'America: What Went Wrong?' Authors Barlett and Steele to Join Vanity Fair

It appears that the leftist investigative-reporting duo of Donald Barlett and James Steele now will publish its numbingly long articles in Vanity Fair. Katharine Seelye writes in Monday's New York Times that B&S "have accepted an offer from Graydon Carter, [VF's] editor, to sign a multiyear contract, agreeing to write two articles a year. Both will have the title of contributing editor at the glossy monthly."

Barlett and Steele have been a reporting team since 1971, first at the Philadelphia Inquirer and then at Time magazine. They probably are best known for their 1992 book, America: What Went Wrong? The book, based on a series of stories the two had written for the Inquirer, sought to portray the economic boom of the 1980s as a case of the rich prospering at the expense of the middle class and the poor. (Brent Baker explores B&S's methodology here.)

According to Seelye, B&S "said they snapped up Mr. Carter’s offer because he was 'passionate' about their kind of work and promised them the kind of space to which they had become accustomed (their articles in Time sometimes ran to 10,000 words)."

Superficially, this is an odd match. B&S have made their name advocating what might tactfully be described as economic populism, while VF carries an abundance of advertising for high-end products and details the cushy lives of Hollywood celebrities and European royalty. On the other hand, over the past few years, VF has clearly moved to the left. One writer has called it "an increasingly shrill anti-Bush voice -- sort of a more elegantly written, hard-copy version of the Huffington Post."

Seelye notes that even though VF's circulation is up, "the number of ad pages in the first half of this year dropped 15 percent compared with the first half of last year. Here are a couple of questions for the magazine’s new sleuths: Why did those advertisers leave? And will more investigative reporting bring them back?"

Plausible answer to question #1: VF's increasingly obvious political bias. Plausible answer to question #2: Not unless B&S do a blockbuster piece on what's really going on with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.

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