Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele are one of the most widely acclaimed investigative reporting teams in American journalism.
They have worked together for three decades, first at The Philadelphia Inquirer, (1971-1997), and, since February 1997, as editors at-large for Time Inc. Their specialty is researching, analyzing and writing about the complex issues and institutions that profoundly affect American life.
Their work has earned them dozens of national awards. They are the only reporting team in history to have received two Pulitzer Prizes for newspaper reporting and a National Magazine Award for magazine work.
The Washington Journalism Review has said of Barlett and Steele that "they are almost certainly the best team in the history of investigative reporting." James H. Dygert, in his book, "The Investigative Journalist: Folk Heroes of a New Era," described them as "perhaps the most systematic and thorough investigative reporting team in the United States." And the Chicago Tribune said that "in a world of singles hitters, they often hit homers."
Barlett and Steele are the authors of six books, including "America: What Went Wrong?", an expanded version of their Philadelphia Inquirer series that was published in 1992. It was adapted for two television specials produced by Bill Moyers. Within weeks of its publication, "America: What Went Wrong?" appeared on the best-seller list of The New York Times, where it remained for eight months. Today, the book is in its 18th printing.
The New York Times Sunday Book Review said of the book that "this triumph was pulled off by two of the best investigative journalists in the business" and that they "have incisively and vividly defined the problem facing the nation."
The Chicago Sun-Times called it "a monumental achievement...a book that is likely to make a difference." Observing that "once or twice in a generation, the American people are jolted by a book that helps to bring about major change," The Chicago Sun-Times likened "America" What Went Wrong?" to Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" and Michael Harrington's "The Other America," as well as the works of John Steinbeck, Lincoln Steffens and Upton Sinclair "that influenced social and political change."
Over the years, Barlett and Steele have tackled a succession of wide-ranging subjects, including the Internal Revenue Service, American foreign aid, the criminal court system, federal housing programs, the energy crisis, nuclear waste, private tax breaks enacted secretly by members of Congress for favored constituents and friends, the winners and losers under the existing campaign finance system and corporate welfare.
The latter, a four-part series in Time in 1998 that documented multi-billion-dollar-a-year government handouts to some of America's largest corporations, was the first multi-part series in the 75-year history of the magazine.
What Barlett and Steele do was best described by Leonard Downie Jr., in his book, "The New Muckrakers: An Inside Look at America's Investigative Reporters." Downie wrote that the journalism of Barlett and Steele "represents a significant step beyond traditional muckraking...instead of just reporting still unproven accusations and focusing on individual corruption, (they reveal) with expert analysis and thorough documentation what has systematically gone wrong with the powerful, complex institutions that affect so much of life today."
Their work has taken them to more than 30 states and a dozen foreign countries. Their investigations have led to indictments and convictions in federal courts, to changes in national policy, and to the opening of once-secret government records.
They have pioneered in the use of reporting methods that are now standard in the profession. In 1972, they used a computer to analyze more than 1,000 cases of violent crime in Philadelphia. "Crime and Injustice" was the largest computer-assisted project of its time and was widely replicated by other journalists for years afterward. The Newseum, the Arlington, Va., museum that traces journalism's history, has an exhibit focusing on their 1972 ground-breaking experiment.
The University of Missouri in 1983 presented Barlett and Steele with its Honor Award for Distinguished Service in Journalism, citing them for "their standard-setting development of investigative techniques and documentation, including their pioneer use of computers...their ability to unearth the complete story, far beyond what most journalists typically would call complete, and their fairness and accuracy, and unusual ability to unravel complex issues in ways readers can understand."
The National Council of Teachers of English honored Barlett and Steele in 1988 for having decoded, deciphered and turned into everyday English the deliberately obfuscatory language of Congress' tax-writing committees--language that concealed who was getting specialized tax breaks. The prize: The George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contributions to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language. In 1992, they received a second George Orwell Award, this time for their book, "America: What Went Wrong?"
And in 1999, New York University's school of journalism named their "America: What Went Wrong?" as one of the 100 top works of American journalism in the Twentieth Century.
In addition to "America: What Went Wrong?", Barlett and Steele are the authors of five other books. Their first work, a biography of Howard Hughes ("EMPIRE: The Life, Legend and Madness of Howard Hughes") was published in 1979. It was an alternate selection of the Literary Guild and subsequently was published in Canada and Great Britain.
EMPIRE received widespread critical acclaim. The New York Times Sunday Book Review called it "the first fully documented cradle-to-grave account of a unique American life...the book Clifford Irving must wish he had written." Dr. Frank Freidel, Charles Warren Professor of History at Harvard University, said, "It is both first rate investigative reporting and excellent writing." The West Coast Review of Books reported that "one comes away with admiration for the man and a sense of wonder at the authors for having achieved such exemplary scholarship. The literati may dismiss the book because of its subject, but the authors have set a standard on how a historic profile should be done."
Their second book, "FOREVERMORE: Nuclear Waste in America," was published in 1985. It was selected by the Library Journal as one of the 100 best science books published that year. The Chicago Tribune wrote, "In an odyssey that took them 20,000 miles and sent them wading through 125,000 pages of documents, the reporters uncovered chaos--case after case of bureaucratic bungling--and a dismal litany of duplicity, false hopes, false promises. And they sound an ominous warning." The Columbia (S. C.) State said the book "is factual, gripping and scary--a sort of open-ended scientific morality tale of the 20th century."
The third book by Barlett and Steele, "America: What Went Wrong?", was published in 1992. Their fourth book, "America: Who Really Pays the Taxes?", was published in 1994. The Chicago Tribune said that "this is a book that may require a surgeon general's warning aimed at those prone to fits of violent, uncontrolled anger. Even the most fatalistic of taxpayers who pay the piper with a sigh and a "what-can-you-do?" shrug will find more than a few things in here to place their emotional equilibrium in peril." The San Jose Mercury News said that "what Barlett and Steele describe is little more than a feudal system where government paid for by the little guy doles out favors to the rich."
Their fifth book, "America: Who Stole the Dream?", also an expanded version of a Philadelphia Inquirer series of the same title, was published in 1996. The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., said the book "is enough to make anyone's blood boil. It tells how politicians, lawyers, lobbyists, businessmen and special interest groups sell out the American worker." The National Catholic Reporter praised the book for its "popular and readable style" and for recounting the stories of "real people, real companies and real events."
And their sixth book, "The Great American Tax Dodge," was published in the fall of 2000. Publishers Weekly described it as "a hard-hitting expose of perceived gross inequities in the U.S. tax system and of the current epidemic of tax fraud. . ." The Library Journal called it "a responsible and well-argued effort on a topic of great civic importance."
Barlett was born in DuBois, Pennsylvania, on July 17, 1936, and he grew up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He attended Pennsylvania State University and served three years as a special agent with the United States Army Counter Intelligence Corps. Barlett began his journalism career in 1956 as a general assignment reporter at the Reading (Pennsylvania) Times, and later held a similar position at the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal. In January 1965, he began working as a full-time investigative reporter at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and subsequently moved to similar positions at the Chicago Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer before joining Time in 1997. Barlett is married and has a son and two stepsons.
Steele was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, on January 3, 1943, and grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. A graduate of the University of Missouri at Kansas City, he began his journalism career at the Kansas City Times, where he covered labor, politics and urban affairs before moving to The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1970. After 27 years as an investigative reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer, he joined Time in 1997. Steele is married and has a daughter.