50 good political writers over 50

I turned 50 years old this month. Ten years ago, I marked my milestone birthday by flagging “40 good bloggers over 40.” This time, I am casting a wider net to highlight not only people with their own blogs (which are, unfortunately, in a state of decline), but any political reporters, commentators, or authors who are in their second half-century.

Many writers I enjoy reading were too young to be listed here, such as Douglas Burns, Andie Dominick, Todd Dorman, Juliette Kayyem, Andy Kopsa, and a star of political blogging’s “golden age,” Atrios/Duncan Black. An early draft of this post included William Petroski, who recently retired from the Des Moines Register. His coverage of Iowa legislative happenings is missed.

One of my all-time favorite bloggers, Steve Gilliard, would be in his 50s now. I’ve often wished he had lived to cover Barack Obama’s presidency and the Donald Trump disaster.

On to the list, in alphabetical order:

1. Stephen Ansolabehere has long researched elections, public opinion, and party politics. His book Going Negative: How Political Advertising Alienates and Polarizes the American Electorate shaped my views about campaigns during the 1990s, and he’s done important work lately on gerrymandering.

2. Rekha Basu has been a columnist for the Des Moines Register since 1991. The most influential person of color in Iowa’s overwhelmingly white media landscape, she has used her platform to bring to light many under-covered stories, particularly issues affecting women or people of color.

3. Meteor Blades is a senior political writer for Daily Kos. He compiles the “open thread for night owls” and frequently blogs about environmental issues.

4. Art Cullen became nationally known upon winning the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 2017. His columns for the Storm Lake Times (the family-owned newspaper he edits) have been must-read material for many years.

5. David Dayen used to blog at the Daily Kos community blog as “dday.” Later, he was a regular on the FireDogLake website. During the past ten years, he’s done some of the most important reporting on foreclosure fraud.

6. John Deeth operates the longest-running Iowa political blog. He doesn’t post as often as he did in the early years, but he remains required reading when it comes to the Iowa caucuses and any aspect of our state’s election laws.

7. Kevin Drum started writing at “Calpundit,” but I wasn’t a regular reader until he was running the Washington Monthly’s Political Animal blog. For the last decade or so, he’s been blogging for Mother Jones. In some circles, Drum’s claim to fame is starting the “Friday Cat Blogging” tradition.

8. Randy Evans retired from the Des Moines Register in 2014 after 40 years with the newspaper. He now advocates for press freedom and compliance with laws on open records and open meetings as executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. His “Stray Thoughts” columns can be found at IowaWatch.org and in several newspapers or online publications (and occasionally at Bleeding Heartland).

9. Glen Ford is executive editor of the Black Agenda Report, which offers “news, commentary, and analysis from the black left.” One of his recent posts examined The Black Stake in the Green New Deal.

10. Trip Gabriel covers campaigns for the New York Times. He spent months in Iowa before the 2016 caucuses. One of his most memorable articles from that period (about the Trump ground game) revealed the key weakness that caused the front-runner to underperform on caucus night. In January of this year, Gabriel’s interview with Representative Steve King became the last straw that cost King his U.S. House committee assignments.

11. Michael Gartner won a Pulitzer for editorial writing while at the Ames Daily Tribune during the 1990s. (Disclosure: my late father was Gartner’s close friend and business partner.) His “Civic Skinny” column at the Des Moines-based weekly Cityview is a good source for political gossip and sometimes breaking news or brief history lessons, like this essay about Neal Smith’s feminism. He recently reflected on the life and work of former U.S. Senator John Culver and Jim Flansburg, the Des Moines Register’s longtime political reporter.

12. Susan Glasser reported from Moscow during some of the years when Russian politics was my focus. She spent much of her career at the Washington Post and Politico and now writes The New Yorker’s weekly “Letter from Trump’s Washington.”

13. Rick Hasen‘s Election Law Blog is essential reading for anyone interested in campaign finance, redistricting, voting rights, or other aspects of election law.

14. Chris Hedges contributed to Pulitzer Prize-winning work for the New York Times. He writes a column at Truthdig from a socialist perspective; here are some of his provocative pieces from last year.

