12 July 2007

Kurt Eichenwald

People in the public eye these days -- people notable enough to have a wikipedia entry at all -- seem unable to resist the temptation to tweak it.

I suppose if somebody had started a "Christopher Faille" entry (unlikely, but let it pass) and either the initiator or some subsequent editor had told a blatant lie there, I'd be tempted to remove it myself too, rather than trusting in the 'process' to do so sooner or later. Still, too much concern with what one's biography says passes a fine line, and is like too much time spent in front of a mirror.

The latest prominent person alleged, with at least some show of evidence, to have danced to or across that line is ... Kurt Eichenwald.

I discussed Mr. Eichenwald in this blog in March. http://cfaille.blogspot.com/2007/03/reporting-on-slime-and-slipping.html He's the former New York Times reporter who now is under contract with Portfolio, the glossy financial-news quarterly.

Eichenwald has surely had a distinguished career. He's twice been nominated for Pulitzers, and his book about a price-fixing scandal at ADM, The Informant, is the basis for a movie set to appear in theatres next year, starring Matt Damon no less. But it isn't clear that the folks at Portfolio know what to do with him. He had no story in the inaugural issue of the quarterly magazine, and accordingly to Gawker he's furious that his piece on money laundering, intended for the second issue, has been spiked.

So maybe if they aren't using him at Portfolio he has time to go on wikipedia a lot? There's somebody named Milo73 who's done a lot of work recently on the Eichenwald bio article. Gawker (again) has given its reasons for believing this might be Eichenwald himself.


I hope they're wrong, and Milo is an admirer. Here's why.

Before Milo noticed it, that entry had a section called "Education and Career" that ran thus:

"He graduated from St. Mark's School of Texas in Dallas and Swarthmore College, where he was a founder of the a cappella octet Sixteen Feet.

"In 1984 and 1985, Eichenwald 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. Eichenwald returned to ''The Times'' later in 1986 and was a news clerk for the national desk in New York before becoming a financial reporter in 1988.

"He began reporting for the ''Times''' business section in 1988, covering Wall Street, corporate takeovers and the insider trading scandals. In 1992, he began writing the "Market Place" column and covering the unfolding scandals at Prudential Financial. In February 1995, Eichenwald began covering a range of investigative projects for the business section. He is author to several bestsellers of the same context, Business Ethics, the latest of which is Conspiracy of Fools, about the Enron debacle."

Milo73 decided to divide the section into two, one part called "Education and Early Life," a second part called "Early Career." The first part is almost entirely new, and personal in character. It discusses Eichenwald's concussion, which produced epilepsy, which requierd medication, and the bad side-effects of the first medication regimen, side-effects that aped the symptoms of leukemia. Then the article quotes a magazine profile of Eichenwald written twenty years ago by Dean Rotbart, who said:

''While Kurt has never since hidden his epilepsy, he also didn’t make it a centerpiece of his life. After writing his story, Kurt’s 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." Well he succeeded quite spectacularly.''

It would be sad to learn that a distinguished journalist not only inserted a long discussion of his struggle with epilepsy into a wikipedia biography, but used it to resuscitate a 20 year old magazine article that praised him for refusing to focus on that condition.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.