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Joe Rago ‘05 (1983-2017) R.I.P.
The age of 34 is too young for anyone to die, and the world should especially mourn the passing of one of Dartmouth’s most talented sons, Joe Rago ‘05. The Wall Street Journal, where he worked, reports:
Joseph Rago, a Pulitzer Prize winning editorial writer at The Wall Street Journal who was known for his richly reported pieces and influence on policy makers, was found dead Thursday evening at his home in Manhattan. He was 34 years old.
The New York Police Department found Mr. Rago dead in his apartment at 7:40 p.m., according to a police official. The authorities went to check on Mr. Rago after he didn’t show up for work on Thursday. Paul Gigot [‘77], the editor of the Journal’s editorial page, had alerted the paper’s security officials, who then contacted the police.
Mr. Rago was found with no obvious signs of trauma and emergency responders declared him dead at the scene, the police said. The cause of death was still being determined by the medical examiner on Friday.
“It is with a heavy heart that we confirm the death of Joseph Rago, a splendid journalist and beloved friend,” Mr. Gigot said in a statement. “Joe and his family are in our thoughts and prayers, and we will be celebrating his work in Saturday’s paper.”
Mr. Rago made his biggest mark writing about health care. In 2011, he captured the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing for what the Pulitzer organization called his “well crafted, against-the-grain editorials challenging the health care reform advocated by President Obama.”
“No matter where you fall in the debate of health care reform, the arguments advanced by Joseph Rago in his series of editorials in The Wall Street Journal were impossible to ignore,” the judges wrote. “Not paying attention to these editorials was not an option for policymakers.”
Mr. Rago gained credibility with the policy community and with politicians because he did his homework, becoming one of the most well-sourced people around on health care, with sources throughout Washington and among academics on the left and right, Mr. Gigot said in an interview on Friday.
“Through his editorials, he had enormous impact on events in Washington,” he said.
The last editorial Mr. Rago wrote, on Wednesday, was titled “The ObamaCare Republicans,” Mr. Gigot said.
After coming to the Journal as a summer intern in 2005, Mr. Rago stood out for his thoughtful reporting and flair for prose. “I immediately hired him,” Mr. Gigot said. “He was just too good not to hire.”
Mr. Rago rose from an assistant editor on the op-ed page to editorial writer to a member of the editorial board. Friends and colleagues say he was modest and serious, but with a sardonic sense of humor that made him a pleasure to be around.
“He was the kind of person you liked to have a beer with—I know that’s a cliché, but it’s actually true,” Mr. Gigot said.
Along with health care, Mr. Rago’s topics ranged from energy regulation to antitrust issues to the debate between privacy and national security. He was the Journal’s main editorial writer during the 2016 presidential campaign and did interviews with many of the candidates as well as filed colorful opinion pieces from the campaign trail.
A native of Falmouth, Mass., Mr. Rago graduated with a degree in history from Dartmouth College in 2005. While there, he was a member of the Phi Delta Alpha fraternity and wrote for the Dartmouth Review, an independent conservative student newspaper. He served on the paper’s board of directors at the time of his death.
He remained active with the campus and in a 2011 videotaped interview there said he tried to stay in touch with students from all over the country and offer his advice.
“Journalism is a hard field to get into, and I caught a break and try to help other people,” he said.
In an interview, Peter Robinson [‘79], a former speechwriter to President Ronald Reagan and a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, said that attitude was typical of Mr. Rago, a longtime friend and 2010 media fellow at Hoover.
“Joe was an intellectual fighter but there was also just a wonderful sweetness about him,” he said.
He praised Mr. Rago’s rigorous approach to opinion writing, saying Mr. Rago always presented the information readers needed to have to assess his conclusions.
“That’s very rare,” Mr. Robinson said. “Joe was never just mouthing off. He was doing the hard work of real journalism.”
The Journal has also published a compendium of Joe’s finest writing.
When Joe won his Pulitzer, I noted:
On occasion I will read an article and find myself pausing to observe that the quality of its writing is exceptional. I automatically look to the byline to see the author’s name. This was often the case in years past when Joe Rago ‘05 was Editor-in-Chief of the Dartmouth Review.
Addendum: A former news managing editor for the D writes in:
Big loss for the College, Phi Delt, and the Journal. Joe had a knack for distilling his arguments in a clear and compelling way, and was an inspiration for many campus journalists — myself included. Not to mention, the members of his class at Phi Delt singlehandedly saved their house from de-recognition and brought it back to its status as a campus institution.
Addendum: Rago has fans far and wide:
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