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“Jimmy’s World”

In 1980, Janet Cooke made up a story about an 8-year-old heroin addict, won the Pulitzer Prize for it, then, two days later, gave it back

What happens when the news leads its readers astray? Journalists, those who are entrusted with delivering the truth, can be the very ones to fabricate and manipulate that truth until it’s unrecognisable altogether. In 1980, this was the case with Janet Cooke and her story that took the nation by storm.

The story appeared on The Washington Post’s front page “Jimmy’s World,” under Cooke’s byline. It was a detailed, shocking account of an unnamed 8-year-old boy in Southeast Washington who was a heroin addict. Cooke described the boy, his home and his surroundings in vivid detail.

The article told a heart-wrenching tale. It detailed the life of ‘Jimmy,’ a young boy who had become a victim of the thriving heroin trade that was devastating the low-income neighbourhoods of Washington D.C. Caught in a cycle of addiction, violence, and despair, Jimmy had become a heroin addict after being introduced to the drug by his mother’s live-in boyfriend. As Janet Cooke, the author of the article, described him, “Jimmy is 8 years old and a third-generation heroin addict, a precocious little boy with sandy hair, velvety brown eyes and needle marks freckling the baby-smooth skin of his thin brown arms.” She noted that Jimmy aspired to be a heroin dealer when he grew up.

The story immediately generated controversy. Many demanded that Cooke reveal where the boy lived so that he could be helped. However, Cooke refused to provide his location, claiming she needed to protect her sources and that her life would be in danger from drug dealers if she failed to do so. Meanwhile, the city government launched an intensive search to find him.

As the popular outrage about Jimmy grew, rumours began to swirl around the city suggesting that he didn’t exist, that Janet Cooke had simply made him up.

There was some scepticism about the story from the beginning, but Cooke’s writing was so compelling that The Post nominated the article for a Pulitzer Prize. On April 13, 1981, the Pulitzer board announced that “Jimmy’s World” had won journalism’s most prestigious honour.

City officials sought to find Jimmy, to no avail, and murmurs of doubt began to swell into a clamour. Top Post editors questioned Cooke about her sources, learning that no supervisor had ever asked for or learned the boy’s true identity.

The Post stood by her and denied these rumours, but the issue came to a boil on April 13, 1981, when Cooke was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize on account of her story.

On July 12, 1979, 11 days before her 25th birthday, Janet Cooke, a reporter on the Toledo Blade, wrote a letter to Ben Bradlee.It was the kind of letter Bradlee receives daily.

“Dear Mr Bradlee:

“I have been a full-time

reporter for The Blade for slightly more than two years, and I believe I am now ready to tackle the challenge of working for a larger newspaper in a major city. . . .”

Attached to the letter was a resume and copies of six stories Cooke had written for The Toledo Blade. One thing caught Bradlee’s eye: the resume said Cooke was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Vassar in 1976. Bradlee underlined those statements and sent the clippings and resume to Bob Woodward. On the letter, he scrawled to his secretary that he would see Cooke.

When Cooke visited The Post two weeks later, every interviewer was impressed. She was a striking, smartly dressed, articulate black woman, precisely the kind of applicant editors welcome, given the pressures to hire minorities and women.

And she could write.

As is the usual practice, she was interviewed around the newsroom, the city editor, the Style editor, the Metro editor.

The written summary of impressions, compiled by Tom Wilkinson, assistant managing editor for personnel, states:

“Janet Cooke came in and saw everyone and was pretty high on everyone’s list. What impressed me is that she had pretty well created her own beat. She seems to be a pretty good self-starter. I found her to be very smart.” So did others. Only city editor Herb Denton questioned whether she was tough enough. “There’s a lot of Vassar still in her,” Denton said.

Hiring is a group decision at The Post — the editors call it collegial — and it takes time. Sometime in the next couple of months, nobody remembers the exact date, a memo went to Wilkinson from Woodward. It said, “We’re ready to offer her a job on the Weekly. Can we go ahead?”

Janet Cooke

Janet Cooke entered the acre-square newsroom of The Washington Post wearing a red wool suit and a white silk shirt. It was her first day of work. She was two hours late. She’d gotten lost walking the three blocks from her hotel.

