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 a motion picture in 2009. 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 pardon controversy, Federal health care policy, and sexual predators on the Internet.
Eichenwald at the 2009 Texas Book Festival
|Born||Kurt Alexander Eichenwald
June 28, 1961
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Alma mater||Swarthmore College|
|Notable works||The Informant, Conspiracy of Fools|
|Notable awards||George Polk Award
Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism
Early life and education
Eichenwald was born in 1961. He has stated that he is "Episcopalian with a Jewish father". He graduated from St. Mark's School of Texas in Dallas and Swarthmore College. His extracurricular activities during his time at Swarthmore included being 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 noticeable epileptic seizures. Diagnosed with epilepsy in November of his freshman year, he continued to attend school despite repeated grand mal seizures.
After having two outdoor 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, receiving a degree in political science, with distinction.
Career at The New York Times
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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 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, he had been named The New York Times’ Wall Street reporter.
His arrival on Wall Street coincided with the explosion of white collar criminal investigations in finance. 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 he was awarded.
After his dialysis series, he 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 attached 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, was selected as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for his work on the corporate scandals.
In 2005, he wrote a group of New York Times articles about online child pornography. One of those articles was about Justin Berry, a then-18 year old who operated pornographic websites featuring himself and other teen males. For this reporting, he received the Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism, for "preserving the editorial integrity of an important story while reaching out to assist his source, Justin Berry, in reporting on Berry’s involvement in child pornography."
Paying sources controversy
In 2007 it came to light that he had given Berry an undisclosed $2,000 to Justin Berry before writing the child pornography reports. The act was widely criticized as not following proper journalist ethics and being "check book journalism"; The New York Times published a note stating that "the check should have been disclosed to editors and readers".
Eichenwald explained that he didn't tell the editors about his payment because it slipped his mind.
Condé Nast Portfolio
In the fall of 2006 Eichenwald left the New York Times and 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 had 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.
Vanity Fair and Newsweek
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 his first national bestseller.
|Part One of Booknotes interview with Kurt Eichenwald on The Informant, February 4, 2001, C-SPAN|
|Part Two of Booknotes interview, February 11, 2001, C-SPAN|
In 2000 he 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 (2005). 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 he 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.
In a 1987 article about his illness for The New York Times Magazine, Eichenwald wrote about his epilepsy diagnosis at the age of 18 in 1979:
The doctor warned me – and so did members of my family soon afterward – that if I did not keep my epilepsy a secret, people would fear me and I would be subject to discrimination. Even now, seven years after that scene in the dining hall, it is difficult for me to say that I have epilepsy. Back then, it was impossible. In the years since, 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. My fears of being found out were my real concern.
His 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 article. In a 2002 NewsBios article titled "Kurt Succeeded Where So Many Others Would Have Quit", 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."
In late 2016, Eichenwald was intentionally sent epileptogenic GIFs over Twitter. He said the second attempt, in December, succeeded in causing him to have a seizure, and that he would be taking a short break from Twitter while he pursued legal action against the user that sent the image. On March 17, 2017, a Maryland man was arrested in connection with the incident and charged with cyberstalking.
- 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.
- Eichenwald, Kurt. "How Donald Trump Suporters Attack Journalists". Newsweek. October 7, 2016.
- Portfolio Magazine contributor's page for Kurt Eichenwald
- Eichenwald, Kurt. "Braving Epilepsy’s Storm". New York Times. January 11, 1987.
- Rotbart, Dean (January 14, 2002). "Kurt Succeeded When So Many Others Might Have Quit". NewsBios. Archived from the original on August 20, 2002.
- Washington Monthly, June 1, 1983, p. 45 5, “Soda, the Life of the Party,’’ New York Times, July 16, 1985, p. A23.
- Eichenwald, Kurt. Through His Webcam, a Boy Joins a Sordid Online World. The New York Times. 19 December 2005.
- Eichenwald, Kurt. Reporter's Essay: Making a Connection with Justin. The New York Times. 19 December 2005.
- "Editors' Note". The New York Times. 2007-03-06. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-06-13.
- Shafer, Jack (2007-03-08). "Eichenwald's Weird Checkbook Journalism". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 2017-06-13.
- Memo Pad: Lipman Strikes Back…, Women's Wear Daily", August 8, 2007.
- Allen, Frederick E. "The Terrible Management Technique That Cost Microsoft Its Creativity".
- "Kurt Eichenwald".
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-12-23. Retrieved 2014-08-02.
- "SERPENT ON THE ROCK by Kurt Eichenwald - Kirkus Reviews".
- "Warner Bros. Developing Movie About the Enron Scandal - Conspiracy of Fools".
- "Past Winners - LIU".
- "Past Winners - LIU".
- "Investigative Reporting". www.pulitzer.org.
- "Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism - School of Journalism and Communication".
- Smith, Dave. "Newsweek reporter claims pro-Trump trolls are triggering his seizures by tweeting strobe lights at him". Business Insider. December 20, 2016.
- Gitlin, Jonathan M. "Malicious tweet gives journalist Kurt Eichenwald a seizure". Ars Technica. December 16, 2016.
- Hawkins, Derek. "Newsweek Trump critic says he had epileptic seizure after Twitter troll purposely sent him flashing image". Washington Post. December 21, 2016.
- "US man held for sending flashing tweet to epileptic writer". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
- "Kurt Eichenwald is Wed to Dr. Pearse." The New York Times, 16 July 1990.
- Ask a Reporter Q&A: Kurt Eichenwald