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A Firing Offense by David Ignatius

A Firing Offense

by David Ignatius

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1845100,978 (3.69)None
When rising-star reporter Eric Truell accepts information from a maverick CIA agent, he becomes enmeshed in an international trade war in which even his own newspaper may be an unsuspecting participant. When Eric's sources tell him there is a spy inside the newsroom, he is tempted to cross a dangerous professional line and risk his career--possibly even his life--to find the truth.… (more)



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In the US in the 1990s, a professional journalist working other jobs, especially those with government connections, was grounds for dismissal. Interaction between journalists and the entities they are covering is the major thread of A FIRING OFFENSE. In this book, it has gone so far that a respected journalist became a henchman for a foreign government, planting stories beneficial to that country into the newspaper.

There are three primary threads in this story: Corruption of governments and of journalists by foreign governments, competition between France and the US to secure a major telecommunications contract with China, and the diminishment of print newspapers.

David Ignatius’s excellent book, A FIRING OFFENSE, was published in 1997. It opens in 1996 and Eric Truell is based in Paris as the correspondent for The New York Mirror, a highly-rated national newspaper. He is currently in Washington DC to attend and speak at the funeral of the paper’s top foreign correspondent.

The scene quickly changes to 1994 Paris where Truell is trying to find a story. He laments: “Boredom is ordinarily the fuel of journalism; it is the dry powder that, under the right circumstances, ignites into the flame of curiosity that connects a reporter with his story. We need that burst of energy, because despite what people think, journalism is often quite dull… But too much boredom can spark too much heat – creating a passion to connect with the story to that is consuming, unbounded, uncontrollable.”

He doesn’t have long to wait. He is contacted by a scientist who has discovered a way to regenerate brain cells. Soon thereafter, he hears about an on-going hostage situation in one of Paris’s finest restaurants and decides that he wants to be there to get a good story. Needless to say, the French authorities are not cooperative but he is able to speak to some of the people inside. Later he is contacted by Rupert Cohen, a very strange man who works in a US Intelligence agency but is disgusted with the work and claims the department is falling apart.
The next day he learns that the entire hostage incident was staged by a group of African politicians and middlemen who thought they were being shortchanged and wanted more money. It was a way for the government to pay money to have the people go away while picking up some of it for themselves and others involved in the plot. The African network was operated by a clever old gentleman, one of France's most senior politicians. What he gathered from Africa was the black fund from which people could draw when they need cash.

French bribery of Chinese officials developing new weapons to get the contract was the great truth of the 1990s: The world is run by organized criminals… [foreigners] slipped governments into the hands of private organizations in New York, private currency traders have more power over the dollar than the Federal Reserve, the Russian Mafia has more power than the Army. Mexican druglords have more power than the president. In Japan, the politicians are just a front; the real powers held by corporations and the mob.

Truell gets sucked into this world as he tries to research his stories and some of his sources try to recruit him.

Like many print newspapers, The New York Mirror is facing major financial problems. Partly because of the internet, fewer people were reading it and advertising revenue had decreased dramatically. Staff members were being let go, advertisers influenced what was printed and special sections were devoted to them. Many of the papers that survived turned to electronic versions either entirely or as supplements. That opened the way for unscrupulous reporters to manipulate the stock market.

Interesting observation:

We're all shaped and misshaped by the experiences of our childhoods. Mine was happy enough and uncomplicated, which was itself a kind of burden – the burden of lightness. People with emotional scars know they have to be wary; they learn to ration their passions; they know what will hurt them. Nothing in my childhood taught me those lessons.

This book was written during the Clinton administration. In it, Ignatius presents a discussion about the role of the First Lady in lobbying for social legislation. The politically-connected men kept interrupting one another to talk about the political costs and benefits for the president. The First Lady, trying to be part of the group, doesn’t fit the traditional pattern:

You guys don't get it, this is the baseball game. The First Lady doesn't think that way. She doesn't worry about her husband's reelection, any more that you cares whether her husband think she looks cute. This is a woman with larger ambitions. She wants to be great that's why she's causing everyone problems.