It was the third day of 1980, the beginning of a new chapter for this 25-year-old black woman whose upper-middle-class parents had sent their daughters to the finest white prep schools but insisted upon living close to their roots in Toledo. As Cooke made her way down the long aisle through the desk pods of the Metro Section, heads turned. Editors and reporters noted the shortness of her pleated skirt, the apparent self-possession of her gait, the length of her acrylic fingernails. In this post-Watergate era of big stories, star reporters, and “creative tension,” most members of the Metro staff were young and well-pedigreed, true believers in the power of the fourth estate, captained by history’s own Bob Woodward, who was trying his hand for the first time as an assistant managing editor. Deep inside the Beltway, in the heart of the nation’s political culture, the Post’s was a newsroom like all others—and like no other, a distinct creature of the city it covered, rife with intrigue and machination. The customary greeting among its 900 staffers, working just blocks from the White House: “What’s the gossip?”

At the moment, clearly, it was Janet Cooke.

Two weeks after she was hired, Cooke’s first byline appeared. It was a story about a black beauty contest. Other stories followed rapidly. On Jan. 31 there were four. She was winning the confidence of her editor.

Her first big article appeared on Feb. 21. It was a dramatic story of Washington’s drug-infested riot corridor, years after the 1968 disorders, and an hour-by-hour account of a police patrol along 14th Street.

Janet produced. Fifty-two of her stories appeared in The Post before the ill-fated account of the non-existent “Jimmy.”

She was a conspicuous member of the newsroom staff. When she walked, she pranced. When she smiled, she dazzled. Her wardrobe seemed always new, impeccable and limitless. She had a dramatic flair.

When Janet Cooke brought her reporting notes on heroin to Milton Coleman, the city editor, stories of heroin use in the city were running regularly. Four appeared in August and three in September before “Jimmy’s World” was published.

The stories reported on an increase in the crime rate, a drug dealer receiving a 40-year sentence, vast new drug traffic via Turkey, an indictment of a Northeast man on a drug count, hearings on heroin use by patients dying of cancer, a life sentence for a drug-related killing and 19 arrests in two major local drug rings.

“I talked over Janet’s materials with her,” Coleman said. “She talked about hundreds of people being hooked. And at one point she mentioned an 8-year-old-addict. I stopped her and said, ‘That’s the story. Go after it. It’s a front page story.’

“It appeared that the kid was at RAP Inc., a service organisation for drug addicts. I went to Managing Editor [Howard] Simons’ office . . . and we talked it through. If RAP gave us permission to talk to the boy, could we reveal the name? We agreed that we would not under any circumstances. Would RAP let us talk with the parents? We didn’t know. Janet went back out.”

Two weeks passed. On a story of this nature, it is common practice at The Post to give a reporter all the time he or she needs.

Cooke returned to Coleman and said she couldn’t find the boy, but a week later she said she said she had found another young addict. He was 8 years old. “Jimmy’s World” was born.

“She told me that she had gone out on the playgrounds, had asked around and had left her cards in a number of places. One of them had found its way to the boy’s mother, who had called Janet in anger and asked, ‘Why are you looking for my boy?'”

Cooke told Coleman she had talked with the mother again but had reached no agreement on an interview. In answer to her question, Coleman said she could promise the mother anonymity.

“I told her if the mother called again to keep her on the phone, keep talking, talk it through. Be persistent,” Coleman said.

Coleman did not ask the mother’s name or the family’s street address. He had promised Cooke confidentiality for her sources. The jugular of journalism lay exposed — the faith an editor has to place in a reporter.

Simons says an editor can ask the name of a source and if a reporter refuses to reveal it the editor has the option to reject a story. He did not ask Cooke or Coleman to reveal any details on identity.

“Janet told me she had been back in touch with the mother and that the two of them were to have dinner at Eastover Shopping Center,” Coleman said.

Later Cooke told him she had the dinner and that two days later she visited the mother’s house, the same imaginary house she was to describe in great detail as “Jimmy’s World.”

