My gut reaction to “Off the Record:
An Investigative Journalist’s Inside View of DIRTY POLITICS, HIGH FINANCE, and
CORPORATE SCANDAL,” Jason Leopold’s new book, drew this response from the author and
led to an extended exchange of messages.
From: Jason Leopold
Date: Thu, 24 Feb 2005 19:35:11
your opinion. However, your review of my book appeared to be filled with anger. I spent a lot of
time berating myself for all of the carnage I left behind so I am not quite sure how I am the “sad
victim of an ego grandstanding to the bitter end.” For a person who cites Burroughs as one of his
favorite authors I am surprised that you were so repulsed by my book. Moreover, I never
presented myself as a Hunter S. Thompson or anyone close to him. I’m simply a mild-mannered
journalist who had a story to tell.
If it’s the subtitle of my book that was annoying you I suggest you read this past Sunday’s
NYT Book Review article about subtitles.
I will continue to read Blogcritics because I love it so much. So no hard feelings. I’m sorry
that you felt you were misled.
[Leopold’s Blogcritics reference is to another site where STRAIGHT UP is also
posted. The Sunday NYT Book Review article about
subtitles is by Ben Yagoda, who writes: “They are a sort of
lottery ticket in the economics of nonfiction book marketing. Publishers throw all kinds of
elements in them — vogue words and phrases, features of the book the title didn’t get around to
mentioning, talismanic locutions … in the (almost always) vain hope that something will pay
From: Jason Leopold
Date: Thu, 24 Feb 2005 19:44:56
find fascinating is that people who claim to adore Burroughs, Kerouac, Hunter S., and others like
them can’t stand to read about someone in the 21st century who is, let’s be honest here, not that
much different than they were in their time.
I ask you what’s so different between Hunter S and me? He dropped acid. I snorted coke.
Burroughs shot heroin (and his wife). I stole CDs. Hunter S. reported on the scandalous Nixon
administration. I was obsessed with nailing Bush and Enron.
Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2005
It was not the drugs that bothered me. Not in the
least. It was the rampant egomania. You “simply a mild-mannered journalist”? You’re joking, no?
Burroughs, as I knew him, was not an egomaniac — far from it. I concede that Hunter S.
Thompson was, but his egomania didn’t put me off. And the Kerouac I like best is the Kerouac of
“The Vanity of Duloz,” subtitled “The Adventurous Education of a Young Man.” It’s the polar
opposite of egomania. (It’s also a book so little read that it’s out of print.) [The title actually
is “Vanity of Duluoz: an adventurous education, 1935-46.”]
Can you clarify for me what is happening with the legal issue raised in the Voice article?
[It wonders whether the threat of a defamation suit will hinder the release of “Off the
Record.” I’ve seen various publication dates listed, first for February, then for March and now for
Also, I’d like to post your messages in response to my “review,” including the [blurb] from
To: Jason Leopold
Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2005
and about the subtitle of yr book. it’s true that it
set up expectations that i felt went unfulfilled. for that — if it was yr publisher who came up with it
— i do apologize. i should have remembered my own chagrin at the subtitle a publisher gave my
biography of william wyler. i disliked it, thought it created wrong expectations. but i went along
because the publisher was so dead set on it as a marketing tool. i regretted going along from the
beginning and even more when some reviewers took me to task for it. so, my apology for
presuming the subtitle was yours.
To: Jan Herman
Date: Thu, 24 Feb 2005
Why would you
question the authenticity of an author blurb? That seems petty. However, I’ll provide you with my
correspondence with Greg.
From: Greg Palast “I love this book. I love
Sent: Monday, November 29, 2004
To: Brenda Hadenfeldt
Jason Leopold. When other US reporters were licking Ken Lay’s loafers, Leopold went for
Enron’s thieving throat. But Leopold is a fool, and a fascinating readable one at that: a journalist
who insists on real investigative reporting — inside documents, inside sources, hard
knife-in-the-gut evidence — detective-style reporting that is just about illegal in the USA. In “Off
The Record,” you’ll get a hard-core story of a true investigative journalist hunted down and
professionally exterminated, a hero cut down by the lazy fat pricks we call ‘mainstream reporters.’
