Jeff Gerth is a former investigative reporter for The New York Times who has written lengthy, probing stories that drew both praise and criticism. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1999 for covering the transfer of American satellite-launch technology to China. He broke stories about the Whitewater controversy and the Chinese scientist Wen Ho Lee. Both stories turned out to sorely lacking in truth or basis. Both stories, Whitewater and Wen Ho Lee there is a very disturbing pattern of not checking sources in terms of credibility and alleging wrongdoing when none exists. Ken Starr didn't mention Whitewater in his exhaustive report. On September 26, 2000, The New York Times apologized for significant errors in reporting of the case. Lee and Helen Zia would later write a book, My Country Versus Me, in which he described Risen and Gerth's work as a "hatchet job on me, and a sloppy one at that", and he points out numerous factual errors in Risen and Gerth's reporting. The New York Times was one of five newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, which jointly agreed to pay damages to settle a lawsuit concerning their coverage of the case and invasion of privacy.
Gerth attended Shaker Heights High School in Ohio in the 1960s, where he was a member of the Junior Council on World Affairs and captain of the golf team. He was a varsity golfer at Northwestern University where he got a degree in business administration. Gerth began his career not in newspapers but in the marketing department of Standard Oil of Ohio; he was assigned to write down license plates of vehicles pulling in and out of gas stations to find out why drivers were choosing Standard Oil's rivals.
Gerth worked for the 1972 George McGovern presidential campaign, investigating some aspects of the Watergate scandal. Then he did some freelance journalism, including an exposé of the La Costa resort's ties to organized crime that ran in Penthouse. Gerth, and his co-author, Lowell Bergman, were sued, along with Penthouse, by the founders of the resort for more than half a billion dollars. Before trial, Gerth and Bergman both settled and apologized. Gerth also collaborated with Seymour Hersh of The New York Times, who recommended that the newspaper should hire him. Gerth joined the newspaper in 1976 and spent most of his career in their Washington, D.C. bureau.
In March 1992, Gerth revealed that beginning in 1978, while Bill Clinton was Arkansas attorney general, he and his wife Hillary were partners in an Ozark real estate deal with James B. McDougal. When Clinton was governor, McDougal controlled a bank and Madison Guaranty, a savings and loan. Gerth's stories raised the question of whether it was appropriate for a governor to be in business partnership with someone having immediate financial interests in an industry regulated by the state. Gerth's reporting was criticized by liberal columnist Gene Lyons for "not particularly fair or balanced stories that combine a prosecutorial bias and the art of tactical omission." Other criticisms centered on the unclear time line - it was difficult to pick out that Bill Clinton was Attorney General, not Governor, at the time the partnership was created, and that Jim McDougal did not own a business regulated by the state until passage of the Garn–St. Germain Depository Institutions Act in 1982, 4 years after creation of the partnership. (See The Hunting of the President, particularly the book.)
Gerth reported a controversial Sunday meeting between Clinton and his personal secretary, Betty Currie. At the meeting, according to Currie, Clinton asked her a number of sensitive questions, including whether she remembered his ever being alone with Monica Lewinsky.
From April to December 1998, Gerth and others at The New York Times covered, or uncovered, "the corporate sale of American technology to China, with U.S. government approval despite national security risks, prompting investigations and significant changes in policy." The 1999 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting recognized The New York Times staff, and notably Jeff Gerth.
On March 6, 1999, Gerth reported that an unidentified Chinese American, later identified as Wen Ho Lee, stole secrets for U.S. nuclear bombs. A government official was quoted as saying the case was "going to be just as bad as the Rosenbergs." FBI investigators waved the story in front of Lee as they interrogated him. Judge James Parker eventually dropped all charges against Lee, stating, "I sincerely apologize to you, Dr. Lee, for the unfair manner you were held in captivity", describing Lee's nine months in solitary confinement as having "embarrassed our nation and all of its citizens."
Although he wrote some of the paper's most visible stories, Gerth himself kept a low profile. Balding and professorial, he shunned interviews, refused to give speeches and declined TV talk show appearances.
In 2004, Gerth was a visiting professor at Princeton University, where he taught an undergraduate seminar on investigative reporting. He left The New York Times in 2005, and joined the staff of ProPublica in February 2008.
With his former colleague at The New York Times, Don Van Natta, Jr., Gerth wrote an investigative biography about Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton entitled, Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton. It was published in June 2007 by Little, Brown and Company. Gerth and Van Natta were reportedly offered a $1 million advance.
Gerth married at thirty-nine and became a father a year later. His wife, Janice O'Connell, worked on the Foreign Relations Committee for Senator Christopher Dodd, who, during the 1996 Presidential campaign, chaired the Democratic National Committee. Gerth recused himself from any campaign coverage.
- "The 1999 Pulitzer Prize Winners: National Reporting". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2013-10-28. With reprints of ten 1998 works.
- "Eye of the Storm", Ted Gup, Columbia Journalism Review, May/June 2001. Archived 2008-03-22. Retrieved 2013-10-28.
- Blood Sport, James Stewart, Simon & Schuster.
- "Fool for Scandal: How the 'Times' got Whitewater wrong (1994)". Harper's Magazine. Retrieved 2010-05-09.
- "All the facts that are fit to omit (1998)". Salon.com. Retrieved 2010-05-09.
- Risen, James; Gerth, Jeff (Mar 6, 1999). "BREACH AT LOS ALAMOS: A special report.; China Stole Nuclear Secrets For Bombs, U.S. Aides Say". The New York Times.
- "Noted Reporters and Web Technologist Join New Investigative Team", ProPublica, Feb. 19, 2008.
- "The United States of America vs. Bill Keller", New York Magazine, Sep. 11, 2006.