David Leonhardt of the NYT

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There's only one downside to the news that David Leonhardt (right, NYT pic) will become the new Washington bureau chief for the New York Times: presumably it means that he will do less writing on his own.

It is still too rare to find in mainstream journalism people who are (a) comfortable enough with the language, conventions, and math of formal economics to be able to write confidently about the substance of economic issues, rather than just reporting the politics of the issues in a "critics claim..." / "will Obama be vulnerable?" way; but also (b) detached enough from those conventions and shibboleths to be able to report clearly and confidently about what economic specialists get right and wrong.

In recent years Leonhardt's columns and blog posts have demonstrated exactly those two strengths. Regular readers know that -- and so, apparently, did the (sometimes wacky or log-rolling) judges of the Pulitzer committee, who awarded him this year's prize for commentary.  Just a few samples: a column last year on the relationship between the health-care reform bill and the polarization of the American economy; a blog post on tax policy; and a magazine piece about the Chinese economy that was far more discerning and non-gape-jawed than the predictable "I've just gotten here, and these Chinese can do anything!!" visitor's report. Plus two more about China.

Congratulations to Leonhardt (whom I know slightly); congratulations to the Times and its incoming editor, Jill Abramson, for deciding that this was the right outlook to reward in Washington coverage; hey, congrats all around. Let's hope that in exchange for the columns he won't be writing he'll be extending this sensibility to bureau coverage as a whole. 

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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