On Tuesday night in Washington, my friend Elizabeth Drew was inducted into Hall of Fame of the Society of Professional Journalists D.C. Chapter. I introduced her at the awards ceremony, and here’s what I said:
Elizabeth Drew is probably best known for her 19 years at the New Yorker and her 15 books about American politics. But as a writer for The Atlantic, I am a little bit biased toward the earlier period of her career.
I want to begin by reading the biographical note that ran with her byline in the September 1965 issue of The Atlantic:
A Cincinnati-born, Wellesley-educated magazine writer and author of children's plays, Mrs. Drew lives in Washington with her lawyer husband and writes as a freelancer. A former staff member of the Congressional Quarterly, she has had ample opportunity to study that Americanized Byzantine process by which the United States Congress deals with issues before it.
The article is titled “The Quiet Victory of the Cigarette Lobby: How It Found the Best Filter Yet—Congress.” In it, Elizabeth reported that while Congress was patting itself on the back and claiming to have acted on the Surgeon General's landmark report on the health effects of cigarettes, what it had actually done was protect the tobacco industry from tough regulation by preempting the Federal Trade Commission and the states with a window-dressing federal law. The industry was aided by the best lobbyists money could buy and a passel of complicit congressmen from tobacco-growing states. And, she wrote, "it was the industry's good fortune that President Johnson remained aloof from the battle."
The piece is classic Elizabeth Drew: Tough and unsparing, crystal-clear, a vivid dissection of an essential topic based on encyclopedic understanding of the political process. It was her very first article for The Atlantic. She wrote it in a weekend. And it captures so many of the qualities that have made Elizabeth Drew a profound inspiration to me.
Elizabeth wrote for The Atlantic for several years. She had her own interview show on PBS, which made a splash early on when Senator Edmund Muskie yelled at her for a question he didn't like. In 1973, she met with the New Yorker editor William Shawn and told him she had a strange hunch that within a year the president and vice-president would be replaced.