When William Greider passed away last week, America lost one of the great journalists of the last century and a uniquely informed small-d democratic voice, and I lost a friend and a mentor.
For many years, while he was a national affairs correspondent for The Nation, we would share ideas and outrages in his book-strewn, smoke-drenched office next to mine at the organization I ran, the Campaign for America’s Future.
Educated at Princeton, Greider was grounded in the Midwestern values that he imbibed growing up in the suburbs of Cincinnati. His inquisitiveness and bent for hard work made him a natural journalist, and he honed his craft at the Louisville Courier-Journal and the St. Louis Times, where his on-the-ground reporting transformed his political perspective. In 1968 he moved to The Washington Post in its glory days, rising rapidly to be national political correspondent, columnist, and assistant editor for national news.
Although at the height of his profession, Greider had neither the temperament nor the patience for the corporate politics of mainstream journalism, so in 1982, at the age of 45, he moved to be columnist and national affairs editor at Rolling Stone, and in 1999 national affairs correspondent for The Nation.
At a late and liquid party at the home of The Washington Post’s famous executive editor Ben Bradlee, Greider expressed his impatience with the journalistic conventions that prized “balance” over reality, urging his former colleagues in a toast, “Fuck the facts, tell the truth.”
Rolling Stone and The Nation gave Bill the space to delve deeply into how entrenched interests rule America. He shared what he found in a series of seminal books, mostly notably Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country (1987), which exposed the biases and fallacies of the Federal Reserve; One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism (1997), which reported on and predicted the effects of the new corporate defined global economy; and Fortress America: The American Military and the Consequences of Peace (1998), which detailed the political economy of the military-industrial complex and endless wars. In Who Shall Tell the People, the Betrayal of American Democracy (1992), Greider, exposing how the wealthy rig the rules, showed that the challenge wasn’t telling truth to power, because those in power often knew the truth. The question was “who would tell the people.”
Greider devoted his professional life to that mission, earning plaudits and awards for his often pathbreaking journalism. From his 1982 Atlantic interview with Reagan budget director David Stockman that exposed the big lie of Reagan’s supply side economics and caused a national uproar to his incisive reporting on the 2008 global financial collapse and the skewed bailout that rescued the bankers that caused the crisis and not the people who were its victims, Greider’s award-winning journalism bared the cant and the lies of both parties.
Greider’s seminal reporting was often scorned by the establishment it undressed. Like any cutting-edge reporter, Bill sometimes made mistakes, but time and time again, he got it right. In One World Ready or Not, for example, in-depth reporting led Greider to warn that corporate-led globalization could undermine workers here at home while recreating the horrors of the early industrial age abroad. Paul Krugman, acerbic leader of what he now calls the “consensus economists,” repeatedly and endlessly ridiculed Greider’s “thoroughly silly” book and those of other critics of globalization, asserting that Greider misled his readers because he failed to listen to mainstream economists. Then, in 2016, after the Sanders insurgency demonstrated the depth of public despair, Krugman fessed up, admitting that “much of the elite defense of globalization is basically dishonest.”
Greider’s courage was grounded in his faith in America, in a continuous inquisitiveness, and an unquenchable optimism. He was sustained by his wife, Linda, and his children, Cameron and Katharine, whom he adored. He was, as his son Cameron noted, “disaffected from the day-to-day mechanics of politics…but he was never disaffected from the notion that America could live up to its promise.”
As a friend and a mentor, Greider was generous with his praise, eager to share ideas, and ever probing to gain different perspectives. He showed what American journalism could be, exposing the hypocrisies and lies of our age, standing with the people against the power and interests of the few. He will surely be missed.