[By Nic Lindh on Friday, 26 May 2006]
Hard News: Twenty-one Brutal Months at The New York Times and How They Changed the American Media tells the story of how managerial dysfunction allowed reporter Jayson Blair to lie and plagiarize his way up the career ladder at The New York Times, and in the process deal a massive blow to the paper’s credibility.
While the purpose of the book is to explain how Blair’s misconduct managed to go undetected for as long as it did, he turns out to be a minor character, the troubled sociopath whose deeds brought a mighty institution to its knees, but who would not have been able to do what he did in a less dysfunctional setting.
The real story is about executive editor Howell Raines, and how his authoritarian (to put it mildly) leadership style created an atmosphere of fear, silence, and favoritism that provided a perfect opportunity for a character like Blair to exploit.
The hubris and arrogance exposed in Hard News is worthy of a Greek tragedy, and underlines how even an institution like The New York Times, with all the raw talent and dedication on hand, can be brought dangerously off-course by a single individual.
The book is well-written and moves along at a brisk space, painting the characters involved with vivid strokes.
Recommended reading not just for news junkies, but for anybody with an interest in business and leadership.