There were no further interviews with “Jimmy” or his family, she told Coleman. But she said she was worried. “Ron,” the invented mother’s invented lover, had threatened Cooke, the reporter told her editor. All during the interview, she said, Ron had paced the room with a knife in his hand, and once had said to her, “If I see any police, Miss Lady, or if any police come to see me, we [he glances again at the knife] will be around to see you.”

The threat was taken so seriously by Coleman and others at The Post that when Richard Cohen wrote a column after “Jimmy’s World” appeared, Coleman insisted that Cohen’s reference to the knife be deleted. It was. Simons, whose concern for the staff is nearly parental, wouldn’t let Cooke go home for two nights after her story was published. He arranged for her to stay with another Post employee.

When Coleman heard her description of her “interview,” he asked her to do a memo on it. On this kind of story, Coleman wants the reporter to write the story roughly but soon after the event, while details are fresh in the reporter’s mind.

Cooke’s memo, her first draft on the subject, is 13 1/2 pages long, double spaced on letter-sized paper. It contains exhausting detail. “Jimmy” wears a blue and green Izod T-shirt — “bad, ain’t it. I got six of these.” There was an eight-foot plaid sofa against one living-room wall, a matching love seat against the other. Both were covered in plastic. There was a colour television set in the room, along with a lot of Panasonic stereo equipment, “receiver, tape deck.” There was a rubber tree plant, fake bamboo blinds, a brown shag rug, two lamps, a chrome and glass coffee table and a chrome and glass end table.

At this point, Coleman saw the name “Tyrone” on the memo and determined that this was the fictitious child’s “real” first name. He was also told the elementary school “Tyrone” attended and the general neighbourhood where he supposedly lived. This was reassuring at the time and later translated into general newsroom gossip that Coleman knew who the child was.

Other editors did not ask, then or later. Managing editor Simons had earlier given Cooke assurances that she could keep the family anonymous, according to Coleman, who said, “Howard said she should deal with me and tell me the child’s identity. ‘I don’t want to know,’ he said, somewhat jokingly.”

“None of them asked me for the name,” Coleman remembers. “I may have been asked, do you believe it?”

Cooke’s descriptive language was convincing to Coleman, but Woodward was to say later that if he had seen the first draft he might have asked questions about the long and seemingly perfect quotations. Woodward never looked at the first rough draft until Cooke’s Pulitzer was in question.

Coleman, who knows the streets better than Woodward, said he found no reason to question the quotes. “Ron” is quoted as saying, for example, “He’d be bugging me all the time about what the shots were, what people was doin’ and one day he said, ‘When can I get off.’ I said well s—, you can have some now. I let him snort a little and damn, it was wild. The little dude really did get off.”

Coleman read it over, made suggestions on reworking it, suggested how to write the “lead,” the opening, how to rearrange the material.

“I wanted it to read like John Coltrane’s music, strong. It was a great story, and it never occurred to me that she could make it up. There was too much distance between Janet and the streets,” Coleman said.

When the second draft came in, Coleman called in Bob Barkin, The Post’s art director, to illustrate the story. Obviously, there would be no photographs. It was Friday, Sept. 19, nine days before the story was to be published.

Barkin selected illustrator Michael Gnatek Jr. for the drawing. Bradlee was later to find the full illustration so powerful in its horror that he insisted it run inside the paper. “People are eating breakfast while they read the paper, you know,” he said.

The full drawing ran on page A9, only a smaller drawing of “Jimmy” ran on the front page. It shows a young man, his face twisted in a half-smile, huge eyes watching, his slender arm gripped by a huge fist as a needle is injected.

Coleman did some checking of his own. He found someone who knew and asked if Janet’s description of “shooting up” is the way it’s done. He wanted to know if, as the story said, liquid ebbs out of the syringe, and is replaced by red blood, which is then reinjected. He was satisfied with how the answers agreed with Janet’s account.

Bo Jones is The Post’s counsel.He and his associate, Carol Weisman, are frequently called into “lawyer” a story, particularly those dealing with subjects that might have legal implications.

Jones suggested some changes. “Ron” was said to be from Atlanta. Jones suggested making it “from the South,” because “Ron” might be traceable in Atlanta, and the promise of anonymity was absolute. Jones also suggested striking out “public housing.” That, also, could be traced, he said.

