David McClintick is the consummate investigative reporter, known for works like 1982’s National Book Award finalist Indecent Exposure — his gripping study of the film industry — and for definitive magazine reports written for such publications as Forbes and Vanity Fair.
For Institutional Investor, his examination of Harvard University’s disastrous contract to help privatize financial markets in parts of the former Soviet Union took readers back to the fascinating time in the early 1990s when Russia stumbled toward establishing a free-market economy in Eastern Europe.
McClintick focused on the depths of global political intrigue and corruption, but taught as much about the heights of hubris. Harvard had let professors engage, unchecked, in self-dealing as they became entangled in the malaise. Emerging for Institutional Investor readers was Harvard’s “apparently limitless arrogance,” as one Stephen Barr judge put it. “In addition, this article provided a very rare view of the process of moving to a market-based economy without any of the infrastructure we in industrialized cultures take for granted.”
The judges were also impressed with the story’s impact.While the eventual downfall of Harvard president Lawrence Summers had complex causes, this article clearly was in the mix. And certainly, its readers will never view Harvard in quite the same way.
As for the style of this detailed 20,000 word article, nearly two years in the making, one judge said: “It was a beautiful narrative, illustrating the most distinctive writing to go with great reporting.” McClintick, a Wall Street Journal writer before he began elevating the investigations of the magazine business, is a 1962 Harvard graduate himself.
He told an interviewer after this piece got national attention that he was drawn to the topic because “you had this very small group of exceptionally brilliant people, very young people, basically trying to save Russia and then an even smaller group corrupting the enterprise. The wheeling and dealing and the internal dynamics of the group are fascinating.”
About the Stephen Barr Award
The Stephen Barr Award is named for one of the ASBPE’s most-honored journalists, who died of cancer in 2002 at the age of 43. Unlike other ASBPE awards, it honors individual writing from among the best entries in all editorial feature categories, especially work that reflects the qualities of inventiveness, insight, balance, depth of investigation, and impact on readers. A check for $500 accompanies the award.