Burt Helm is Senior Writer for Inc. Magazine. His stories, “The Forgotten Founder,” “ Where Did Our Love Go?” and “Hard Lessons in Modern Lending,” were featured on Longreads in 2012.

Best Takedown of an Old, Established Writer by a Young, Hungry Writer in an Awkward Press Junket Setting

Sarah Nicole Prickett, “How to Get Under Aaron Sorkin’s Skin (and also, how to high-five properly),” Toronto Globe and Mail

“Aaron Sorkin knows the weight of last words, and his last words to me, as we walk-and-talk out of the HBO press room, are: ‘Write something nice.’ He says this in the ‘Smile, honey’ tone of much less successful jerks.”

Those words launch Prickett into a funny, cutting attack on the pretentions and assumptions of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Through her eyes, the creator of A Few Good Men and The Social Network is guilty of an insufferable nostalgia for white male power, and she uses a press junket interview for Sorkin’s HBO show The Newsroom to diss the iconic writer in a way that’s both entertaining and thought-provoking.

Liveliest Profile of a Sprawling Corporation and its Straight-Laced Chief Executive

Jennifer Reingold, “Bob Iger: Disney’s Fun King,” Fortune

Big companies and their CEOs are tough to report on. Disney, led by the profoundly un-flamboyant Bob Iger and guarded by its disciplined phalanx of PR professionals, may be one of the toughest. That’s why Reingold’s story is so masterful—it explains Iger in way that’s vivid, thoughtful, and rigorous, giving us a sophisticated picture of him and his plans for the company. I wish Reingold would profile News Corp., Viacom, and every other American company, for that matter.

Investigative Story Responsible for Spurring Most Unintended “Holy Shit!” Uttterances

David Barstow, “Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed Up by Wal-Mart After Top-Level Struggle,” The New York Times

For me, this story’s surprises came in waves. First, there was the shock at how systematically and rampantly Wal-Mart bribed its way into Mexican retail. Next, there was awe at how Barstow nailed every crucial aspects of the ensuing cover-up. This is investigative reporting at its best—even-handed and rigorous, with no room for perpetrators’ excuses or squirming.

Best Confirmation that Super PACS and Karl Rove are Just as Creepy as We Thought They Were

Sheelah Kolhatkar, “Inside Karl Rove’s Billionaire Fundraiser,” Bloomberg Businessweek

You probably remember the media firestorm that followed this story, which quoted Karl Rove joking about killing Todd Akin (“If he’s found mysteriously murdered, don’t look for my whereabouts!”). The glimpse of the inner workings of Super PACs that follows in Kolhatkar’s fly-on-the-wall account is fascinating reading, even months after the election.

Best Confirmation of, Admit It, What We All Were Kind of Wondering While Watching the Olympic Opening Ceremony

Sam Alipour, “Will You Still Medal in the Morning?” ESPN Magazine

Those hot-bodied Olympians are having lots and lots of sex! Alipour illustrates hook-up culture in the Olympic Village with kickass reporting (big-name athletes go on the record, and are surprisingly candid) and just the right tone: The story is lighthearted and detailed without being prurient or icky, a tough order for a gossipy sex piece.

Clearest Portrait of a Misunderstood and Deadly American Subculture

Jeanne Marie Laskas, “Guns R’ Us,” GQ

Following the Tucson, Arizona shooting, Laskas set out to understand gun culture by working at a gun store in Yuma and profiling its clerks—the last line of defense between us and mass murderers. I love the way she leaves politics aside and zeroes in on her subjects’ humanity. The story appears in Laskas’s new book, Hidden America, a collection of her GQ stories about the many professional subcultures that make the U.S. work, from oil drillers to coal miners to migrant fruit pickers. Read it, read it, read it.

Read more guest picks from Longreads Best of 2012