Eichenwald at the 2009 Texas Book Festival
|Born||Kurt Alexander Eichenwald
June 28, 1961
New York City
|Alma mater||Swarthmore College|
|Notable works||The Informant, Conspiracy of Fools|
|Notable awards||George Polk Award
Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism
Kurt Alexander Eichenwald (born June 28, 1961) is an American journalist who serves as a senior writer with Newsweek, a contributing editor with Vanity Fair and a New York Times bestselling author of four books, one of which, The Informant (2000), was made into The Informant! (2009), 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 New York 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 sexual predators on the Internet.
Career at The New York Times
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. 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 New York 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 New York Times op-ed page, writing exclusively about political issues.
Eichenwald returned to The New York 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 New York 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 1995, Eichenwald began writing about assorted corporate misdeeds. He wrote a multi-part series for The New York 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 New York Times’ senior reporter program. He also teamed with another of the newspaper's reporters, 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.
With the explosion of corporate scandals in 2002 – Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, Tyco and others – Eichenwald reported 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 New York Times reporters, were selected as finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for his work on the corporate scandals.
In 2005, Eichenwald wrote a group of articles about online child pornography. One of those articles was about 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. Eichenwald stated in testimony before Congress that his contact with Berry began as an effort by him, his wife, and his minister to rescue someone who seemed like a child in danger. He stated that it was only a month later, when Berry contacted him saying he wanted to expose the child pornography business, that he began reporting on the story. This led to criticism because, during the time Eichenwald was working to rescue Berry, he—along with his wife and minister—decided to pretend they were Berry's customers and use money to convince him to identify himself. Once Eichenwald began reporting, he demanded repayment because of the potential conflict of interest. However, Eichenwald only asked for $2,000 that was paid by check to be returned; he later stated he did not remember another $1,100 was paid through PayPal. Berry did not return that money. 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 "meticulous reporting methods."
Condé Nast Portfolio
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 New York 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. 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.
In 2012, Eichenwald joined Vanity Fair as a contributing editor.
In 2013, while continuing his work for Vanity Fair Eichenwald joined Newsweek as a senior writer.
Eichenwald's reporting on Prudential 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. The book was positively reviewed, with comparisons to the bestseller Barbarians at the Gate, and became Eichenwald’s first national bestseller.
In 2000, Eichenwald published his second book, The Informant. While still a business book, The Informant was much more of a non-fiction police procedural depicting the inner workings of the FBI in detail. The book was subsequently adapted as the feature film a film adaptation. The movie, a dark comedy directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Matt Damon, was released in 2009.
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. The book was optioned as a movie by Warner Brothers, to potentially star Leonardo DiCaprio. However, the film was never made.
In 2012, Eichenwald published his fourth book, 500 Days. Also a New York Times bestseller, the book chronicled the events in governments around the world in the 500 days after the 9/11 attacks. It revealed details of the American program of NSA eavesdropping, torture policy, the American government's briefings on the coming attacks before 9/11, and the details of debates within the British government.
Awards and recognition
Eichenwald is a two-time winner of the George Polk Award for Excellence in Journalism in 1995 and 1997, 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 New York 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.
Education and early life
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.
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.”
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 the Journal of Financial Reporting in an article headlined, “Kurt Succeeded Where So Many Others Would Have Quit.’’
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."
- Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story. Crown/Archetype. 14 March 2005. ISBN 978-0-7679-1180-1.
- Serpent on the Rock. Crown/Archetype. 18 December 2007. ISBN 978-0-307-41923-1.
- 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars. Simon and Schuster. 11 September 2012. ISBN 978-1-4516-7413-2.
- The Informant. Granta Publications. 9 February 2012. ISBN 978-1-84627-464-0.
- Washington Monthly, June 1, 1983, p. 45 5, “Soda, the Life of the Party,’’ New York Times, July 16, 1985, p. A23.
- , Women's Wear Daily", August 8, 2007.
- Warner Bros. Developing Movie About the Enron Scandal, Feb 14 2008
- Portfolio Magazine contributor's page for Kurt Eichenwald
- Epilepsy’s Storm, New York Times Magazine, January 11, 1987.
- Kurt Succeeded When So Many Others Might Have Quit Dean Rotbart, Newsroom Confidential
- "Kurt Eichenwald is Wed to Dr. Pearse." The New York Times, 16 July 1990.
- Ask a Reporter Q&A: Kurt Eichenwald
- Kurt Eichenwald speaker profile at The Lavin Agency
- October 27, 2009 ABC Radio National interview with Mark Whitacre and Kurt Eichenwald
- "The New York Times Legal Aid Society" - Slate Magazine
- "A Heartbreaker From Eichenwald And The Times" - CBS News
- "2006 Winner of the Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism" -- University of Oregon
- "Predators Are Becoming More Sophisticated"—Eichenwald's 2006 testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives on child pornography, archived at The New Atlantis
- Appearances on C-SPAN