David Cay Johnston, a New York Times reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for exposing inequities in the U.S. tax code, said Wednesday he has accepted a buyout package from the newspaper.
Johnston has covered taxation issues for the Times since his arrival in 1995. A best-selling author, he opted to leave to concentrate on writing books, long-form magazine articles and documentaries.
“There’s some sadness about it,” he said by phone from his home in suburban Rochester. “Flaws and all, there’s no newspaper in the league of The New York Times. I’m happy with the Times and they’re happy with me, but it’s just time for me to do something else.”
His last two books, beginning in 2004 with “Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich — and Cheat Everybody Else,” show how taxes, subsidies and regulatory policies in the United States “take from the many to give to the already superrich,” Johnston said.
In this year’s “Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You With The Bill,” Johnston writes that government policies from 1945 to 1980 aimed to develop and nurture the middle class via such projects as the GI. Bill, interstate highways and 30-year mortgages.
The tilt toward the superrich began when Ronald Reagan became president and has continued through the Clinton and Bush administrations, he said.
“The 400 highest-income Americans — people who on average make well over $100 million a year — were paying 30 cents on the dollar when (Bill) Clinton came to office, 22 cents when he left. And under (George W.) Bush, they’re paying 17.”
Johnston, 59, won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting “for his penetrating and enterprising reporting that exposed loopholes and inequities in the U.S. tax code, which was instrumental in bringing about reforms.”
He also was a Pulitzer finalist for beat reporting in 2000 and for beat and national reporting in 2003.
After largely sparing its newsroom from the widespread cutbacks affecting the newspaper industry, the Times said last month it planned to eliminate 100 news jobs through attrition, buyouts and, if necessary, layoffs. Among those who accepted a buyout was Linda Greenhouse, who has covered the Supreme Court for the newspaper for 30 years.
Johnston said he expects to stay on a few extra weeks at the Times to write Tax Day-related stories through mid-April.
He and his wife, Jennifer Leonard, have two daughters. He has six children from a previous marriage.