Kurt Eichenwald

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Kurt Eichenwald
Kurt eichenwald 2009.jpg
Kurt Eichenwald at the 2009 Texas Book Festival
Born (1961-06-28) June 28, 1961 (age 52)
New York City
Alma mater Swarthmore College
Notable work(s) The Informant
Notable award(s) George Polk Award
Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism
Spouse(s) Theresa Pearse

Kurt Alexander Eichenwald (born June 28, 1961), is a contributing editor with Vanity Fair and a New York Times author of four books, one of which, The Informant, was made into The Informant!, a motion picture. He was formerly a writer and investigative reporter with The New York Times and later with Condé Nast's business magazine, Portfolio. Eichenwald had been employed by the Times since 1986 and primarily covered Wall Street and corporate topics such as insider trading, accounting scandals, and takeovers, but also wrote about a range of issues including terrorism, the Bill Clinton pardons controversy, Federal health care policy, and the defense of Big Brother and the surveillance state, and sexual predators on the Internet.

Professional life[edit]

Early career[edit]

After college, in 1983, Eichenwald worked as an intern with The Washington Monthly, and later that same year joined the speechwriting staff of a presidential candidate.[1] He left that position in 1984, and over the next year, worked as was a writer-researcher for CBS News in the Election and Survey Unit. He joined The Times in 1985 as a news clerk for Hedrick Smith, who was chief Washington correspondent. When Mr. Smith began writing his book The Power Game, Eichenwald became his research assistant, leaving in 1986 to become associate editor at The National Journal in Washington. During those years, he was a frequent contributor to the Times op-ed page, writing exclusively about political issues.

Eichenwald returned to The Times later in 1986 as a news clerk for the national desk in New York, participating in the paper’s writing program for aspiring reporters. By 1988, Eichenwald had been named the Times’ Wall Street reporter.

Eichenwald’s arrival on Wall Street coincided with the explosion of white collar criminal investigations, and his coverage of finance soon began to resemble the crime beat. He wrote about the stock trading scandals involving speculator Ivan Boesky and junk bond king Michael Milken, as well as the Treasury markets scandal at Salomon Brothers. He also covered the excesses of the takeover era, including the biggest deal of the time, the acquisition of RJR Nabisco by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company.

In 1992, Eichenwald’s role at The Times split. He began writing the paper’s Market Place column, focusing primarily on disclosure failures by public companies. He also began a multi-year investigation into a series of frauds at Prudential Securities and its parent, Prudential Insurance. His reporting led to the dismissals and resignation of several Prudential executives and brokers.

Branching out[edit]

First book: Serpent on the Rock[edit]

His reporting on Prudential also led to his first book, Serpent on the Rock, which focused primarily on the limited partnership scandal at Prudential Securities, which is alleged to have defrauded 340,000 people out of eight billion dollars.

In the book, Eichenwald portrayed the Prudential scandal as being about more than just a single bad investment firm. "This is a cautionary tale about an abuse of the investor faith that is an essential building block of the American economy," he wrote. "At its essence, it is what allows billions of dollars of securities to trade each day based on nothing more than a voice on the telephone. By taking advantage of that faith, Prudential-Bache cracked the foundation of the marketplace."

The book was positively reviewed, with comparisons to the bestseller Barbarians at the Gate, and became Eichenwald’s first national bestseller.

Health care investigations[edit]

Eichenwald’s career now took two paths, as an author and as a Times reporter. He stopped writing the Market Place column and instead focused on investigative projects. In 1995, he wrote a multi-part series for The Times, exposing significant deficiencies in the American business of providing kidney dialysis treatments. The series led to a review by the Clinton Administration of ways to create financial incentives to improve quality in dialysis treatment, a focus of Eichenwald’s series. The articles were honored in 1996 with a George Polk Award for excellence in journalism, the first of two that Eichenwald would be awarded.

After his dialysis series, Eichenwald joined with Martin Gottlieb, a health reporter with the newspaper, in a multi-year investigation of Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corporation, which at the time was the largest health care company in the world. The investigation, which led to multiple articles in the paper, sparked a criminal investigation of Columbia, and led to significant changes in the way the federal government compensated hospitals, according to Bruce Vladek, then the head of the Medicare program. An article in the magazine Content cited the work by Eichenwald, Gottlieb and two other reporters as the year’s best public service journalism. Eichenwald received his second Polk award, along with his colleagues, for this work.

In 1998, Eichenwald was named to the Times’ senior reporter program. He also teamed with another Times reporter, Gina Kolata, for a multi-year investigation into how business interests affect the nation’s system for medical research. The articles explored drug and device testing, and pointed out how the interplay between insurance companies and the courts had prevented the testing of experimental procedures, including the use of bone marrow transplants for the treatment of breast cancer. The articles were credited with driving new policies by American insurance companies that allowed for reimbursement to participants in federally approved medical studies for the treatment of cancer. Eichenwald and Kolata both were honored as finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for their work.

