William Greider, journalist who covered political and economic policy, dies at 83

William Greider, an editor and author known for a contrarian skepticism of prevailing political and economic policy in his writings at magazines, newspapers and books, died Dec. 25 at his home in Washington. He was 83.

 

The cause was congestive heart failure, said his son, Cameron Greider.

Mr. Greider was the author of eight books with such anti-establishment-sounding titles as “Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country,” “Who Will Tell the People?: The Betrayal of American Democracy” and “One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism.”

 

He worked at The Washington Post from 1968 to 1982, as a reporter, then editor of the Outlook section and lastly as assistant managing editor for national news. He wrote about civil rights, labor issues, life on Indian reservations and economics.

 

But he may have been best known to the public in that period as the author of a 1981 piece in the Atlantic Monthly, a tell-all confession by President Ronald Reagan’s budget director, David Stockman, of chaotic decision-making within the Office of Management and Budget and an admission by Stockman that “none of us really understands what is going on with all these numbers.”

 William Greider in 2008 interview with Bill Moyer

 

The story drew wide public attention. The Washington Post wrote of the impact: “David Stockman opened a subliminal closet, and the skeleton of supply-side skepticism rattled forth. It was the first instance of publicly expressed self-doubt among the Reaganites, and it shook the country.”

Stockman was quoted in the media as saying he had been “taken to the woodshed” by Reagan administration superiors.

 

Post editors had known for several months that Mr. Greider had been meeting privately with Stockman, but they were unaware of the Atlantic story until it was published. To Executive Editor Benjamin C. Bradlee, it came as an unpleasant surprise. He did not want to read stories by Post staffers in other publications.

 

Soon after, Mr. Greider left The Post for Rolling Stone magazine.

 

Peter Osnos, who was Mr. Greider’s deputy at the time, saw it as a personal “declaration of independence.”

 

Mr. Greider’s daughter, Katharine, wrote in an email: “I believe there was some peeve on the part of the Post editors about the splash the (Atlantic) piece made, and this was indeed somewhat off-putting for my dad. But the whole atmosphere of the newsroom . . . was intense and highly competitive — Dad used to talk about how it sometimes felt like children struggling over pails and shovels in a sand box. . . . He wearied of it. He wanted to write freely, and thrilled at the idea of joining a publication so central to youth culture at the time.”

 

Mr. Greider said in a 1988 interview with the Los Angeles Times, “I realized I should be writing and reporting, not managing and editing. I was 45 years old and it was a neat way to try something different.”

 

William Harold Greider was born in Cincinnati on Aug. 6, 1936. His father was a chemist, and his mother a schoolteacher. He graduated from Princeton University in 1958.

 

In 1960 he began his career in journalism at the Wheaton Daily Journal in Illinois, where he met another staffer, Linda Furry, whom he married in 1961. Their first kiss was in the newspaper parking lot.

 

In addition to his wife, of Washington, survivors include two children, Cameron and Katharine Greider, both of New York; a sister; and four grandchildren.

 

Mr. Greider worked in Louisville for the Times and the Courier-Journal before joining The Post.

 

As the editor of Outlook, he was handed a mandate to improve the section’s intellectual heft, more substantive ideas, less fluff. He wrote a weekly column, “Against the Grain.” He cultivated a relationship with Stockman, then a young Republican congressman from Michigan, who became one of his news sources.

 

Early in the Reagan administration, after Stockman became budget chief, they would meet regularly on Saturday mornings to talk about budget issues. Mr. Greider would then return to The Post, where he briefed his colleagues.

Mr. Greider was a columnist and national editor at Rolling Stone from 1982 to 1999, then was a writer for the Nation until he retired in the summer of 2018. He was also a correspondent for “Frontline” documentaries on PBS.

Among his books, one of the best regarded was “Secrets of the Temple” (1988). In the political economy, Mr. Greider wrote, the Fed effectively decides who the money winners and money losers will be, but no one really understands what it does.

 

“It is hard to remember a work on the subject that is at once so technically sophisticated and so accessible,” New York Times journalist Peter Passell wrote in a 1988 review.

 

In his personal life, Mr. Greider shunned power parties and was rarely seen at gatherings of the highly ranked and well-connected. He had a place in Vermont where he liked to walk in the woods with his dog. He was a birdwatcher.

 

Mr. Greider “was not supple enough as a corporate politician to rise further at The Post,” his former deputy editor Osnos wrote in a 2006 reflection for the Century Foundation. “But what made him so effective was his ability to make his staff think about what they were doing. Bill was a pipe smoker with a grooved face like Abraham Lincoln’s. . . . Bill reasoned and managed by doing so to get the best out of everyone around him.”

 

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