Longreads Best of 2017: Investigative Reporting

We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in investigative reporting.

Rachel Morris
Executive editor, HuffPost Highline

Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades (Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, The New York Times)

From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories (Ronan Farrow, The New Yorker)

For Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey to expose Harvey Weinstein as a serial sexual predator was a feat in itself, one that reporters had been attempting for years. But the culture-bending force of these stories was their dissection of how sexual harassment works, psychologically and operationally. Ronan Farrow’s raw, complex account of the experiences of women like Annabella Sciorra and Asia Argento, among many others, created a deeper, truer understanding of why women don’t come forward after an assault, or why some women may even maintain a relationship with their abuser in an effort to recover some sense of agency. That these women were willing to tell their stories in such intimate, unsparing detail is a testament to their courage — more than that, to their generosity — and Farrow’s exceptional care and sensitivity in gaining their trust.  This deeply personal reporting has been coupled with extraordinary work by both publications on the machinery of power in New York and Hollywood. You hear about powerful men who can quash stories and crush critics; rarely do you get to see how they do it, with the intention plainly spelled out on a contract for a private spy agency.The New York Times‘ most recent piece, on the people who were complicit in Weinstein’s predation, is like some warped Harvard business school case study of systematic manipulation and intimidation. I keep thinking about the multiplier effect these stories have had, and I think it’s because they so meticulously laid bare patterns of predation. Despite the grotesque scale of Weinstein’s abuses, many women saw something familiar in the way he leveraged fear and shame, ambition and talent. They decided to come forward because their own experience now seemed more believable, or because they could now see how one experience might fit into a larger picture. It’s hard to think of a body of reporting that has unleashed anything quite like this.

Katie J.M. Baker
Reporter at BuzzFeed

Foster Care as Punishment: The New Reality of ‘Jane Crow’ (Stephanie Clifford and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, The New York Times)

I can barely remember anything I read this year that wasn’t about Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, or other powerful, terrible men. So I feel even more strongly about highlighting this crucial and devastating report on how the New York City foster care system is used to punish poor black and Hispanic women. Stephanie Clifford and Jessica Silver-Greenberg profiled a number of mothers whose children were taken from them without any proof their safety was actually at risk; their parenting choices were criminalized in ways those of wealthier, white mothers are not. “There’s this judgment that these mothers don’t have the ability to make decisions about their kids,” one lawyer said, because “society both infantilizes them and holds them to superhuman standards.”

Francesca Mari

Senior editor, The California Sunday Magazine

The Uncounted (Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal, The New York Times Magazine)

Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to the taste of blood, surrounded by rubble. Your bedroom roof has been blasted off, your home has been demolished, and your brother’s home next door has been demolished too. Your wife, daughter, brother, and nephew are dead, wiped out in an airstrike. Later, after a months-long hospital stay, imagine finding an aerial video of the explosion on the American military’s YouTube channel. Your home in a residential neighborhood of Mosul was mistaken for a car-bomb factory. This is the story of Basim Razzo, and in “The Uncounted,” journalists Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal explore how often mistakes like this occur and what happens next.

Over 18 months, Khan and Gopal visited 150 airstrike sites across northern Iraq, interviewing “hundreds of witnesses, survivors, family members, intelligence informants and local officials.” They found that one in five coalition airstrikes killed at least one civilian—“a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition.” It’s a deeply troubling finding, all the more memorable because we see how this mistake comes to define a surviving victim. Khan and Gopal tell Razzo’s story with almost Tolstoyan humanity and breadth, taking readers on a sweeping journey that covers personal evolutions with geopolitical consequences: How Mosul gravitated toward extremism, how Razzo’s views of the United States changed after his family members became casualties of an American war, and how America’s views toward condolence payments shifted after being forced to confront particular mistakes.