Texaco discrimination reporting[edit]

During those years in the mid-to-late 90s, Eichenwald also reported on a number of smaller issues. The most controversial was his story on possible discrimination and obstruction of justice at Texaco, the energy company. His original article, citing court records, stated that a group of Texaco executives had been secretly recorded uttering a racial epithet while destroying records sought in a discrimination suit. The tape was played on national television, setting off protests at Texaco by civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson. However, a subsequent enhancement of the tape showed that the epithet cited in the court records was simply "an aural illusion", Eichenwald wrote in a story disclosing the findings. Nevertheless, Texaco soon settled the discrimination case, paying a record $140 million.

The Informant[edit]

Beginning in 1995, Eichenwald also reported on the unfolding price-fixing scandal at Archer Daniels Midland. While that story was never his primary project, Eichenwald used it as the basis of his second bestselling book, The Informant, published in 2000. While still a business book, The Informant was much more of a non-fiction police procedural than any of Eichenwald’s other work, depicting the inner workings of the FBI in detail. It was a success in terms of both critical reviews and sales. Eichenwald subsequently sold the rights for a film adaptation. The movie, a dark comedy directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Matt Damon, was released in 2009.

The success of The Informant signaled a transition, as Eichenwald branched out from traditional business stories into a wider range of investigations.

International and political reporting[edit]

In 2000, Eichenwald traveled to England to write about a case involving a mass murdering doctor in a small British town. The following year, Eichenwald, working with another Times reporter, Michael Moss, reported on the scandals involving the last-minute pardons issued by the Clinton Administration in its final hours. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Eichenwald reported on the financial structure of al Qaeda, tracing the variety of funding mechanisms it used for its operations.

Return to corporate scandals[edit]

With the explosion of corporate scandals in 2002 – Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, Tyco and others – Eichenwald returned to his familiar territory, reporting on the unfolding scandals and becoming a television fixture on such programs as Charlie Rose and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer in explaining the meaning of the latest developments. Eichenwald, along with several other Times reporters, was selected as finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for his work on the corporate scandals.

Conspiracy of Fools[edit]

Eichenwald’s investigation of Enron led to his third and most successful book, Conspiracy of Fools. The book made the New York Times bestseller list in its first week in publication. The book led to multiple comparisons of Eichenwald’s writing style to that of fiction writer John Grisham.[citation needed] The book was optioned as a movie by Warner Brothers, to possibly star Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio was involved from the start, but changes in his schedule may not allow him to act in the film, only produce, but casting details aren't final yet.[2]

Music[edit]

Conspiracy also highlighted another aspect of Eichenwald’s life: his music. In certain markets, Random House gave away a compact disc containing a song, called "Cigarettes and Cyanide", which was written by Eichenwald and performed by his band 2010 Blues. The song, which the CD jacket describes as “about deceit and betrayal in the context of a corporate scandal,” was also featured on the Conspiracy website.[citation needed] Eichenwald also used his music hobby in his next investigation, first identifying himself as a songwriter, rather than a reporter, when trying to gain the confidence of Justin Berry.[3]

Child pornography articles[edit]

Upon his return from his book tour for Conspiracy of Fools, Eichenwald cast about for new story ideas, becoming interested in an international credit card fraud investigation that led to his becoming involved in the affairs of Justin Berry, a then-18-year-old who was selling pornographic images and videos of himself both as a minor and as an adult, creating and selling pornography involving other minors and adults, and engaging in prostitution. Eichenwald ultimately wrote a series of articles about Berry and his activities; the first appeared in The New York Times on December 19, 2005. Though the series drew attention to the issues is raised and won praise from some, it was later revealed that Eichenwald had made a series of payments to Berry before submitting the story for publication, a violation of The Times' ethics policies. Eichenwald made the first payment while representing himself to be a songwriter and a potential customer for Berry's services, in order to gain his subject's confidence and discover his true identity, so that Berry could be located and contacted. His intent being to both pursue the story, and offer help to Berry. When Eichenwald's initial $2,000 payment via cashier's check was revealed to editors at The Times in June 2007, Eichenwald claimed that Berry's family had later repaid him the full amount, and that the only other payment he had made to Berry was $10 via PayPal. In August 2007, court documents connected to a child pornography case brought against a former associate of Berry's revealed that Eichenwald had made additional payments in June 2005 via PayPal, totaling at least $1,100; some of those payments were made using pseudonyms. Eichenwald denied lying about the additional payments, claiming that he has no recollection of having made them.[4]

Eichenwald publicly stated that he, his wife, and his minister were working together to rescue what they feared was a child in danger, and that all of the actions they took in June, 2005 were not done in his role as a journalist. When Berry subsequently decided to become a source for a story, Eichenwald said he demanded and received repayment of the money used earlier to avoid a conflict of interest. However, his recollection of the money he gave Berry omitted a number of payments later revealed in the various criminal cases against Justin Berry's business partners and customers, understating the amount paid. Since this aspect of the story was revealed, many critics have argued that Eichenwald's actions as a reporter were at least deeply questionable, and his remedial steps insufficient.

