John R. Wilke, Longtime Journal Reporter, Dies at 54

Investigated the nexus between business and politics

Longtime Wall Street Journal reporter John R. Wilke died of cancer this weekend and it’s a big loss for financial journalism.

Wilke was one of the top investigative reporters at the paper and in the business, getting scoop after scoop—and not access scoops, either. We’re talking old-fashioned digging, especially into the the places where business and government meet, something that we need now more than ever as trillions of dollars are transferred from taxpayers to private interests. The times make the loss of Wilke that much starker.

His most recent blockbuster was a series of page-one stories that brought an area ripe for corruption to light with specific examples of how the system had gone wrong. His series of stories on how congressional earmarks were being abused, helped it become a prominent presidential-campaign issue and resulting in reforms in that area.

Wilke’s work was so well-regarded that when Madoff whistleblower Harry Markopolos couldn’t break through to the SEC, he went to Wilke, who repeatedly showed interest in the story but didn’t report on it. As ex-colleague Jesse Eisinger noted, Wilke had his plate full. We needed two or three of him.

That’s part of the rough and tumble of being a high-profile investigative reporter but it’s not the way Wilke will be remembered—it will be for his body of work, while at the same time being just a really goody guy.

I worked at the Journal’s New York bureau for several years and never crossed paths with Wilke (aside from an email or two), who was in Washington. But you get a sense over the years of who’s liked and respected in your newsroom. And Wilke was certainly one of those.

And his work stands for itself.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.