Washington Post book reporter defects

David Streitfeld, who unveiled Joe Klein as the author of "Primary Colors," is ditching the book beat to cover technology.

Published April 8, 1999 9:09AM (EDT)

With its revamped design, the Washington Post's book section has seen a big change, but a bigger one is afoot: Books reporter David Streitfeld is shifting jobs.

The formidable literary sleuth has broken important stories and uncovered some startling frauds during his 12-year tenure. Perhaps his biggest coup came in 1996, when he unmasked Newsweek writer Joe Klein as the author of the Clinton roman ` clef "Primary Colors."

An antiquarian-book buyer, Streitfeld stumbled upon a listing in a used book catalog for a galley proof of the controversial novel that happened to contain handwritten notes in its margins. Streitfeld bought the book, and on a hunch he sent it off, with a sample of Klein's writing, to a handwriting analyst. "It was just the one inspired stroke of my life," Streitfeld wryly told Salon. Another Streitfeld "stroke" took place last August, when he revealed that the judges who selected the Modern Library's much-discussed list of the 100 best novels of the century had little to do with each book's final place on the list and were often as surprised by the rankings as the general public.

This May, the word "bookmarks" will take on a whole new meaning for Streitfeld, as he moves to the Post's Silicon Valley beat -- "an interesting job at an interesting time," as he says. He is no stranger to new technology; last year he predicted the massive popularity of Amazon.com. Business editor Fred Barbash is clearly pleased with his choice: "David has a good background in the field. He has a strong sense of the industry and of the culture of the industry." Marie Arana, the deputy editor of the Post's book section, concurs: "Anything he does is done in a graceful and sliding manner. We're sorry to lose him to the money world."

As for his move to California, Streitfeld seems stressed but characteristically ahead of the game. "Hey," he says, "can you hyperlink this article to some housing sites?"

By Craig Offman

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

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