Anna Merlan
Special projects reporter, Gizmodo Media

What a Fraternity Hazing Death Revealed About the Painful Search for an Asian-American Identity (Jay Caspian Kang, The New York Times Magazine)

The finest feature I read this year was by Jay Caspian Kang, an investigation into a hazing death of a young man at an Asian-American fraternity.  The piece is closely observed — the trial, the fresh haircuts and new suits of the defendants, the way Kang himself was mistaken for one of the fraterniy brothers. (“One of the TV cameramen who had gathered in the parking lot began following me,” he writes about arriving at the courthouse. ‘I’m not on trial,’ I said.”) It’s also huge in scope, about Asian-American identity, about the political tides that made the phrase “Asian-American identity” exist at all, about belonging, about outsiderness, about family history, about the relationships of immigrant parents with their children, watching them disappear into a country that both absorbs and alienates them. Kang also manages the near-impossible task of humanizing the perpetrators of a crime without diminishing the impact on its victim and his family, the place where many true crime features fail at least one of its subjects.

Brooke Jarvis
Contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine and The California Sunday Magazine.

How the Elderly Lose Their Rights (Rachel Aviv, The New Yorker)

Rachel Aviv managed to write not one but four of my favorite stories of the year: One about refugee children in Sweden who suffer from a mysterious disease of unconsciousness; another about a bizarre murder case in Nebraska in which law enforcement fingered a string of people they considered socially deviant, despite a stunning lack of evidence against them; and one about a Muslim cop in New York who grappled with the force’s approach to Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11. (That last one also opens with surely the cutest meet-cute you’ve ever read.) This fourth story, an investigation into a legal system that allows “guardians” to declare elderly people incapacitated, and then take over their money and their lives, was shocking and totally infuriating—a brazen abuse of power that had flown under the radar. The line that sticks with me is a conversation between a couple’s daughter, who believed her parents were kidnapped, and the guardian that would eventually strip them of their home, liberty, and most of their possessions: “‘You can’t just walk into somebody’s home and take them!’ Belshe told her. Parks responded calmly, ‘It’s legal. It’s legal.’”

Tom Huang
Assistant managing editor for features and community engagement, The Dallas Morning News

In Harm’s Way (Kathleen McGrory and Connie Humburg, Tampa Bay Times)

This series sheds light on a problem I read about every day, but have never been able to get my head around: the gun deaths of children. I’ve wondered about how serious a problem it is (incredibly serious, to the point of being a public health issue), whether the problem is getting worse (it is), and what’s driving the problem (the availability of and access to a growing number of guns). The Times focused on Florida’s children, examining millions of hospital discharge records, as well as data collected by the state’s medical examiners. The main finding: Between 2010 and 2015, nearly 3,200 kids 17 and younger were killed or injured by firearms. In other words, a Florida kid was shot, on average, every 17 hours.  From 2010 through 2015, the number of children killed in gun-related incidents rose nearly 20 percent. There’s more, but let me just say that the series marries hard data with strong narrative writing about the families affected by these gun deaths.

Azmat Khan
Investigative journalist and a Future of a War Fellow at New America

Across the U.S., Police Contracts Shield Officers from Scrutiny and Discipline (Reade Levinson, Reuters)

Over the last three years, we’ve seen extraordinary investigations involving police abuse and black communities. Some might consider it a thoroughly reported subject — that would be wrong. Reade Levinson’s investigation for Reuters digs deeply into data from police contracts across the country to show why so many officers with disciplinary records are able to operate with impunity while their victims struggle to report them. To put it simply, the data analysis is extraordinary, an enormous contribution to the public, and the investigation itself is a much-needed lens on police unions.

Michelle Legro
Senior editor, Longreads

Public-Radio Icon John Hockenberry Accused of Harassing Female Colleagues (Suki Kim, The Cut)

When Suki Kim appeared as a guest on WNYC’s The Takeaway, she spent eight minutes in discussion with the host, John Hockenberry. Afterward, he began to email her, “to brainstorm” and kept trying to get in touch for dates, even though she stopped returning his emails. Kim would eventually report her experience to the station’s HR, and after the Weinstein reporting broke, she began to contact producers who had worked with Hockenberry to see if they had similar experiences.

Kim’s reporting unraveled WNYC from the top down, revealing that Hockenberry bullied female producers on the show, and had driven away its cohosts, all women of color. It was a reckoning for a liberal news outlet out of touch with its female employees, and a reminder that harassment is endemic within the workplace, no matter the values that workplace espouses.

The article also was a reckoning of women’s experiences at work that included not just sexual harassment, but also degradation, anger, and resentment. Almost every woman who crossed Hockenberry’s path was minimized and worn down. In the end, he always stayed, and they always left.