EAST VILLAGE, NY — Joseph Rago, 34, a prodigious Wall Street Journal editorial writer who won a Pulitzer Prize for his smart takedowns of Obamacare circa 2011, was found dead Thursday night in his East Village apartment at 10 St. Mark’s Place, near Third Avenue, according to the NYPD.
Rago’s editor at the newspaper asked police to check on him after he didn’t come into work Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported.
He was found “with no obvious signs of trauma,” according to the Journal. His cause of death has yet to be determined by the NYC Medical Examiner.
— Avik Roy (@Avik) July 21, 2017
“It is with a heavy heart that we confirm the death of Joseph Rago, a splendid journalist and beloved friend,” Paul Gigot, his editor, said in a statement Friday. “Joe and his family are in our thoughts and prayers, and we will be celebrating his work in Saturday’s paper.”
Rago, a native of Falmouth, Massachusetts, reportedly started as a summer intern at the Wall Street Journal in 2005, right after he graduated from Dartmouth College.
“I immediately hired him,” his editor remembered Friday. “He was just too good not to hire.”
By 2011, Rago had won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. The judges praised him for his “well crafted, against-the-grain editorials challenging the health care reform advocated by President Obama.”
But in more than a decade of political critique, despite his conservative leanings, Rago earned respect from policymakers on both sides of the aisle for highly discerning, deeply reported takes that spared no one. The 34-year-old published his final editorial — a blistering review of the U.S. Senate’s botched attempts at health care reform under Trump, titled “The ObamaCare Republicans” — just two days before he died.
“The nightmare of a hard decision is finally over, and now on to supposedly more crowd-pleasing items like tax reform,” he wrote in the piece. “But this self-inflicted fiasco is one of the great political failures in recent U.S. history, and the damage will echo for years.”
Joe Rago’s final editorial, written this week, was exemplary. RIP. https://t.co/2ATnvuNZke
— Matthew Continetti (@continetti) July 21, 2017
Rago’s friends, fans and colleagues paid tribute to him online Friday.
James Panero, executive editor of the New Criterion, called him the “smartest writer in any room.” David Feith, another editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal, tweeted: “Terribly tragic. Joe’s writing was a masterclass.” Barri Weiss, staff editor of the New York Times’ opinion section, wrote: “This is heartbreaking news. Impossible to imagine @WSJopinion without Joe.”
And in an extended tribute written by Yuval Levin for the National Review, Rago was remembered not only as a “brilliant, thoughtful, lucid, careful” opinion writer, but as an “utterly unpretentious” and “instinctively considerate” soul who was, in the end, “most extraordinary for his decency.”
Levin said he last ran into Rago a few months ago at a press briefing on Capitol Hill.
“He wasn’t satisfied with what we were told by the member of Congress who had called us together,” Levin recalled. “He asked question after question — nicely, calmly, but persistently, and helped the rest of us see that we shouldn’t be happy either. In retrospect, his questions were a kind of preview of the problems Republicans went on to encounter on health care.