Timothy Crouse wrote about busloads of reporters in his journalism classic about the 1972 presidential race, The Boys on the Bus, but none compared to Willliam Greider ’58.
Greider — “a tall man with a long, sad, big-eared Lincolnesque face and the rumpled appearance of a man in a Matthew Brady photograph” —– was the most extraordinary reporter on George McGovern’s campaign bus, Crouse wrote, suggesting that Greider’s reporting evoked the Civil War era, too. “Have you ever read any of the reporting from the Civil War?” Greider asked his fellow journalists one day, according to Crouse. “Very partisan, most of it, as you might expect in that situation, but they had none of the mechanical crutches that we’re given. The editors would just put some guy on a train and say go on down and find out where the army is and tell us about it. And these guys were essentially writing letters back.”
Greider’s stories could read like those letters. I first met him while in high school, in the pages of Crouse’s book. I encountered him for the second time as a Princeton graduate student, when his Atlantic article “The Education of David Stockman” was assigned reading. In the article, Stockman, Ronald Reagan’s budget director, expressed skepticism about the supply-side economics undergirding Reagan’s budget plan. Stockman, and Greider, became front-page news.
When I met Greider for the third time, it was in a tiny office sublet from a consulting firm, where he hired me as his research assistant for Secrets of the Temple, his 1987 book about the Federal Reserve System. Working with Bill was an extraordinary window into what journalism could be. When he interviewed powerful people, he never let them off the hook. He cared not about personalities or political games, but about how the actions of government and corporations affected ordinary Americans. Like a Civil War editor, he instructed me to find the stories of farmers who lost their livelihoods as land values fell and interest rates rose during the Fed’s fight against inflation. “Just go to Iowa and talk to people!” he said, and I did.
As an undergraduate, Greider’s commitment to The Daily Princetonian interfered with his academics, but that didn’t matter since his real education began after graduation. He had been raised as a conservative, but he turned left “when I went out as a reporter and quickly began to experience the broader world,” he told PAW in 2009.
He covered some of the great events in modern U.S. history as he reported for local newspapers and The Washington Post,where he became a top editor. At Rolling Stone and The Nation, he wrote passionate articles that critiqued American capitalism, corporate globalization, and both political parties. His books included Who Will Tell the People? The Betrayal of American Democracy and Come Home, America: The Rise and Fall (and Redeeming Promise) of Our Country. He was also a correspondent for six PBS documentaries, winning an Emmy in 1985.
The Nation’s editorial director, Katrina vanden Heuvel ’81, describes Greider as a “small-d democrat to the core” who believed ordinary people could change the country. “Always a voice for the people, Greider understood something all too rare in this 24/7 media world: The process of reinvigorating democracy requires not only respect for the people, deep reporting, historical insight, but also patience,” she says.
Generous with his time and counsel, Greider had special faith in young people to set things right. “The thing about young people that I love is that they don’t know what’s impossible,” he told PAW. “They are open to the possibility that the future could be improved by their efforts.”
Marilyn Marks *86 is the editor of PAW.
AUG. 6, 1936 | DEC. 25, 2019