The book is worth the price just for exposing the craven toadies of the New York Times who
open their pages to White House hatchet jobs against offending reporters. Bravo and my personal
Pulitzer to Jason Leopold. Every journalist in America should read this, then quit or riot.”
From: Jason Leopold
Can you give me an example of “rampant egomania”? What in my book, or what have you
read, heard, anything you can identify that would back up “rampant egomania.” Please point me
to the page number.
From: Jason Leopold
calling my book “Britney Spears” or something irrelevant like that they would because all they
seem to care about is marketing and sales.
From: Jan Herman
Reviews are opinions, and maybe I should have
said rampaging narcissism (a syndrome characterized by grandiose delusions) instead of rampant
egomania. Here are some citations:
p. 18: “I seem to have this ability to light up a room and become the center of attention in a
way that attracts people to me like flies to shit. More than that, I have an innocence and a naivete
that attract people and make them want to help me. There’s a vulnerable sweetness that comes
through my rough exterior and makes people feel safe around me. You can hear it in my voice
when I ask questions and you can see it in my eyes when I understand the answer.”
p. 20: “I naively hope that each time I broke news on the California energy crisis, the other
reporters covering the story would see me as the next Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein.”
p: 30: “I danced around the office and started boxing with my reflection in the window. I
started singing the theme song from Rocky III. Then I introduced myself to my imaginary
audience. “Ladies and gentlemen will you please welcome the undisputed heavyweight champion,
p. 193: “I felt that Fastow and I shared a common bond, not just as Jews but also as
criminals.” [The reference is to Andrew Fastow, the former chief financial officer of
p. 194: “I led each camp to believe that I was its inside source and the only journalist willing
to vindicate either of them if they spoke to me exclusively.” [A clever, if unethical tactic,
but it also illustrates the egomania.]
p. 200: “I felt bad, but at that moment I didn’t give a shit about my brother’s second marriage.
All I cared about was this story and the look of shock on Rebecca’s face when she saw my byline
on it.” [The Rebecca reference is to a rival reporter.]
p. 212: “I felt I’d outdone myself once again. The feeling of power was running through my
veins. It went straight to my head.”
p. 213: “When it hit cyberspace it didn’t make a sound. It just sat out there. Two weeks went
by. No impact. I was frustrated. I wanted some attention. I had started the biggest fire and no one
seemed to notice that it was burning.”
p. 215: “I was completely unprepared for and overwhelmed by the firestorm that came about
as a result of this story. It was burning out of control. Salon celebrated the moment. There was
talk of awards. I felt like a modern-day version of Woodward or Bernstein.”
p. 222: “He made me so angry that I started to wonder how I could get my revenge. I
thought about sending him a dozen pizza pies or mailing him a bag of shit. I went to a web site
that supposedly sells all kinds of shit, cow shit, dog shit, deer shit, horse shit, and will wrap it up
in a box with a bow and mail it to your worst enemy without it ever being traced back to you. I
settled on elephant shit, two big logs. But when it came to enter my credit card information, I lost
my nerve. I told Carr that he had it all wrong about me. I told him I was a star reporter. …”
p. 230: “Ever since I was a kid I’ve had this uncontrollable desire to protect people from
p. 231: “I’ll admit there were times when the only thing I was interested in was advancing my
own journalism career. Breaking news is a perfect example. Whenever news broke and I was
nearby, I stopped caring about the people affected. I kept a camera and notebook with me and
hoped that if I saw a car crash I would be the first one on the scene and report the story and get
the Pulitzer Prize-winning story. Then I’d try to literally save lives and be the hero,
These citations don’t give the anecdotal context of each of them (i.e. the quote from p. 213
expressing frustration about your story not being noticed. That’s a common feeling for many
reporters. But then you compare yourself to a pyromaniac. I don’t doubt that you feel you’re being
totally honest and that you understand your grandiosity is compensation for the many insecurities
you write about. But I’m not sure you really see how much you’ve rationalized your motives. The
book shows either how clever and smart you were (which you are) or how foolish and devious
you were. But the tale is always all about me, me, me — and that wore thin.
Maybe I’m all wet. And anyway, it’s only one man’s opinion. I wish you the best, too.
PS: You forgot to answer to my question: What is happening with the legal issue raised in the