We at CJR remain in a post-convention hangover after a two-week binge on more televised political content than the human liver can handle. News cycles in these dog days of summer have blurred together alongside Donald Trump’s bizarro statements du jour. But some journalism still stood out despite the noise—for better and for worse.
Best Journalism of July 2016
The Washington Post explores the haziness of campus assault
The issue perplexes colleges for the same reason it does journalists: There’s no such thing as a cut-and-dried narrative, especially when booze or drugs have clouded the memories of everyone involved. The Post’s T. Rees Shapiro took this challenge head-on with a detailed attempt to recreate “a drunken mess with no good answers” at the University of Virginia last year. He spoke with both alleged victim and perpetrator—they had wildly different takes on their encounter at an off-campus party—presenting both through the eyes of an administration left with the difficult task of evaluating consent. The alleged attacker was eventually exonerated; everyone involved was psychologically scarred.
It’s perhaps fitting that this tale comes from the same campus where Rolling Stone left a black mark on journalism two years ago. The Post dissects the complexities—the gray area that extends so far with these incidents—in the clear-eyed analysis that this topic deserves.
First there were cell phone videos of police shooting Alton Sterling at point-blank range, then Diamond Reynolds’ calm Facebook Live broadcast seconds after her boyfriend was mortally wounded. Michael Kevin Bautista streamed a terrorist attack on cops in Dallas. And Jarrett Hill noticed that parts of Melania Trump’s Republican National Convention speech sounded a little too familiar. None of these individuals were employed by news organizations—Hill had previously worked in the industry—though they produced some of the most memorable news moments of July. Together, they remind us it doesn’t take a job in journalism to commit an act of journalism. We’re all better for that.
Explaining the roots of Trumpism
The out-of-leftfield success of Trump’s presidential campaign has inspired too many What Went Wrong? features to count. ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis put the genre to rest with his historical profile of Dayton, Ohio, cross-published at Politico. MacGillis tracks a half-century’s worth of demographic and socioeconomic shifts that coincided with the region’s transition from a “bastion of the GOP establishment” to a sharply divided area with a cosmopolitan downtown, conservative exurbs, and a gaping political vacuum in between. Most importantly, MacGillis affords supporters of the perplexing man who filled this vacuum a compassion not typically seen in campaign-trail reporting. “They were no one’s constituency,” MacGillis concludes, “until now.”
Gabriel Sherman, Fox News scoop machine
New York magazine’s national affairs editor wrote the book on Roger Ailes, and he was consistently ahead of the pack in reporting on the Fox News boss’ sudden demise amid sexual harassment allegations this month. Sherman broke news that 21st Century Fox had decided to remove Ailes, among other scoops. His features on victims not only illustrated Ailes’ alleged depravity in gross detail, but also spotlighted supposed efforts by high-ranking Fox officials to silence employees who dared speak up. Sherman’s pieces stood out in a field of sterling work on Ailes—speaking volumes to the virtues of beat reporting. Look to Sherman for more insight on where Fox, titan of conservative media and Republican politics, goes from here.
Worst Journalism of July 2016
Hillary Clinton makes history, but not the front page
Even if the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, we should celebrate the milestones. But print newspaper readers in many of the country’s largest cities were afforded no such opportunity on the morning of July 27. Headlines blared that Hillary Clinton had made history the night prior by becoming the first woman nominated for president by a major political party. Her face, however, was nowhere to be found on many front pages—Bill Clinton or Bernie Sanders were instead given that prime real estate.
The sense of inevitability around Hillary Clinton’s campaign had tilted the scales of newsworthiness in a different direction. She did not speak that night—her popular former-president husband gave the keynote address, and she formally secured the nomination in a symbolic concession by her dogged primary opponent. Both were news. By the time Clinton briefly beamed into the convention hall by video, many print deadlines had come and gone.
From a selling-newspapers perspective, it’s hard to imagine people would be more likely to read a print edition on July 27 because it featured Bubba’s or Bernie’s smiling face. More importantly, it bears asking why so many newspapers essentially erased Clinton from a milestone that’s important not only for women, but America. The tension between what’s important and what’s new is a familiar one for journalists, though Clinton’s notable absence from front pages exposed it to millions. This first draft of history could have used an edit.
Can I use an edit? This is the digital continuation of our long-running print feature, “Darts and Laurels,” and we’d like to include your suggestions and feedback going forward. I have the privilege—nay, the pleasure—of writing this monthly retrospective, so please send your thoughts, and any hate mail, to [email protected]
TOP IMAGE: Illustration by Jeff Drew Pictures