15. Bob Herbert doesn’t write regularly anymore; he’s a distinguished senior fellow at the Demos think tank. I included him because I was a fan of his work for the New York Times and wish he were publishing every week somewhere now. As Atrios once wrote, “Herbert should be in line for every humanitarian award there is for his critical role in bringing attention to the Tulia, TX injustices.” (Click here for background on those wrongful convictions.)

16. Seymour Hersh has been a legendary reporter since he covered the My Lai massacre in Vietnam 50 years ago. He’s now working on a book about Dick Cheney.

17. Hilzoy is the philosophy professor Hilary Bok, but I didn’t know that when she used to blog at Obsidian Wings and the Washington Monthly. Although she retired from blogging about ten years ago, I kept her on this list because hilzoy was an influential voice for me as Bleeding Heartland began to occupy more of my time.

18. Sari Horwitz has shared four Pulitzer Prizes and many other awards as a reporter for the Washington Post. While much of her work relates to crime or legal issues, she also has covered political topics, such as Russian interference in the 2016 election and difficulties obtaining voter ID.

19. Ed Kilgore writes for New York magazine now. When I started reading him, he ran the now-defunct site New Donkey. He later handled Political Animal for the Washington Monthly and published at Talking Points Memo.

20. Howie Klein‘s writing at Down With Tyranny! is probably the biggest reason I stopped donating to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee a decade or so ago. So it’s fitting that one of his latest posts assailed “the DCCC incumbent protection racket.”

21. Paul Krugman has been a New York Times columnist since 2000. A recent piece may be of particular interest to Bleeding Heartland readers: Krugman argued that “nobody knows how to reverse” the economic decline of rural America.

22. Rox Laird worked at the Des Moines Tribune and later the Register for more than four decades, writing many of the paper’s unsigned editorials. He returned to the Register’s editorial board last year. Laird provides the most comprehensive coverage of Iowa Supreme Court cases at the On Brief blog, hosted by the Nyemaster law firm.

23. Tony Leys primarily handles the health care beat for the Des Moines Register but also contributes extensively to the paper’s Iowa caucus coverage. I greatly appreciated that his reporting on Hillary Clinton before the 2016 caucuses was devoid of misogynistic code words and sexist tropes so prevalent in other media coverage.

24. Eric Lipton won a Pulitzer Prize in 2015 for his investigative reporting on corporate lobbying of state attorneys general. During Trump’s presidency he has written or co-authored scoop after scoop about the Environmental Protection Agency.

25. Armando Llorens blogs at Daily Kos and used to be a regular contributor at Talk Left under the handle Big Tent Democrat. He’s a good follow on Twitter, if you don’t mind occasional hate tweets about Iowa and especially the Iowa caucuses.

26. Josh Marshall‘s website Talking Points Memo was one of the first blogs I read daily, long before I ever thought about blogging myself. Marshall won a Polk award for his original reporting on a big story of the George W. Bush administration: the politically-motivated firing of U.S. attorneys.

27. Jane Mayer has won more than a dozen awards for her books and reporting for The New Yorker. Her co-authored articles with Ronan Farrow about Brett Kavanaugh’s accusers were among the most important political stories of 2018. Mayer commented later, “I was really advantaged by having covered the Thomas-Hill confirmation battle [in 1991] because basically I’d seen this movie before.”

28. Jeralyn Merritt has been publishing Talk Left since 2000, but the site (which focuses on the politics of crime) only got on my radar sometime during the mid-2000s.

29. Gretchen Morgenson is an investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal. Her coverage of Wall Street won a Pulitzer for beat reporting in 2002. During the “Great Recession,” my brother who manages money commented that they should give Morgenson a Pulitzer every year, because she was one of the few journalists to identify widespread problems that contributed to the financial crisis (such as analysts not lowering ratings when warranted).

30. Susie Madrak writes for the popular Crooks and Liars site. She regularly posts about music and art as well as politics on her own blog, Suburban Guerilla.

