NEW YORK -- Janet Cooke, whose 'Jimmy's World' story about an 8-year-old junkie won her the Pulitzer prize but which later proved false says she did it because she was terribly afraid of failure.
In a taped interview with Phil Donahue to be broadcast on NBC News' 'Today' program Feb. 1-2, the former reporter for the Washington Post said: 'I spent two months looking for (Jimmy) and if I did not produce a story, then how was I to justify my time?'
Ms. Cooke said ambition was not the motive for her continuing with her project even though she had some misgivings about it.
'I simply wanted to write a story that I had been working on so that I would not have to go back and say I cannot do it,' she said. 'I did not want to fail.'
The Pulitzer Prize awarded her in April 1981 was withdrawn and she submitted her resignation at the Post's request.
Ms. Cooke's article evoked a whirlwind of national criticism, especially in the press. But she said that the resulting publicity had been too harsh.
'They got into all kinds of things,' she said, 'where I shopped, what kind of car I drove, who I dated.
'My contention simply is that they went too far and that they then unleashed an entire torrent of this kind of writing about it.'
Ms. Cooke was contrite about the scandal that drove her from journalism and that she had terrible conscience problems about the story.
'I think one thing that I really should say right up front is I don't excuse what happened,' she said. 'I think it was wrong; I should not have done it. And at the time I wrote the story I just felt terrible about it.
'When the paper came out on Sunday I didn't read it. I didn't want to see it. I didn't want to think anymore about what I'd done.'
Ms. Cooke said that it was unlikely that she would be hired again in journalism but that at age 27 her life was not finished.
'I have made a mistake ... I have paid for it ... I would like to be left in peace now,' she said.