Woodward saw the story for the first time. He divides stories into two categories: possible libel or criminal charges and all others. “Jimmy” fell into Robert (Bob) Woodward, (assistant managing editor-Metro) category two. It could not libel because its subjects were anonymous.

“Janet had written a great piece,” Woodward says. “In a way, both she and the story were almost too good to be true. I had seen her go out on a complicated story and an hour later turn in a beautifully written piece. This story was so well-written and tied together so well that my alarm bells simply didn’t go off. My scepticism left me. I was personally negligent.”

Woodward called in Cooke and asked her to tell him about it. He simply wanted to hear her story. “She was a terrific actress, terrific,” he said. She related it all in the most disarming way. It was so personal, so dramatic, and so hard in her tummy.”

None of the Post’s senior editors subjected Cooke’s story to close questioning. Simons was on vacation in Florida the week before it appeared. Deputy managing editor Richard Harwood had no role in its preparation. Benjamin C. Bradlee, the executive editor read the story that week and thought it was “a helluva job.”

Are they satisfied with the preliminary screening on “Jimmy’s World”? Simons answered: “Yes, there was no reason to disbelieve the story.” Bradlee said: “I am not satisfied now — but I was then.”

Art and story were complete. Bradlee had the weekend duty. He said again that it was a front page story. He thought it was terrific. The story, colours flying, had passed its last and most powerful filter.

Janet Cooke had one last chance to change her mind. On Friday night, before the story was to run on Sunday, Coleman called her in. Simons had gone out of town, but before he left, he insisted that Coleman have a talk with the reporter.

“I told her what Simons told me to say. He’s almost romantic about this kind of thing,” Coleman said. “I said she had written a story that is certain to be controversial. You have seen a crime and you may be subpoenaed. We don’t think so, but you can. You should know that The Post will stand behind you 100 percent. If you are subpoenaed, and you refuse to reveal your sources, you may be found in contempt of court and have to spend time in jail. Before the story goes, if you don’t want to face that, we won’t run it. Think it over, tell me in the morning.”

Saturday morning Cooke told Coleman to let it go.

The article had been held for Sunday publication. There is more space for long stories — “Jimmy’s World” ran. “Jimmy’s World” was on the front page. The presses started running at 9:54 p.m. THE PUBLICATION: ‘Jimmy’ Hit Washington Like a Grenade, and Bounced

Jimmy’s story struck at Washington’s heart. The paper had no sooner reached the streets than The Washington Post’s telephone switchboard lit up like a space launch control room.

Readers were outraged. The story was described as racist and criminal. The concern was for Jimmy. “What about the boy?” was the central question. It was repeated for the next four days in as many versions as the human mind can invent.

People across the nation expressed their sympathy and action was taken to search out the young boy to help him obtain treatment for his addiction. The mayor at the time, Marion Barry, and Chief of Police, Burtell Jefferson, called together social workers and the police force to search for the boy Cooke had written about. A reward of up to $10,000 was offered to anyone who could find this fictitious child.

Washington Police Chief Burtell Jefferson launched a mammoth citywide search. He had called on his youth division to get to work Sunday. Mayor Marion Barry was incensed. All schools, social services and police contacts were to be asked for “Jimmy’s” whereabouts. The word went out on the streets that big reward money was available. Last week Assistant Chief Maurice Turner said the police had been prepared to offer up to $10,000.

The Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service moved the story out to 300 clients. “Jimmy” was national, then international. Much later, after Ronald Reagan was elected president, Donnie Radcliffe of The Post’s Style staff sent a copy of the story to the nations first-lady-to-be. Radcliffe thought it would be useful information as the Reagans prepared to come to Washington.

Nancy Reagan wrote back ” . . . How terribly sad to read it and to know there are so many others like him out there. I hope with all my heart I can do something to help them. Surely there must be a way . . .”

It would be difficult to overestimate Washington’s compassion for “Jimmy” or its anger when The Post refused to reveal his identity or address.

Police were receiving letters from all over the country, including one signed by 30 students in a Richmond school, pleading that they find “Jimmy.”

