular world of journalism.”
Boston Phoenix Q&A
“[Mnookin’s] new book, Hard News: The Scandals at the New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media (Random House), is a thorough and riveting examination of the institution that is the New York Times, and how the Jayson Blair scandal and its aftermath nearly brought that institution to its knees.”
“…a detailed account of Raines’ reign….Hard News unfolds with the efficiency of a police procedural….a story about a man who battled his way to the top only to commit professional suicide.”
Transcript from a November 10, 2004 online chat with Forbes.com books editor Mark Lewis.