31. Malcolm Nance is an expert on terrorism and counter-intelligence and has written extensively about Russian efforts to undermine democratic elections in the U.S.

32. noweasels was one of my favorite Daily Kos users when I became active on that site. She used to contribute to the “IGTNT” [I got the news today] posts, profiling U.S. military personnel who were killed in war zones. A rotating group of authors carries that torch now.

33. Kathie Obradovich became the Des Moines Register’s political editor in 2003 and succeeded David Yepsen as political columnist in 2009. Last year she became the newspaper’s opinion page editor, but she still writes a regular column.

34. Clarence Page won a Pulitzer for commentary 30 years ago and is still going strong at the Chicago Tribune. Many other newspapers publish his syndicated columns as well.

35. Heather “Digby” Parton is so consistently good that “What Digby said” became a cliche on the blogosphere during the mid-2000s. She still posts under her handle at her own site but writes under her real name at other publications. Digby’s career inspired me during Bleeding Heartland’s early years and influenced my recent decision to drop my own pseudonym.

36. Charles Pierce writes the politics blog for Esquire. Instant classic lines like this seem to flow effortlessly: “Mark Penn is the Typhoid Mary of bad political strategy. He is the Patient Zero of terrible political ideas. This guy couldn’t get Jesus elected to a parish council.”

37. Leonard Pitts, Jr. has won many awards for his reporting and commentary, including a Pulitzer in 2004. He writes about a wide range of topics, but many of his powerful columns address racism. One piece last month had an incredible lede: “The most dangerous place for black people to live is in white people’s imagination.”

38. Eugene Robinson is another past winner of a Pulitzer for commentary. One of his columns in January asked an excellent question: “Why are Republicans suddenly outraged over Steve King’s racism?”

39. Jay Rosen‘s writing about the media has greatly affected my approach to covering Iowa politics, especially his critique of “The View from Nowhere.” Every journalism student and political reporter should read the archives of his PressThink blog. He’s now involved with an innovative, member-based project called The Correspondent. The site will start publishing later this year and is envisioned as an “online platform for unbreaking news.”

40. A. Siegel is an old-school environmental blogger who has kept the lights on at the Get Energy Smart! NOW! site since 2006.

41. Yves Smith (the online handle for Susan Webber) started blogging after decades of experience in investment banking and management consulting. She has described the Naked Capitalism blog as “an effort to promote critical thinking through the medium of a finance and economics blog.” I frankly can’t keep up with the massive volume of high-quality material published by the site’s stable of writers. One thing I admire about Naked Capitalism is the editorial decision to go deep on some under-covered stories, like the impact of austerity policies on Greece.

42. Bob Somerby writes The Daily Howler, a website devoted to media criticism. I began reading regularly sometime during the 2000 campaign, when Somerby was consumed with the journalistic community’s “war on Gore.” Lately he has been a persistent critic of MSNBC and The Rachel Maddow Show in particular for its coverage of the Trump/Russia investigation.

43. Pam Spaulding hasn’t been blogging regularly since Pam’s House Blend closed in 2013. Nevertheless, I wanted to acknowledge her work here because during the 2000s, that site did so much to bring greater attention to LGBTQ issues within the progressive blogosphere.

44. Herb Strentz taught journalism at Drake University for many years and has won multiple awards for his work to promote press freedom and open government. Now he writes the “Rants and Reason” column for the Des Moines-based weekly Cityview.

45. Lambert Strether is part of the Naked Capitalism team. In addition to writing his own posts, he compiles useful collections of links almost every day.

46. Karen Tumulty became a columnist for the Washington Post last year after eight years as a political reporter for the newspaper. She previously covered Congress and the White House for TIME and wrote a great piece last fall on how long it took for Nancy Pelosi to finally make the cover of that news magazine.

47. Lynda Waddington reported for the Iowa Independent website and maintained her own site, Essential Estrogen, during my early years of blogging. She “went legit” and is now a columnist and member of the editorial board at the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

48. David Waldman began writing at Daily Kos under the pseudonym KagroX, which is still his Twitter handle. His multi-part deep dive on the filibuster inspired my series of posts about the Iowa caucuses in 2007 and 2008, which I updated during the last presidential cycle. Waldman produces the Kagro in the Morning podcast and often tweets about gun tragedies, using the #gunFAIL hashtag.