At one point, as Milton Coleman and Howard Simons had predicted, police threatened to subpoena Janet Cooke in an effort to force her to reveal names and addresses.

At The Post, Simons sent out instructions that if the police got a search warrant no member of the staff was to resist. Cooke, while not staying at her apartment, was to be at work, on the newsroom floor, and out on some part of the follow-up story.

Coleman established an 11-member reporting team for the follow-up. Five of them were assigned to the breaking story. With these five, the other six men were given a different assignment. They were to search for another “Jimmy,” on the theory that if there is one, there must be others.

Cooke and fellow Metro reporter Courtland Milloy were one of the teams searching for the second young addict.

The Post’s telephones never stopped ringing. Between 50 and 60 letters to the editor arrived.

By the following weekend, Coleman was uneasy. It was a slight feeling, but it was real. “I thought the police would have found him in three days at the outside. I’m not one of those people who believe the police can’t do anything right. They could find him. I knew it.”

Courtland Milloy was also worried. He and Cooke had gone out to find the second “Jimmy.”

“We were supposed to be finding another kid,” Milloy said. “But I’ll tell you the truth, I wanted to find Jimmy. Hell, that kid needed help. So as we drove around I circled through Condon Terrace, the general area where Janet said he lived.

“It didn’t take long to see that she didn’t know the area. It’s one of the toughest sections in town. I know it well. She said she didn’t see the house. I asked her if it was to the right of us, the left of us, or had we passed it. She didn’t know.

“We went to other areas where you can find dealers on the street, and I wanted to go back to Condon Terrace but Janet’s life had been threatened. I didn’t want to take any chances.”

Milloy’s serious doubts about the story began there.When he and Cooke had looked for seven hours they returned to the office. Milloy went to Coleman and said, “I think you ought to buy me a drink.”

The next day, Coleman did, and Milloy told him about his growing disbelief in Cooke’s story.

Milloy went further. “I wanted to find ‘Jimmy.’ I mean, does The Post sanction a reporter watching a kid getting shot up? Even the Condon Terrace people were calling offering to help.

Four days after the story ran, the telephone calls to The Post changed. They were now asking, in great numbers, what the police were doing. Why weren’t they finding Jimmy, and what were they doing about the drug traffic?

The intense police search continued for 17 days. The city had been finely combed. Nothing.

On Oct. 15, Mayor Barry said, “We’re kind of giving up on that.” It remained an open case.

“I’ve been told the story is part myth, part reality,” Barry said. “We all have agreed that we don’t believe that the mother or the pusher would allow a reporter to see them shoot up.”

As the search went on for this young heroin addict, scepticism concerning the story began to mount. This came to a pinnacle in April 1981. On April 13, 1981, Cooke was announced as Pulitzer Prize winner for her story “Jimmy’s World.” The Toledo Blade, Cooke’s previous employer, published a column praising Cooke’s work and including biographical information on the journalist. The Associated Press published a similar account. However, the facts concerning Cooke’s background did not match up.

Bill Green, a journalist and university official who spent one momentous year as ombudsman of The Washington Post, where he conducted an investigation into a story by reporter Janet Cooke about an 8-year-old heroin addict that won a Pulitzer Prize before it was exposed as a fraud. (The Washington Post )

Cooke’s story and her personal history began to crumble. Discrepancies arose about her educational background. She claimed fluency in several foreign languages but could not reply when executive editor Benjamin C. Bradlee spoke to her in French.

“You’ve got 24 hours to prove the ‘Jimmy’ story is true,” Bradlee told her, according to an account written by Mr Green and published in The Post.

When another Post reporter drove through Southeast Washington with Cooke, she appeared unfamiliar with the area’s gritty street life. Nevertheless, under questioning by other Post staffers, including then-Metro editor Bob Woodward and city editor Milton Coleman, Cooke maintained that her story was essentially true.

Later, after a long conversation with David Maraniss, then the deputy Metro editor, Cooke confessed that the article was an invention.

“There is no Jimmy and no family,” she said, according to Mr Green’s investigation. “It was a fabrication. I did so much work on it, but it’s a composite. I want to give the prize back.”

Cooke offered her resignation, and the Post, humiliated by the incident, returned the Pulitzer Prize.

