Many fascinating ― and, at times, disturbing ― truths about our world were uncovered in 2017, thanks in large part to the ingenuity and dogged reporting of dozens of journalists.
While President Donald Trump would have you believe the press is “the enemy of the people,” much of 2017′s most important journalistic initiatives proved otherwise. From explosive revelations in the Trump-Russia investigations to dramatic accounts of sexual misconduct, this year’s investigative reporting helped keep powerful figures in check.
These 14 stories, in chronological order, show what an influential and essential tool great journalism can be in starting conversations, shaping society, and helping mold a safer, more transparent world for its consumers.
1. The New York Times: “Bill O’Reilly Thrives At Fox News, Even As Harassment Settlements Add Up” (April 1)
Rumors about conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly’s pattern of sexually harassment towards women staffers at Fox News, where he was a star for two decades, were confirmed by The New York Times’ reporters Emily Steel and Michael S. Schmidt in April.
The Times’ investigation revealed at least $13 million had been paid out to five women over the years about his inappropriate behavior. O’Reilly denied the allegations, but less than two weeks later, Fox News’ biggest name was fired.
The story likely empowered other women to come forward about their own sexual harassment experiences, helping to ignite the #MeToo movement months later. It also shed light on the questionable ethics of non-disclosure agreements that prevent many women from speaking out.
Memorable line: The women who made allegations against Mr. O’Reilly ... complained about a wide range of behavior, including verbal abuse, lewd comments, unwanted advances and phone calls in which it sounded as if Mr. O’Reilly was masturbating, according to documents and interviews.
2. The New York Times: “Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him To End Flynn Investigation” (May 16)
Americans were captivated when the Times published an explosive report describing memos written by former FBI director James Comey about his interactions with President Trump. Comey, who had been fired by Trump a week before the Times’ story, alleged the president had urged him to shut down the federal investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
The report was published just weeks prior to Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which was part of a federal investigation into whether Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with the Russian government.
Some lawmakers and political commentators suggested Trump’s remarks to Comey, which the president has denied making, constitute obstruction of justice. Flynn pleaded guilty earlier this month on charges of lying to the FBI about his interactions with Russian officials.
Memorable line: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
3. Mother Jones: “Children Of The Opioid Epidemic Are Flooding Foster Homes. America Is Turning A Blind Eye.” (July 5)
In this eye-opening report, Mother Jones’ Julia Lurie highlighted one of the many heart-breaking side effects of the United States’ opioid epidemic: the growing number of children in foster care.
More and more parents using or overdosing on drugs are losing custody of their children, burdening an already under-resourced foster care system. Between 2012 and 2015, children in foster care grew by roughly 30,000, according to the report.
Memorable line: Then there was Jake, a 16-year-old with boy-band looks who holed up for months in a motel ... while his mom went out to use. “I just want her to go into rehab and get right,” he told me over chicken nuggets at Dairy Queen. “If that could be my birthday present or my Christmas present, that’s what it would be.”
4. The New York Times: “Russian Dirt On Clinton? ‘I Love It,’ Donald Trump Jr. Said” (July 11)
On July 8, the Times published a report describing a previously undisclosed meeting between Russian operatives and Donald Trump Jr. during his father’s 2016 presidential campaign. Trump Jr. dismissed the meeting as one simply about an “adoption program.”
But three days later, the Times published an even more damning report. The story included details from an email chain between Trump Jr. and the Russian meeting attendees, in which he describes his eagerness to get Kremlin-produced dirt on his father’s political opponent Hillary Clinton.
For some lawmakers and their constituents, this revelation fueled their growing concerns over potential links between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.
Memorable line: If the future president’s eldest son was surprised or disturbed by ... the notion that it was part of a continuing effort by the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign ... he gave no indication. He replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
5. Buzzfeed News: “R. Kelly Is Holding Women Against Their Will In A ‘Cult,’ Parents Told Police” (July 17)
R. Kelly is no stranger to sexual misconduct and abuse allegations. Despite decades of accusations against the R&B star, including sex with underage girls and battery, Kelly has come out relatively unscathed and managed to keep a low-ish profile for the past few years.
And then Buzzfeed News contributor Jim DeRogatis published a shocking report alleging several women between the ages of 31 and 19 are being held against their will in a “cult” run by Kelly, in which he dictates how they dress, what they eat, when they sleep and how they sexually pleasure him while he records it.
