Eric Boehlert, Former Billboard Editor-Turned-Media Critic, Dies at 57

Eric Boehlert, Former Billboard Editor-Turned-Media Critic, Dies at 57

Eric Boehlert — who evolved from fire-breathing music-business investigative reporter and editor at Billboard and Rolling Stone to a media critic and pundit whose social-media accounts and 2-year-old Press Run newsletter were progressive must-reads — died Monday at 57. His friend, journalist Soledad O’Brien, reported the news and called him a “fierce and fearless defender of the truth.” Boehlert was bicycling in his hometown, Montclair, New Jersey, when a train struck him at a railroad crossing.

“I’m devastated for his family and friends and will miss his critical work to counteract misinformation and media bias,” Hillary Clinton said on Twitter Wednesday (April 6). “What a loss.”

In his three-times-a-week commentaries, Boehlert argued that mainstream-media reporters, particularly in The New York Times, unfairly slammed Democrats while kowtowing to Republicans. He hammered his points with repeated examples, insisting political reporters are over-obsessed with unfair tropes such as “Dems in Disarray.” In his April 1 post dinging CNN, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, he wrote: “Signing off on the idea that the Hunter Biden story remains a scandal simply because Republicans say so, the press has adopted a Whitewater-like obsession with the perpetual dead-end story.”

Boehlert’s commentary, which began in the early 2000s at left-leaning outlets such as Salon, Media Matters (where he was a senior fellow) and Daily Kos, developed a large, star-studded following. After news of his death emerged Wednesday, Jon Stewart tweeted: “Greatly admired his passion and tenacity.” Boehlert supplemented his writing with hundreds of talking-head appearances on TV outlets from MSNBC to CNN, and wrote two books, 2006’s “Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush” and 2009’s “Bloggers On the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press.”

Born in Utica, N.Y., Boehlert lived in Fort Wayne, Ind., then moved to Guilford, Conn., where he was a 6’4″ guard on his high school basketball team, before he graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1988. His passion for music began with fellow Hoosier John Mellencamp in the ’80s. “He felt a kinship with John Cougar at the time,” says Richard Abate, his longtime friend and, later, his literary manager. “Then he liked all sorts of music.”

Boehlert worked for the New Haven Register as a stringer, and wrote for audio magazine High Fidelity before then-Billboard editor-in-chief Timothy White hired him as a senior writer in 1992. “Eric was super-smart, highly creative, a diligent reporter and crazy about music,” recalls Ken Schlager, Billboard‘s former executive editor. “In other words, he was perfect for Billboard.”

Boehlert covered radio and concerts, and when his editors sent him to cover Fan Fest in Nashville, he returned with a story about rabid country fans. “Eric witnessed Garth Brooks get out of his personal vehicle on the fairgrounds, then watched as fans descended on that vehicle after Brooks went on his way, photographing it like the truck itself was a star,” says Phyllis Stark, one of his first editors, now Nashville bureau chief of All Access Music Group. “The story he filed afterwards was packed with Eric’s trademark wit.”

At Billboard, he investigated corporate injustice in the music business. When Pearl Jam filed an official complaint against Ticketmaster with the U.S. Justice Department in 1994, Boehlert followed up with a series of exclusive reports, many of which landed on Billboard‘s front page.

“That was part of his thing — to just speak to power and speak the truth — and he found ways of doing it wherever he worked,” says his wife, Tracy Breslin, in a phone interview. “He could be pretty dogged in his approach to fairness. He always supported the artists and their fans.”

Rolling Stone hired Boehlert in 1996, where he continued to write about the music business; he moved to Salon in 2000 and produced lengthy reports about Clear Channel Communications’ dominance in the radio and concert businesses. (One headline referred to the company’s “big, stinking deregulation mess.”) From there, Boehlert indulged a lifelong passion and pivoted to politics, employing blogs, then social media, to relentlessly promote his staunchly pro-Democrat commentary. He ended every Press Run with a music pick and mini-review, most recently Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Black Summer,” Arcade Fire’s “The Lightning I, II” and Emilia Jones’ version of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” from the movie CODA. “Fun stuff,” he titled this section, “Because we all need a break.”

“That’s what I want people to know,” Breslin says. “He was such a fierce defender of truth, but he was also the nicest guy in real life.”

In addition to his wife, Boehlert is survived by his children, Ben and Jane; and his siblings, Bart, Thom and Cynthia.

Additional reporting by Melinda Newman.

Eric Boehlert, Former Billboard Editor-Turned-Media Critic, Dies at 57 Eric Boehlert — who evolved from fire-breathing music-business investigative reporter and editor at Billboard and Rolling Stone to a media critic and pundit whose social-media accounts and 2-year-old Press Run newsletter were progressive must-reads — died Monday at 57. His friend, journalist Soledad O’Brien, reported the news and…