The Pulitzer Prize Committee withdrew its feature-writing prize from Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke after she admitted that her award-winning story was a fabrication.

Cooke’s story, “Jimmy’s World,” was about an alleged 8-year-old heroin addict in the District of Columbia. It was said to be based on interviews with the boy, his mother and his mother’s boyfriend. Cooke now acknowledges that she never met or interviewed any of those people and that she made up the story of Jimmy based on a composite of information about heroin addiction in Washington gleaned from various social workers and other sources.

Her admission followed revelations that certain statements she had made in an autobiographical report to the Pulitzer authorities also were false. Cooke had said that she was a magna cum laude graduate of Vassar College and held a master’s degree from the University of Toledo. In fact, she attended Vassar for her freshman year and received a bachelor of arts from the University of Toledo.

“It is a tragedy that someone as talented and promising as Janet Cooke, with everything going for her, felt that she had to falsify the facts,” said Benjamin C. Bradlee, executive editor of The Washington Post. “The credibility of a newspaper is its most precious asset, and it depends almost entirely on the integrity of its reporters. When that integrity is questioned and found wanting, the wounds are grievous, and there is nothing to do but come clean with our readers, apologise to the Advisory Board of the Pulitzer Prizes, and begin immediately on the uphill task of regaining our credibility. This we are doing.” ….
The Post learned that irregularities might exist in Cooke’s autobiographical submission to the Pulitzer board early Tuesday afternoon when officials at Vassar College called Bradlee and told him that Cooke had not graduated magna cum laude, but in fact had only attended the school for her freshman year. At the same time, the Associated Press called Post Managing Editor Howard Simons to report the AP staffers in Ohio were being told that Cooke had not received a master’s degree from the University of Toledo.

A year later Cooke appeared on the Phil Donahue show to offer her take on what happened. She blamed her decision to invent Jimmy on the high-pressure environment of the Washington Post, which was still riding high from the journalistic coup it had scored in the early seventies with the Watergate story. She claimed that numerous street sources had hinted to her about the existence of a boy such as Jimmy, but unable to find him, she eventually created a story about him in order to satisfy her editors at the Post who were pressuring her to produce something.

Cooke was disgraced as a journalist and dropped out of the public eye for many years. She briefly re-emerged in 1996 to tell her story to the magazine GQ.

A dazzling woman who seemed on top of the world at 26, Cooke’s “pitiful tale,” as she put it, unfolded outside the glare of publicity. She married an attorney after leaving The Post and moved to the Maryland suburbs, but her attempts to write for Cosmopolitan and Washingtonian didn’t pan out. Cooke wound up behind the jewellery counter at Bloomingdale’s, but when a news crew showed up, she quit.

The couple moved to Paris in 1985 but later divorced. Two years ago, with a plane ticket provided by her mother, Cooke returned to her native Toledo. She worked at the Limited Express for $4.85 an hour, walking miles home on some nights because she didn’t own a car, the GQ article says. Then she moved to Kalamazoo, where she works at the Liz Claiborne boutique in Hudson’s department store. She suffers from asthma but hasn’t seen a doctor because her part-time job doesn’t provide health benefits.

“I think it’s unfortunate,” said Milton Coleman, who was city editor at the time. “I think she had talent. I would hope there would have been opportunities for her to utilise that talent as a writer. The misfortune was that her very serious mistakes compounded some of the mistakes of youth. . . . You always hope that people have opportunities to redeem themselves.”

Former Post reporter Mike Sager describes his former girlfriend as an accomplished liar from childhood and their romance as “a painful, exhilarating psychodrama.” Cooke once called him to say she had swallowed a whole bottle of Valium, only to admit it wasn’t true.

“It was one of those tumultuous affairs that was the best of times and the worst of times,” Sager said. “I always felt she was a very damaged person.”

“What I did was wrong,” Cooke told Sager for an article in the June 1996 issue of GQ magazine. “I regret that I did it. I was guilty. I did it, and I’m sorry that I did it. I’m ashamed that I did it.”

But, she said, “I don’t think that in this particular case the punishment has fit the crime. I’ve lost my voice. I’ve lost half of my life. I’m in a situation where cereal has become a viable dinner choice.

