Born in Boston, he received a bachelor's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in 1986. Barstow has worked for The New York Times since 1999, and has been an investigative reporter there since 2002.
He worked for The St. Petersburg Times in Florida, where he was a finalist for three Reporting Pulitzers: spot news reporting in 1997, investigative reporting in 1998; and explanatory journalism in 1998 (now called explanatory reporting).
In 2004, The New York Times won the annual Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, citing "the work of David Barstow and Lowell Bergman that relentlessly examined death and injury among American workers and exposed employers who break basic safety rules."
In 2009 Barstow won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for work with the Times, citing "his tenacious reporting that revealed how some retired generals, working as radio and television analysts, had been co-opted by the Pentagon to make its case for the war in Iraq, and how many of them also had undisclosed ties to companies that benefited from policies they defended."
One of three stories submitted for the Investigative Reporting Pulitzer was "Message Machine: Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon's Hidden Hand" (April 20, 2008). Barstow reported that the Department of Defense recruited over 75 retired military officers, some with undisclosed ties to defense contractors, to appear on major news outlets as military analysts commenting on the Iraq war and the case in its favor. He wrote, "Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse—an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks." Although the Pentagon initially issued a statement exonerating the program, the Pentagon inspector general's office later said it was flawed, and the statement was withdrawn.
Hidden Hand story
Most American television networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, CNN and Fox: incidentally, these are the ones that were criticized in the report) have failed to either mention Barstow's name in their news reports, or talk about his investigations that suggest the officers whose views they aired were biased. Nevertheless, after Barstow won the Pulitzer, he opined that his story had prompted some improvements in the networks' practices.
- "The Pulitzer Prizes | Biography". Pulitzer.org. 1963-01-21. Retrieved 2010-09-03.
- "The 2004 Pulitzer Prize Winners: Public Service". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2013-11-19. With short biographies and reprints of 11 works (NY Times articles January 8 to December 23, 2003).
- The 2009 Pulitzer Prize Winners: Investigative Reporting. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2009-04-20. With short biography and reprints of three works (NY Times articles April 20 and November 30, 2008).
- Barstow, David (April 20, 2008). "Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon's Hidden Hand". The New York Times. pp. A1.
- "EXCLUSIVE ... Pentagon Pundits: New York Times Reporter David Barstow Wins Pulitzer Prize for Exposing Military's Pro-War Propaganda Media Campaign". Democracynow.org. Retrieved 2010-09-03.
- Greenwald, Glenn (April 21, 2009). "The Pulitzer-winning investigation that dare not be uttered on TV". Salon.
- Strupp, Joe (April 23, 2009). "NYT's Barstow: Pulitzer-Winning 'Generals' Story Has Made a Difference". Editor and Publisher.
- Biography at The New York Times