Hard News: Mnookin has the last second-last word

When we heard that Seth Mnookin had written a special corrections section for the paperback edition of his oft-blurbed and twice-subtitled “Hard News“, we couldn’t wait to review it. But then we realized that we should probably read the book first, so we got ace Fishtern Maureen Miller to do it, as long as she promised not to spoil the ending.

Jeffrey Toobin called the hardback edition of Mnookin’s “Hard News” “undoubtedly the last word on a low moment in the history of a great
institution.” Kurt Andersen said it was “the definitive chronicle of this extraordinary upheaval at the most important newspaper on earth.”

Make that the almost-definitive second-last word, because in the new edition Mnookin got cookin’ on
another three pages of X-treme media crit, serving up three pages of meticulous corrections plus a fun new afterward. Steve Brill must be so proud of his little Sethelah right now. (Ed. So is Reba Shemansky. So much nachas!)

In all seriousness, we found the old edition of Hard News an engrossing read. And the new corrections are commendable; exemplary, even. But it takes a certain obsession with craft to change even the subtitle, a process we imagine went as follows:

  • “The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media”
  • “The Brouhaha at the Times and Its Meaning For America”
  • “The [What’s Another Word for ‘Scandal’?] at the Times and How It Changed Everything, Ever”
  • “Playing With Fire: Burning Down ‘Burning Down My Master’s House’
    (Metaphorically Speaking, With Hard-Hitting Journalism And Not With
    Actual Fire)”

  • This Guy’s” Times
  • “Hardly Newsworthy: Augusta, Howell? Augusta?”
  • “Twenty-one Brutal Months at The New York Times and How They Changed the American Media.”

Hey, we’re just waiting for the corrected paperback edition: “Hard News: My Very Own Version of Twenty-One Brutal (But That’s An Admittedly Subjective Assessment) Months at the New York Times, Primarily the Manhattan Bureau With Some Related Background Incidents in Washington and A Few Fun Down-Home Moments with R.W. Apple Jr. and Howell Raines, Changed the American Media, or At Least the East Coast-Based Part.” Yes, we can say that ten times fast.

Back to the book. Of course, we have to show some love to the bit that’s been hogging all the press, “The executive dining room of the Times is on the eleventh, not the fourteenth floor of the paper’s headquarters (p. 203).” Yeah, you may think that’s insignificant, but we’re sure the New York magazine fact-checking department will prove to be quite interested in this minor detail. Quoth William Powers’ review: “In this particular scene, Raines flees the Times’ fourteenth-floor executive dining room after being told by a clutch of senior editors exactly why he’s such a terrible manager.” (But we do give you points for your
eerily prescient concern, “I don’t know how close Mnookin gets to the truth.”)

The flap over that has caused commentators to miss out on this other gem: “In ‘A New Team in Place’: Danny Meyer is a celebrity restaurateur, not a celebrity chef (p. 233).” Perish the thought, that we mistake a Jean-Louis Palladin for a Jean-Georges Vongerichten! We were also tempted to get meta and correct Mnookin’s spelling of “restaurateur,” but it turns out “restauranteur” is only an acceptable variation. Oh, Smnookums, you’re always right (er, can we call you Smnookums? AW, thanks).

Nitpicks for a nitpicky project, but hey — we can’t fault our beloved Smnookums for doing his damnedest to aspire to what all media outlets should: getting the story right.

Mnookin has definitely won media brownie points for this credibility-enhancing move, but it’s also been a brilliant marketing masterstroke, because he’s taken what was something of a non-event – a book becoming available in paperback – and made it newsworthy by repackaging it with a new, very relevant twist. In so doing he accomplishes three things: (1) becomes a pioneer; (2) underscores the transparency point of the book; and (3) forestalls any critics who might have come forward with nit-picky error cites. Oy, that Mnookin. So smart, and such a punum.

Large version of “Hard News, The Sequel” after the jump, filled with mnookolicious surprises plus a delicious recipe for brisket. Check it out, people.