With the paper’s credibility at stake, executive editor Ben Bradlee asked Bill Green, a journalist and university official to investigate how The Post failed its readers and itself. Within days, Mr. Green had spoken to everyone with a role in the “Jimmy” story and Cooke’s hiring — everyone but Cooke herself, who refused to be interviewed.

“I conducted 40-some interviews,” he said in 2012. “Then, there was a matter of writing what I had collected. We used typewriters in those days, and I remember typing for 28 uninterrupted hours.”

His investigation appeared on The Post’s front page on April 19, 1981, less than a week after the Pulitzer was announced.

“Working almost around the clock,” Bradlee wrote in his 1995 autobiography, “A Good Life,” “Bill Green accomplished an incredibly difficult task: a no-holds-barred, meticulously reported account of what went wrong — 18,000 words spread over the front page and four full pages inside.”

In his gripping account, Mr Green provided an inside view of how journalism works — and how it sometimes fails. His conclusions were unsparing.

The system failed because it wasn’t used, not because it is faulty. Bradlee and Simons should have asked tough questions, so should Woodward and Coleman and others. And every staffer who had a serious doubt about “Jimmy” had an unavoidable responsibility to pursue it, hard.

This business of trusting reporters absolutely goes too far. Clearly, it did in this case.There is a point when total reliance on this kind of trust allows the editor to duck his own responsibility. Editors have to insist on knowing and verifying. That’s one of the big reasons they hold their jobs.

In a set of 15 recommendations for the newspaper at the close of his 1981 investigation of the Cooke affair, Mr Green concluded, “If the reporter can’t support the integrity of his or her story by revealing the name to his or her editor, the story shouldn’t be published. And if that safeguard prevents some news stories from appearing, so be it.”

The Washington Post printed a response entitled “Janet’s World – The Story of a Child Who Never Existed, How and Why it Came to be Published” on April 19, 1981, by Bill Green, acting ombudsman for the Post at that time. This article chronicled the events leading up to the publishing of “Jimmy’s World,” and the events that took place thereafter which led to Cooke’s eventual downfall.

THE REPORTER: When She Smiled, She Dazzled; When She Crashed . . . 
THE STORY: First the Idea, and Finally the Presses Rolled
THE PUBLICATION: ‘Jimmy’ Hit Washington Like a Grenade, and Bounced
THE DOUBTS: From the Very First Moment, Some Suspected the Worst
THE OMBUDSMAN: After the Agony, the Reappraisal
THE PRIZE: Of Fiefdoms and Their Knights and Ladies of Adventure
THE CONFESSION: At the End, There Were the Questions, Then the Tears
THE PRESSURES: Heat and the Achievers Both Have a Tendancy to Rise
THE CONCLUSIONS: Once Again, a Fail-Safe System Proves the Exception

Ombudsman Bill Green’s 1981 investigation of ‘Jimmy’s World’ 

JIMMY’S WORLD – The Washington Post

Bill Green, Post ombudsman who investigated … – Washington Post

Nation’s Editors Plumb ‘Jimmy’s World’ – The Washington Post

THE PLAYERS: It Wasn’t a Game – The Washington Post

30 Years Since ‘Jimmy’s World’: The Media and Drugs | TIME.com

Speaking of Fake News: The Washington Post’s ‘Jimmy’s World’ Scam

Janet Cooke – Wikipedia

The fabulist who changed journalism – Columbia Journalism Review

30 Years Since ‘Jimmy’s World’: The Media and Drugs | TIME.com

Janet Cooke and Jimmy’s World (1980) – The Museum of Hoaxes

The fabulist who changed journalism – Columbia Journalism Review

Post Reporter’s Pulitzer Prize Is Withdrawn – The Hoax Project, Philip …

Jimmy’s World – Academics

Janet Cooke – Citelighter

The fabricated reality of Jimmy’s World | maristcircle

The Impact : OP/ED: Janet Cooke’s Scandal- 35 Years Later

Janet Cooke’s Life: The Picture-Perfect Tale : The Saga of the Pulitzer …

The Faculty Lounge: “Jimmy’s World,” Thirty Five Years Later


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