ProPublica’s Stephen Engelberg takes a refreshingly thorough look at the coverage of Nadal Malik Hasan—“a classic run-and-gun investigative story in which dozens of reporters badger officials to disclose a new fact (which gets you on page one) or two new facts (which is enough to snag the coveted lead-of-the-paper slot on a slow day).”

It’s a form of pack journalism, Engelberg suggests, that “almost invariably produces stories that lack context, which is hardly surprising.” After all,

reporters are telling a complex story by unveiling the key aspects as they learn them. It’s roughly akin to taking scenes from say, the three “Godfather movies” and spitting out them out as YouTube videos in random order. Good luck to anyone trying to follow the plot.

On the Hasan story, one of the earliest newsbreaks seems, at least so far, to be among the least clear.

About a year ago, U.S. intelligence intercepted messages [2] sent by Hasan to Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical imam in Yemen. A task force of counterterrorism officials reviewed those messages [3], determined they were benign —consistent with work-related research Hasan was doing — and never contacted anyone in the military familiar with Hasan’s record in the military.

Newspapers [4], Web sites [5] and TV [2] all gave huge play [6] to the story. But what was anyone expecting the government to do about someone who exchanged e-mails or text messages with a known bad guy? Seize his legally obtained gun? Remove him from his job? Arrest him as a material witness to a crime not yet committed?

More here.

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.