Robert Pear, a reporter for the New York Times, died earlier this week due to a stroke. Pear reported on health care issues for the paper.
I’m not a fan of the Times, but was a big fan of Pear. I don’t see how you couldn’t be a fan if you took a serious interest in the health care debate. The obits from the Times and the Washington Post provide a good sense of the relentlessness of his reporting and his ability (as the Post says) to “enlight[en] readers and rankl[e] partisans with the clarity of his reportage and his savantlike understanding of the federal government and its arcana.”
In the 1990s, for example, Pear’s reporting was at the center of the debate over the Clintons’ attempt to overhaul our health care system. As the Times puts it, “much to the White House’s consternation, Mr. Pear regularly pierced the cone of silence that the Clinton administration had erected around its negotiations for a national health care consensus.” Some in the White House accused him of undermining their process.
Allan Dodds Frank, an award-winning business journalist, described Pear as “the most important reporter in Washington you have never heard of.” I think he may have been the most important reporter in Washington, period.
If Pear was a reporter people never heard of, it was because he refused to appear on television. Rather than become a talking head, he spoke through his reporting.
Pear would have spoken well on television. I can attest to this because I debated him in high school. As a junior, my partner and I took on Pear and his partner. I have no recollection of his partner, but Pear made an indelible impression.
He was debating for Walter Johnson High, the perennial local champions. We represented upstart Wheaton High. Pear defeated us. It wasn’t close.
The next year, Pear was gone. I always assumed he had graduated. However, his obituaries show that he graduated from Harvard the same year I graduated from college. Thus, he might still have been in high school when I was a senior. Perhaps he had simply outgrown high school debate.
Good thing for me if he did. My partner and I easily defeated a team from Walter Johnson my senior year. As improved as we were, I doubt we would have gotten the better of Pear. He was the best debater I ever encountered in Maryland and as good, I think, as any I faced nationally while in high school.
I wasn’t surprised that he went on to become a legendary reporter. His reporting will be sorely missed.