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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