In an October 19, 2007 interview with NPR's David Folkenflik, Eichenwald stated that, due to the severe backlash from the Justin Berry story, he felt compelled to disclose that his epilepsy had caused "severe memory disruptions" and that he had a "deeply unreliable memory for names, facts and events" which he compensated for by his "famed meticulous reporting methods." Folkenflik reports that "during the prosecutions of two of those men [Berry's business partners Greg Mitchel and Timothy Richards] on related child-pornography charges, revelations have surfaced that have raised questions about Eichenwald's own actions. Most notable was his failure to inform editors at the Times that he and his wife had made a series of payments worth at least $3,100 to Berry and his associates.

Condé Nast Portfolio[edit]

In 2006 Eichenwald joined the staff of newly created business magazine Condé Nast Portfolio as a senior writer. He was recruited by Jim Impoco, a former Times editor and managing editor of the new Portfolio. The first edition of the magazine was published in April 2007. However, both Eichenwald and Impoco would have a very short tenure at Portfolio. An Eichenwald article about terrorism that had been championed by Impoco was killed by editor-in-chief Joanne Lipman, leading to a significant dispute between the two editors. After several months of tension between them, Lipman fired Impoco in August 2007; Eichenwald resigned on the same day.[5] Portfolio was not a commercial success, and was closed in April 2009. The failure of such a high-profile project was seen as a major setback for Condé Nast.

Vanity Fair[edit]

In 2012, Eichenwald joined Vanity Fair as a contributing editor.[citation needed]

500 Days[edit]

Eichenwald's fourth book, 500 Days, published in October 2012 details the Bush Administration response to the 9/11 attacks, switching between scenes of administration official meetings, and detainee interrogations. It describes the efforts of administration officials, military officers and others to inform their less knowledgeable counterparts about the counterproductive nature of torturing prisoners. Although interrogation techniques based on relationship-building had already been shown to yield a greater volume of information and more reliable information, these findings were largely ignored.

Awards and recognition[edit]

Eichenwald is a two-time winner of the George Polk Award for Excellence in Journalism in 1995 and 1998, for articles about the dialysis industry and fraud at the nation's largest hospital company, Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corporation. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2000, along with his Times colleague Gina Kolata, for an investigation of medical clinical trials. In 2006, he won the Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism and the Best in Business Enterprise Award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

Personal life[edit]

Education and early life[edit]

Eichenwald graduated from St. Mark's School of Texas in Dallas and Swarthmore College. Among other interests during his time at Swarthmore, he was a founding member of Sixteen Feet, an a cappella vocal octet.[6]

Epilepsy[edit]

During his first months of college, Eichenwald sustained a concussion, which was soon followed by more than a decade of uncontrolled seizures. Diagnosed with epilepsy in November of his freshman year, Eichenwald continued to attend school despite increasing numbers and severity of the grand mal seizures.

In a 1987 article about his illness for The New York Times Magazine, Eichenwald wrote: “I have had hundreds of various types of seizures. I have experienced the mental, physical and emotional side effects caused by changes in the anticonvulsant drugs I take each day. Yet, for the first two years, I refused to learn about epilepsy.”[7]

Because of two seizures on campus, he was dismissed from Swarthmore, in apparent violation of federal law. He contacted the United States Department of Health and Human Services and fought his way back into school, an experience that he has credited with giving him the willingness to take on institutions in his muckraking reporting.

He graduated with his class in 1983. He received a degree in political science, with distinction.

His subsequent willingness to reveal his personal battle to readers won him praise. He was awarded a journalism prize from the Epilepsy Foundation of America for his 1987 magazine article about his experiences. His fight against his condition and his decision to write about it also contributed to his being named one of the country’s most interesting journalists by theJournal of Financial Reporting in an article headlined, “Kurt Succeeded Where So Many Others Would Have Quit.’’[8]

In the article, Dean Rotbart wrote:

While Eichenwald has never since hidden his epilepsy, he also didn't make it a centerpiece of his life. After writing his story, his mission was clear and it was not to become a poster boy for the illness. "My whole life from the time I got sick was focused on making sure that I was a student, a journalist, a husband, and a father," Kurt tells me. "Not that I was someone with this condition."[8]

Family[edit]

Eichenwald is married to Theresa Pearse, an internist[9] They have three children; Sam, Adam, and Ryan.[10]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Washington Monthly, June 1, 1983, p. 45 5, “Soda, the Life of the Party,’’ New York Times, July 16, 1985, p. A23.
  2. ^ Warner Bros. Developing Movie About the Enron Scandal, Feb 14 2008
  3. ^ Reporter's Essay: Making a Connection with Justin. Kurt Eichenwald. New York Times. 19 December 2005.
  4. ^ Pérez-Peña, Richard (2007-08-08). "Court Papers Said to Show Added Payments by Reporter". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-07. 
  5. ^ [1], Women's Wear Daily", August 8, 2007.
  6. ^ Portfolio Magazine contributor's page for Kurt Eichenwald
  7. ^ Epilepsy’s Storm, New York Times Magazine, January 11, 1987.
  8. ^ a b Kurt Succeeded When So Many Others Might Have Quit Dean Rotbart, Newsroom Confidential
  9. ^ "Kurt Eichenwald is Wed to Dr. Pearse." The New York Times, 16 July 1990.
  10. ^ Ask a Reporter Q&A: Kurt Eichenwald

External links[edit]