A pioneer of contemporary media criticism, Ken Auletta G’65, H’98 has reached a wider audience with thoughtful, informative reportage and analysis than perhaps any other critic working in the field.
The author of 11 books, five of them best-sellers, he has covered every seismic shift in the communications world, from the end of broadcasting primacy (Three Blind: How The TV Networks Lost Their Way, 1991) to the availability of information on demand (Googled: The End of the World as We Know It, 2009). A regular contributor to The New Yorker for almost two decades, Auletta has written penetrating profiles of such game changers as Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Gerald Levin ’51, Sumner Redstone, and Ted Turner. The Columbia Journalism Review confirmed what many scholars and many more general readers already took for granted when it ranked Auletta as the top media critic in the country.
Born and raised in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, Auletta attended Abraham Lincoln High School and SUNY Oswego, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history. A growing interest in politics led him to pursue studies in Syracuse at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, where he earned a master’s degree. While at the University, he wrote a weekly column for The Daily Orange; edited The Sword of Damocles, a literary satire magazine; and worked in a program training Peace Corps volunteers.
Auletta left graduate school in 1965 to work in the primary campaign of Howard Samuels, a Democratic Party gubernatorial hopeful. The candidate lost, but Auletta found himself wanting more of politics and public service. During the next several years, he was appointed special assistant to the undersecretary of commerce in the Lyndon B. Johnson Administration, worked in the presidential campaign of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, served as campaign manager of Samuels’s second unsuccessful bid for governor, and became inaugural director of the New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation.
In the mid-1970s, Auletta shifted career paths, redirecting his energies to journalism. An insider’s knowledge of politics and government, coupled with a blossoming talent for the kind of writing that allows editors to spend more time with their families, put Auletta on the short list for some of the most desired jobs in New York City journalism. After stints as chief political correspondent of the New York Post, reporter-commentator for The Village Voice, and contributing editor at New York magazine, Auletta settled in at the New York Daily News, where his weekly column ran from 1977 to 1993. He became a familiar face on television, serving as a political commentator for the city’s NBC and CBS stations, and appearing on such nationally aired programs as ABC’s Nightline with Ted Koppel ’60, H’83 and on PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.
Auletta has taken on a variety of subjects, writing with passion about poverty (The Underclass, 1999), with prescience about greed (Greed and Glory on Wall Street: The Fall of the House of Lehman, 2001), and with clarity about anything that merits his interest. But an ability to cogently describe the spiraling interactions of technology, commerce, and consciousness that continuously remake the communications environment—and American society—gives special value to Auletta’s work when he covers an event like the Microsoft antitrust trial (World War 3.0: Microsoft and its Enemies, 2001) or explores the personalities of media titans (The Highwaymen, 1997).
Auletta has served as a juror for the Pulitzer and Livingston journalism prizes. Among his many interests and civic engagements, he is a trustee of PEN, an international literary and human rights organization; a member of the New York Public Library’s Emergency Committee for the Research Libraries; and a member of the Committee to Protect Journalists. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and daughter.