In case you don’t remember, or never knew who they were in the first place, this highly-respected Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative team wrote a series (turned into a book) almost 20 years ago, called “America: What Went Wrong?” Now they write:
Over the last year we’ve received some remarkable e-mails and letters about something we wrote nearly 20 years ago.
“Your story,” wrote a man from Springfield, IL, “is still going on, but unfortunately few people are aware of the causes, only the dire consequences.”
Our story was a newspaper series and then a bestselling book, America: What Went Wrong? that caused a sensation in the early 1990s by explaining to millions of middle-class Americans why they were losing ground, and why it wasn’t their fault. A:WWW pinned the blame squarely on an alliance between Washington and Wall Street that was implementing policies that were destroying good-paying jobs and eroding hard-earned benefits.
America: What Went Wrong? was controversial. We took plenty of heat from some economists and others who claimed that the agony millions were experiencing had nothing to do with policy, but was just one of those rough patches America had to go through as our economy reinvented itself.
But to thousands of Americans who wrote to us, America: What Went Wrong? explained what had happened to them — and why things might get even worse. And in the last year we’ve been hearing again from many distressed Americans, with comments like these:
“(You) outlined the problems and predicted this . . . No one listened and now we are paying.”
”If everyone had read your book, today’s economy would not be a shock.”
“It is ironic how we face many of the same issues nearly two decades later.”
“Maybe it is time to write a sequel to your great book.”
Some of those who wrote had read America: What Went Wrong? when it was first published; others have recently discovered it. But the message was the same: tell the nation what has created the crisis that is hurting so many people today.
Your messages arrived as we were thinking of doing just that.
We’ve been frustrated by the superficial nature of news accounts describing the current economic meltdown. Most stories focus on immediate causes such as the housing bubble. While that has certainly been a major factor, it overlooks the underlying cause: a series of public and private policies over the last 40 years that are dismantling the American middle class. The current recession is just the latest stage in this progression.
I not only read and admired that original series, I even got to interview Don Barlett, who’s actually one of the nicest people in journalism. The series was such a national phenomena, I used to throw it in editors’ faces every time they said “readers aren’t interested in long-form, comprehensive coverage.” All I know is, until it came out in book form years later, the Inquirer had a full-time employee who did nothing but answer reprint requests. (This was before everyone had the intertubes.)
American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop is sponsoring this year-long series, which is being co-published with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Barlett and Steele’s former employer.
Here’s the first part in Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele’s “What Went Wrong: The Betrayal of the Middle Class,” called “America’s 2-class Tax System.” Read it, send it to everyone you know:
Eric Cantor, who has represented a section of Richmond, Va., in Congress since 2001 and now is the House majority leader, appears to want to craft a permanent U.S. tax system that caters exclusively to those at the top. So does Michele Bachmann, the Republican representative from Minnesota, a onetime tax lawyer who hopes to make a run for the White House. Likewise, Tim Pawlenty, the former two-term Republican governor of Minnesota, who also sees himself sitting in the Oval Office. Needless to say, none state their proposals like that. But that’s the way their numbers and provisions add up.
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