49. Joan Walsh was news editor of Salon.com when I started reading that website during the early 2000s. She’s now national affairs correspondent for The Nation and a frequent guest on CNN programs. I was trying not to act like a star-struck teenager when I met Walsh last year at the annual dinner for the University of Northern Iowa’s faculty union.

50. Marcy Wheeler has produced a phenomenal body of work as emptywheel. A full-time blogger since 2007, she has a strong and distinct writer’s voice as well as expertise about her chosen subjects, such as national security and the Trump/Russia investigation. Sam Thielman wrote a fascinating profile of Wheeler for the Columbia Journalism Review last summer.

Before opening the floor for comments, a shout out to some Bleeding Heartland guest authors of a certain age:

  • Randy Bauer
  • Matt Chapman
  • Paul Deaton
  • Allison Engel
  • Ed Fallon
  • Kurt Friese (may his memory be for a blessing)
  • Dan Guild
  • Gary Kroeger
  • Ira Lacher
  • Bruce Lear
  • Richard Lindgren
  • John Morrissey
  • Jon Muller
  • Carl Olsen
  • Randy Richardson
  • Julie Stauch
  • Dave Swenson
  • Tom Witosky
  • Any comments about your favorite political writers are welcome in this thread, unless you want to tout Andrew Sullivan or Maureen Dowd. Sullivan was probably the most over-praised blogger of our generation. Strike one: using his platform to elevate “The Bell Curve” by Charles Murray. Strike two: using his platform to speculate, just days after the 9/11 attacks, that “The decadent Left in its enclaves on the coasts” may “mount what amounts to a fifth column.” Strike three: using his platform to write one misogynistic screed after another about Hillary Clinton (to loud cheering in some corners of the progressive blogosphere).

    As for Dowd, she may be the worst columnist ever to win a Pulitzer. Compounding the injustice, the incomparable Donald Kaul was a finalist the year she won that prize.

    UPDATE: I have just learned that Ed Tibbetts and Bret Hayworth are both over 50. Had I realized, both would have been included in this post, because I’ve been a regular reader of their work for a long time. Tibbetts became opinion page editor of the Quad-City Times last year, having previously covered local, state, and presidential politics for that newspaper.

    Hayworth covers not only Iowa politics but also some happenings in Nebraska and South Dakota as the Sioux City Journal’s political reporter.

    SECOND UPDATE: A reader commented via Twitter, “I believe several of the people on your list would tell you multi-time Pulitzer finalist Richard Doak taught them how it’s done.” Point taken! Doak retired from the Des Moines Register in 2007 but rejoined the paper’s editorial board on a volunteer basis last year.

    • Happy Birthday, Laurie!

      Great idea and fun piece.

    • Kudos to you

      Laura, I want to thank you for this amazing compendium . It will take me weeks to check the links, but I suspect all will be worthwhile. Your diligence and willingness to face the storm head-on that is living in Iowa these days is inspiring.

    • Happy Birthday and thank you!

      What an interesting list. I appreciate all the names and information, partly as a welcome reminder that some very good bloggers are working for the public interest, yourself included.

      I know Todd Dorman is a youngster, but I want to briefly express gratitude for his work, especially his pieces on Iowa agricultural and environmental issues. He makes points with deft humor, and as someone who is much more inclined to snarl, rage, and stomp, I enjoy his style.

      • I'm a huge Todd Dorman fan

        I have often wondered how hard he has to work on his columns. Like Charles Pierce, he has a gift for making it seem effortless.

    • Steve Gilliard

      I liked him, too. But I mostly remember his claim from about 2004. Steve said it was better that that Democrats relied on Wall Street money than on the sources that fund the GOP. He died just before the Wall Street crash wherein we saw that Wall Street had corrupted the Democrats just as much as the Chamber of Commerce types had corrupted the GOP. I wonder what Steve would have said had he seen it play out.

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