Robert Pear RIP
By David Henderson
Robert Pear, a reporter whose understated demeanor belied a tenacious pursuit of sources and scoops during his 40 years at The New York Times covering health care and other critical national issues, died on Tuesday in Rockville, Md. He was 69.
This is from Sam Roberts, “Robert Pear, a Mainstay Times Reporter in Washington, Dies at 69,” New York Times, May 8, 2019.
The only thing I like about the above paragraph is Roberts’s use of the word “died” rather than the euphemistic “passed away.” (I remember, at age 19, dictating my mother’s obituary, hours after she had died, to the person on the other end of the phone at the Winnipeg Free Press and saying “Norah Henderson died.” “Excuse me,” said the person, “don’t you mean ‘passed away’.” “No,” I said, “I mean ‘died.'” My mother had written it. She knew what she wanted.) I feel sad that he died at age 69.
When I was the senior economist for health policy with President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers, Pear called me to find out what I knew about some secretive meetings I was in, just before the November 1982 mid-term elections, to figure out ways of reforming Medicare and Medicaid to give patients better incentives and cut the growth of spending. In his first day on the job, the Tuesday after Labor Day, 1982, Martin Feldstein had made it clear to us that we were not to talk to the press. So when Pear called–somehow he had heard about the meetings–to ask me about the meetings, I told him the stricture I was under. He was very polite and accepted that. He was so nice to me that I let my guard down a little and told him that although I found his reporting amazingly accurate, he misunderstood the economic purpose in making employers’ contributions, over some cap, to employees’ health insurance taxable. It wasn’t mainly about revenue, I said, but about incentives. He thanked me. Then I realized that I had blown it. Here I was talking to the press. So I said, “Oops, I blew it. I realize that you’re under no obligation, but I would appreciate it if you would forget that I said it.” “Ok,” he said. And my comment to him never showed up in his subsequent articles, all of which I read for the next almost 2 years.
I was often amazed by his accurate reporting on meetings I was in. I knew I wasn’t leaking. Who was?
Pear seemed so seasoned that I was surprised this morning to read that, when I talked to him in 1982, he had been with the NY Times for only a year.
Aside: Note, by contrast, how Spencer Rich of the Washington Post dealt with me.