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November 1st, 2006 Julie Sabatier | Books
 

News Junkie

     
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Former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling was sentenced to 24 years in the slammer last week for his part in the scandal that brought down the energy giant and cost many Americans their life savings. Skilling says he's innocent, which comes as no surprise to writer Jason Leopold.

Leopold was the first journalist to interview Skilling after the demise of Enron Corp., and says, calling it "pathetic," that Skilling denied any criminal involvement from the very beginning.

Leopold details his coverage of the Enron scandal in his book News Junkie (Process, $16, 280 pages), released earlier this year. But, in a larger sense, the book chronicles Leopold's own journey from a cokehead newspaperman as addicted to breaking news stories as he was to bumping lines to a clean and sober, cutthroat business reporter.

Though he is an acclaimed journalist with numerous awards to his name, Leopold's story is more appealing because he's not afraid to expose his fuck-ups. He reveals the embezzling scam he pulled at a New York record company, which ended in a felony charge he lied about on several subsequent job applications. He also cops to questionable ethical choices he made as a journalist.

Leopold's fast-paced account of the deregulation disaster in California is both illuminating and concise. He devotes most of the book to an examination of the habit he just can't seem to shake: the aggressive pursuit of one story after another.

His inside look at the newsroom is pretty damning for the mainstream media. Not only does Leopold disclose the rampant use of the word "dude" among journalists and editors, he shows how reporters often fail their audiences while trying to sabotage one another.

Leopold colors his accounts with often amusing physical descriptions of his colleagues and interview subjects. (He describes Skilling as a "sad clown...blinking his eyes at me like a puppy dog.") However, his repeated misuse of words like "ironic" reveal that Leopold is a reporter first and a writer second. Most readers will want to cut him a break, though, because his stories are just so juicy.

 
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