There’s no mistaking the contentious relationship that exists between the Trump Administration and the press. President Trump’s disdain for the media was a central theme of his campaign and, by all appearances, he has taken that animosity into the White House. While Trump certainly isn’t the first person in the Oval Office to find himself at odds with the press corps, his open hostility is unlike anything seen from a president in recent decades.
Shortly after taking his seat in the White House, Trump called journalists the “most dishonest people” on earth, and has disputed the facts they’ve presented – with no data of his own to back up his claims. At times like these, it is especially important to understand the importance of the media. The free press is a vital check on our government’s power – and this is particularly relevant as we face the notions of presidential conflicts of interest and the new notion of “alternative facts” as an actual thing.
Historically, investigative journalism has proven to be an indispensable safeguard for democracy. In the midst of unprecedented challenges to basic, verifiable truths, as we face mind-blowing reports swirling around foreign interference in our election system, deep and insightful journalism is arguably more important than ever. It was an iconic news anchor who brought down Joseph McCarthy; two then-unknown reporters from the Washington Post exposed the Watergate Scandal; the Boston Globe unearthed the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church. Here’s a look at a range of books, some classic and some contemporary, that illustrate the power and importance of investigative journalism.
The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right
In this New York Times bestseller, journalist Jane Mayer traces the staggering trail of money and influence that props up the more radical elements of the conservative right. Pulling from hundreds of interviews, public records, court documents, and private papers, Dark Money is an illuminating if unnerving piece of investigative journalism.
Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
The 1974 book All the President’s Men chronicles the investigation by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward into a seemingly innocuous break-in at the DNC Headquarters in the Watergate Office Complex. The ensuing investigation would eventually climb all the way to the White House and expose the rampant corruption that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. The Final Days is also an intriguing follow-up that covers the last months of the Nixon presidency.
Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson’s deep dive into the 1972 presidential campaign and the turmoil within the Democratic Party is one of the most influential pieces of campaign reporting in modern politics. Over a period of twelve months, Thompson, essentially embedded with the George McGovern campaign, reported on even the most minute details of the campaign’s machinations with his characteristic flair.
This 2004 book is an excellent compilation of some of the very best and most influential pieces of investigative journalism. The book covers everything ranging from Edward R. Murrow’s investigations into McCarthyism to unflinching coverage of the War in Iraq. For a broad view into the sheer breadth of quality investigative journalism, this is a good place to start.
Despite controversy over the veracity of certain moments in the narrative, In Cold Blood is nonetheless an important read. Truman Capote’s exhaustive investigation into the quadruple murder of the Clutter family in rural Kansas is a remarkable narrative and a forerunner of the true crime genre.
In the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot provides an in-depth look at the HeLa cell – also known as the immortal cell line. Taken from the cervical cancer cells of a woman named Henrietta Lacks in 1951 without her knowledge, the HeLa cells have proven immeasurably important to researchers and have led to game-changing breakthroughs like the polio vaccine. The book is a fascinating chronicle of the HeLa cells, the life of Henrietta Lacks, and the ethical issues that crop up in medical research. It’s also an exquisite work of investigative journalism.
Although technically a work of fiction, The Jungle was built around Upton Sinclair’s meticulous investigations into the Chicago meatpacking industry. Sinclair spent seven weeks working in the meatpacking plants of the Chicago stockyards, and intended his book to highlight the harsh conditions under which the workers toiled. However, the public was far more outraged by the disturbingly unsanitary conditions and horrifying accidents that plagued the industry and that Sinclair outline in vivid detail. The book led to sweeping reforms like the Meat Inspection Act.
Inspired by the debate over healthcare reform, Barbara Ehrenreich spent two years working only minimum or low wage jobs to determine the actual feasibility of that kind of life and the accompanying living conditions that such work affords. Her resulting book is a startling and powerful look into the plight of America’s working poor.