ink-stained wretches

Steve Brill Gets the Last Laugh Over Epic Health-Care Story

Photo: Time Inc.

The New Republic’s young owner Chris Hughes wasn’t crazy to think an exclusive interview with President Obama was a fine way to relaunch a magazine, but the 36-page article on health care he booted to make room ended up the runaway hit. The 25,000-word policy piece by Steven Brill, originally slated for the TNR cover, ended up at Time, where it sold more than double the average on its way to becoming the weekly’s best-selling issue in almost two years, the New York Times reports today. 

I just think he made a rookie editor’s mistake,” Brill told Daily Intelligencer today of Hughes’s decision and allegedly broken promise, which Brill harshly criticized at the time. “As I said to him, unless you get him to admit he was born in Kenya you’re not going to have anything out of this. In retrospect, it doesn’t look like the smartest decision.”

Brill’s look at the health-care industry, on the other hand, got him placement everywhere from NPR to The Daily Show, where his kids “were reasonably certain I’d make a fool of myself.” Instead, the article, “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us,” went viral. “I knew this was coming,” said Brill, citing social-media activity and newsstand anecdotes. “Everybody who I know who I’ve talked to tried to buy it and couldn’t find it.”

Now Brill is “trying to think of ways to do some more reporting” on the subject, “but probably not a book, because I’d like to have more of an immediate impact.”

That’s what Time provided, he said, in a way that The New Republic might not have, new design or not. Although Hughes reportedly offered him the second cover, after Obama, Brill said he’s glad he didn’t take it: “Or the first one!” he added, recalling friends telling him, “‘You’re crazy to do this. You’re wasting this on The New Republic.’ I said I had made an agreement and was going to stick to the deal. Luckily, he didn’t stick to the deal.”

Update: “We couldn’t be happier that we ran our exclusive interview with Barack Obama around his second inauguration on our first redesigned
cover,” said Hughes, the publisher and editor-in-chief of The New Republic, in a statement. “Not only did the interview attract incredible attention because of the President’s provocative statements about football, guns, and Syria, but our issue sold at record rates on the newsstand — over five times larger than any issue in the past decade.”

Steve Brill Wins With Time Over The New Republic