This attitude and situation were very prominent in the 2016 election. While it describes Hillary Clinton, probably the most qualified candidate in decades, it still hindered her campaign. On the other side, her lack of experience and questionable actions did not stop Ivanka Trump from being involved in high level talks.

A FIRING OFFENSE discusses whether or not to report about the mental health of a presidential candidate during the primary season. He had experienced a nervous breakdown previously and was taking a strong anti-depressant. Around that time the book was written, a vice-presidential candidate facing a similar situation was dropped from the ticket when the story hit the media. The media ignored Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s as well as the sexual exploits of several Presidents and Congressional representatives. Today, many voters and elected officials don’t really care about such things.

The question Bazy had put to me was not really a choice. My ambitions laid a different direction from what he proposed. If I see more clearly what lay ahead, I made a different choice, but I don't think so. Even the most grievous center, facing excommunication, doesn't wish for the certainty of damnation.

Former columnists for many years have been helpful to the CIA especially for recovery operations. The wisest course would be for them to meet privately with the Director of CIA and the President and demand that the rules be changed so that a journalist would never again be subject to the intolerable risks and temptations that destroyed Eric Truell.

Arthur took money from French intelligence. Probably add up to millions of dollars over the years.… He worked for gangsters who leaned on him to cook stories which you ran.

A FIRING OFFENSE is very well-written and organized. It raises many issues that are still pertinent. I found an incongruity: At one point Truell said that “on the seat next to me was a stack of scientific papers my new aide had gathered, summarizing, the latest developments in neurobiology. 48 hours before, I had known absolutely nothing about these subjects.” Two paragraphs later we learn “my father is a professor of medicine at the University of California at Davis.” It’s hard to believe Truell didn’t know quite a bit about medicine while he was growing up. ( )
  Judiex | Apr 18, 2018 |
The cover of David Ignatius' "A Firing Offense" carries the following promotional blurb from former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee: "A dynamite thriller with the coolest, smartest journalist that fiction ever produced." Bradlee's known some smart journalists in his day, including Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. I'm sure that there are some journalists who have outwitted French and American intelligence (and been outwitted by the CIA as well). But most journalism is not the stuff of thrillers. It's covering local, state, and federal agencies; covering community events and business and interest activities; and, all to often, rewriting news releases.

But Ignatius knows journalism at the highest level, and through his reporting knows the ins and outs of the intelligence community. And because he knows both so well, he addresses with conviction the ethical concerns of a journalist who must reconcile his obligation to his profession and his concern his country. Foreign correspondent Eric Truell hits the big time when, as a Paris-based correspondent for a major American newspaper, he unravels corruption within the French government while reporting on a hostage situation. In his zeal to get to the bottom of the scandal, Truell makes a Faustian bargain with the CIA - receiving information vital to his story, and agreeing to gather information for the CIA on a biological weapons program in China. That agreement to help the CIA is the "firing offense" of the title.

Truell is an interesting - if modestly fanciful - character. But the star of the book is legendary reporter Arthur Bowman, a veteran correspondent who has surreptitiously already committed his firing offense. Brash, egotistical, insecure, womanizing, epicurean, Bowman draws Truell into a maelstrom of deception, eventually offering Truell his path to salvation.

