Janet’s World: The Inside Story of Washington Post Pulitzer Fabulist Janet Cooke
By Mike Sager
Janet Cooke caused one of the biggest scandals in the history of journalism when her Pulitzer Prize-winning article, about an eight-year-old heroin addict, turned out to be a fake, along with her doctored resume. Written while a staff writer for the Washington Post, under the regime of the legendary editor Ben Bradlee, Cooke’s disgrace was a jarring wake up call during the heady days of post-Watergate investigative journalism.
This article–a 20,000 word, extended “author’s edition” of the piece that originally ran in GQ–is Cooke’s only in-depth interview. While faithful to the basic fact finding contained in the Washington Post’s internal ombudsman’s report, easily available on line, Sager’s work plums the depths of Cooke’s persona and upbringing, bringing to light the human story behind the headlines. Vilified by history as a fabricator, Cooke’s difficult role as an African American professional woman in the early 1980s is often overlooked.