R. Kelly has denied the accusations vehemently, but parents of the women involved with his “cult” say he’s a “monster” and claim their daughters have been “brainwashed.” Over 36,000 people have signed an online petition calling on Sony Music to drop Kelly from its record label.
Memorable line: “It was as if she was brainwashed. [She] looked like a prisoner — it was horrible ... I hugged her and hugged her. But she just kept saying she’s in love and [R. Kelly] is the one who cares for her.”
6. Vice: “Charlottesville: Race And Terror” (Aug. 14)
Vice correspondent Elle Reeve’s video coverage of the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, created a buzz on the internet over its up-close look at the horrifying beliefs of a hate movement.
The enthralling documentary followed several white nationalists, including Christopher Cantwell, an unabashedly racist alt-right personality. Cantwell made many alarming statements throughout the video, but perhaps most sickening was his remark that a fellow white nationalist at the rally was “justified” in ramming his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
Cantwell posted a tearful video days after Vice released the video, claiming his band of white nationalists have been treated unfairly. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram disabled his accounts following the Vice report. By Aug. 21, Cantwell turned himself into police on warrants of illegal use of teargas during his time in Charlottesville.
Memorable line: “As you can see, we greatly outnumbered the anti-white, anti-American filth and, at some point, we will have enough power that we will clear them from the streets forever. That which is degenerate in white countries will be removed.”
7. The New Yorker: “The Risk Of Nuclear War With North Korea” (Sept. 18)
Seasoned North Korea correspondent Evan Osnos dissected the possibility of a nuclear war between the U.S. and North Korea in this deep dive into the two feuding countries’ tumultuous relationship. His on-the-ground perspective from Pyongyang offered an enlightening and unique look into the enigmatic, authoritarian regime.
Osnos gained rare access to North Korean military leaders and citizens, who offered reactions to President Trump’s bombastic rhetoric and threats to the country’s leader Kim Jon Un. Military conflict with the U.S. was not a goal, they said, but certainly not out of the realm of possibility if provoked.
Memorable line: “A few thousand would survive,” Pak said. “And the military would say, ‘Who cares? As long as the United States is destroyed, then we are all starting from the same line again.’ ” He added, “A lot of people would die. But not everyone would die.”
8. The Washington Post: “How The Military Handles Sexual Assault Cases Behind Closed Doors” (Sept. 30)
Despite the military’s promise to crackdown on sexual misconduct, the Post’s Craig Whitlock uncovered one woman’s chilling account of an Air Force colonel relentlessly harassing her, sending her X-rated recordings ― and essentially getting away with it.
Col. Ronald S. Jobo avoided criminal charges ― and even walked away with a hefty pension ― after bombarding his female subordinate with inappropriate, sexual messages and requests. The victim filed a report to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, who found evidence that Jobo sexually harassed her.
But Jobo’s commander, Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, took a lenient approach in disciplining him. Jobo was merely demoted and forced to retire, which allowed him to collect a pension worth roughly $72,000 per year, according to the report.
The reported prompted outrage from lawmakers, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who demanded a review of the Air Force’s adjudication process for cases of sexual assault and harassment.
Memorable line:The woman said that she tried once more to leave but that he told her he wouldn’t let go of her arm until she agreed to respond to his texts. Instead, crying, she swore at him again.
9. The Atlantic: “Death At A Penn State Fraternity” (Oct. 4)
Caitlin Flanagan, contributing editor for The Atlantic, put the spotlight on some fraternities’ harmful ― and, at times, deadly ― hazing rituals taking place on college campuses across the U.S. Her findings made her question why such institutions even continue to exist.
Flanagan focused on one particularly horrifying case, in which Penn State University sophomore Tim Piazza fell down a flight of stairs at a Beta Theta Pi hazing event. It wasn’t until 12 hours later that some of the fraternity’s members called 911 when they noticed their pledge “looked fucking dead.” The student underwent surgery, but died the next day.
Penn State shut down the fraternity in February and over two dozen people have been charged in relation to the student’s death. Since Flanagan’s report, at least two other fraternity-related deaths have occurred, according to The New York Times.
Memorable line: Once again, a student is dead and a family is shattered. And all of us are co-authors of these grim facts, as we grant both the fraternities and their host institutions tax-exempt status and allow them to carry on year after year with little change. Is it time we reconsidered what we’re doing?
10. The New York Times: “Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers For Decades” (Oct. 5)
This is the explosive report that helped catapult the #MeToo movement into existence. The Times’ Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey unearthed previously undisclosed allegations that Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein used his position of power to sexually harass women for decades, telling women to accept his sexual advances if they wanted his help with their careers.