Ignatius is a very good writer, and a master of suspense. This is a most enjoyable book. ( )
  fromkin | Sep 28, 2011 |
Ein "Thriller" der schlimmsten Art: Kaum zu glauben, daß dieses Buch den Weg in den Buchhandel gefunden hat. "Reporter ohne Auftrag" von David Ignatius vereint alles auf sich, was von einem fünftklassigen Thriller zu erwarten ist: Eine völlig unrealistische und in sich unschlüssige Story bestehend aus klassischen "Ein Journalist wird in die Welt der Geheimagenten gezogen"-Elementen vermixt mit einem verklärten Bild eines idealisierten Journalismus und allgemeinen Lebensweisheiten. Soweit wäre dieser Roman noch bedingt lesenswert, wenn der Autor nicht dem Versuch erlegen wäre, dieser sowieso schon sehr überladenen Geschichte, Elemente eines Biotech-Krimis zuzumuten. Im Ergebnis leidet das Buch an logischen Brüchen und dem Fehlen eines erzählerischen Fadens. David Ignatius schweift immer wieder in Belanglosigkeiten ab, die wirkliche Spannung nicht aufkommen lassen und kaum kaschieren können, daß die eigentliche Story des Buches kaum 250 Seiten gefüllt hätte (geschweigedenn 477 Seiten). Fehlendes Hintergrundwissen in Bezug auf die angeschnittene Biotech-Thematik lassen die Qualität des Buches weiter abgleiten. Stilistisch ist anzumerken, daß die Perspektive des Ich-Erzählers mit zunehmender Seitenzahl unschärfer wird, daß zunehmend der Autor den Ich-Erzähler in eine moralische Überposition erhebt. Offensichtlich versucht David Ignatius neben der eigentlichen Story die Botschaft eines idealisierten unkorrumpierbaren Journalismus zu transportieren. Die Erzählung selber findet keinen Höhepunkt, sondern zerfällt bevor die geknüpften roten Fäden wieder zusammengeführt werden. Der Autor kann die aufgebauten Erwartungen aufgrund der völlig überzeichneten Grundlinien der Story in keinster Weise im Verlauf des Romanes erfüllen. Die deutsche Übersetzung enthällt neben einer Reihe von Tippfehlern leider auch einige massive Übersetzungsmängel, so wird aus Anti-Kommunion schon einmal Antikommunikation. Zusammenfassend kann ich von der Lektüre dieses Buches nur dringend abraten. Als bessere Alternativen empfehle ich z.B. Werke der Autoren Grisham, Crichton oder Ludlum.
  r1hard | Nov 22, 2009 |
As far as thrillers go, it was OK. The real bad-guys were revealed right away and the thriller was to watch Eric uncover them, accuse them and get away without getting killed. One reporter does die because he is no longer useful to the mafia-like organization that has used him over the years to get their point of view accepted as legit. France is not usually a country targeted by thriller writers so it was different in that aspect.

Truell does live but he compromises himself and is out of a job. Instead of writing that he was fired because he worked for the CIA (unofficially and for no pay) they write that he plagiarized some work from French reporters while he was stationed there. He ends up splitting with his on again/off again girlfriend and going back to a small newspaper close to the town where he grew up. The bad guys who ripped off the US in the deal for a Chinese telecommunications contract and who killed the other reporter, are ruined by their own power collapsing in on them.

One thing that bugged me though is that on the one hand, Eric does the CIA’s bidding which is pretty dangerous and on the other hand he’s a very conservative, non-risk-taker kind of guy. I don’t know if it was because deep down he really thought that reporters were just fringe people not really involved with the world’s events, or that he was too cowardly to refuse the CIA. Basically a pretty staid guy who suddenly takes on a secret operation in China? Seems unlikely.
  Bookmarque | Jun 11, 2009 |
Basically a trashy thriller; reasonably well written with nothing very wrong. The main character, a journalist who works closely with the CIA, is drawn very well. The plot is also quite reasonable, e.g., that the US government would automatically interpret an average biology lab in China as a WMD production facility. However, the other characters are less interesting. ( )
  breic2 | Oct 20, 2008 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
David Ignatiusprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ferrone, RichardNarratormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Berg, Corrie van densecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bix, Cynthia Overbecksecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miller, Johnsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morgan, Tomsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Petrillo, Mary Annesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Reporters should not ordinarily engage in outside activities and jobs. That is especially true of connections with government, which compromise the newspaper's fundamental mission of independence and objectivity. Any deliberate violation of this policy will be regarded as a firing offense.
For my parents, Paul and Nancy Ignatius
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MAY 1996
Arthur Bowman's funeral was a Washington event, as finely choreographed as Bowman could have wished.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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