I’ve lost two much-admired friends this month. My former carrel-mate at The Washington Post, Bill Greider, died at 83 on Christmas Day. Bill became more of an intellectual and more of a radical as he got older and as American capitalism became more corrupted. I don’t think Bill’s core values changed; reality did.
Bill earned his strong views through deep reporting. I learned from him that if you ask respectful, well-informed questions, the most improbable sources will give you the family jewels.
He famously got Reagan’s OMB director David Stockman to admit that supply-side economics was a fraud, the result of Greider’s persuading him to give several extended interviews. Greider was assistant managing editor of the Post at the time.
His 18,000-word article “The Education of David Stockman,” published in December 1981 for The Atlantic, made Greider a celebrity and Stockman a goat. It also mightily annoyed his colleagues at the Post, who wondered why Greider hadn’t given his scoop to the paper. Greider left the Post shortly afterward to begin a new career as a magazine writer, first with Rolling Stone, then with The Nation.
Greider’s greatest achievement was the best book ever written on the Federal Reserve, Secrets of the Temple. His prime source was none other than Paul Volcker. Once again, Greider’s genius was persuading people with little to gain and much to lose that he was worth talking to, and then going deep and fair.
EARLIER THIS MONTH, on December 13, Elisabeth Sifton died at 80. Such book editors scarcely exist any more.
I had the privilege of having her as editor on my 1987 book on the Democrats, The Life of the Party. Elisabeth sent me a detailed memo on each chapter, and then she personally line-edited the entire manuscript, making countless subtle improvements.
I was so impressed and intimidated that I finally worked up the nerve to ask what I should do if I had a rare disagreement with any of her edits. “My dear,” she said, “you write stet.”
Rest in peace.