Days later, the New Yorker published Ronan Farrow’s disturbing investigation into Weinstein’s history of sexual abuse, revealing the film producer had been accused not only of sexual harassment, but of rape as well.
The reports prompted the firing of Weinstein from his company, as well as the rescinding of several awards. The NYPD announced in October that it was investigating sexual assault claims against him.
Since the Weinstein allegations, a powerful man has been publicly accused of sexual misconduct once every 20 hours, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Memorable line:In interviews, eight women described varying behavior by Mr. Weinstein: appearing nearly or fully naked in front of them, requiring them to be present while he bathed or repeatedly asking for a massage or initiating one himself.
11. International Consortium of Investigative Journalists: “Paradise Papers” (Nov. 5)
Journalists from 96 media organizations across the world worked together to investigate over 13 million leaked documents that revealed elaborate offshore assets of politicians and corporations. The investigation, known as the “Paradise Papers,” concluded that such assets allowed the high-profile figures and companies to dodge millions of dollars in taxes.
One of the most notable findings for U.S. politics is a report that Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross shares business interests with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law. Ross previously failed to disclose the connection during his confirmation hearing.
Many U.S. lawmakers expressed dismay over the findings. Several senators, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called for an investigation into the findings.
The Paradise Papers “raise serious questions about the integrity of our tax system and the ability of the top one percent to rig it in order to benefit themselves at the expense of everyone else,” Sanders wrote in a letter to the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee last month.
Memorable line: In the United States, the files reveal personal or corporate offshore ties of key Trump associates who are charged with helping to put “America First.”
12. Washington Post: “Woman Says Roy Moore Initiated Sexual Encounter When She Was 14, He Was 32” (Nov. 9)
Judge Roy Moore had all but cinched his position as Alabama’s next senator, despite his overtly racist and homophobic views. But then the allegations of sexual assault on minors began rolling in.
Leigh Corfman told the Post that she was 14 when Moore, then a 32-year-old district attorney, kissed her, touched her breast and forced her to touch him over his underwear. Corfman’s accusation prompted other women to come forward, though Moore has denied accusations of wrongdoing.
The report likely cost Moore the race, despite having Trump’s endorsement. He lost to Democratic opponent Doug Jones, but has yet to officially concede.
Memorable line:He took off her shirt and pants and removed his clothes. He touched her over her bra and underpants, she says, and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear. “I wanted it over with — I wanted out,” she remembers thinking. “Please just get this over with.”
13. New York Times: “The Uncounted” (Nov. 16)
An on-the-ground account from veteran investigative reporter Azmat Khan and writer Anand Gopal found coalition airstrikes in Iraq are not nearly as precise as U.S. officials claim, with more civilians dying from the bombs than previously reported.
Khan and Gopal discovered flawed or outdated intelligence contributed to accidental bombing of Iraqi civilians by the U.S. military. According to the report, one in five airstrikes resulted in the death of civilians ― a rate more than 31 times acknowledged by the coalition.
Memorable line:When Basim asked who in his home survived, he was told: nobody. The blast killed Mayada and Tuqa instantly. A second strike hit next door, and Mohannad and Najib were also dead. Only Azza, Najib’s mother, was alive, because the explosion had flung her through a second-story window.
14. HuffPost: “Millennials Are Screwed” (Dec. 14)
The impending financial doom facing most millennials has been a hot topic for the past few years, but no report has laid out the disaster quite as effectively and hauntingly as HuffPost contributor Michael Hobbes.
Hobbes explained how decades of irresponsible political and corporate decisions have led this generation into a downward spiral of financial ruin. One in five millennials live in poverty, according to the report, and people ages 26 to 34 are more likely than any other age bracket to not have health insurance.
Some lawmakers called on Congress to make a more concerted effort to help millennials, including Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whose cornerstone issue is tackling wealth inequality.
“This is the direct result of an economy built to maximize corporate profits and protect the assets of the wealthy—an economy that is rigged against working class people who also cannot count on a stable safety net like generations before,” Sanders wrote in a Facebook post.
Memorable line: Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are not interested in our innovative proposals to lift up the systemically disadvantaged. Their entire political agenda, from the Scrooge McDuck tax reform bill to the ongoing assassination attempt on Obamacare, is explicitly designed to turbocharge the forces that are causing this misery.