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PRESENTING HALFTIME REPORT’S BEST OF JOURNALISM, 2017
You have often heard us say that media criticism is like asbestos abatement: It’s dirty, dangerous work that is best left to the professionals.
After all, we would rather talk about the news than talk about the news about the news. Far too many in politics and journalism today cop out on real coverage by reflexively defaulting to trashing the press.
Liberals and conservatives alike engage in this practice, holding up one media outlet or an entire subset for abuse. Some of these are just political proxy fights or efforts to discredit stories damaging to one’s preferred party, but most of it is a waste of your time. That’s why we usually skip it.
But all of this gasbaggery means that the current atmosphere contains toxic levels of disdain for journalism. Now, many reporters, pundits and news organizations deserve opprobrium and it’s fair to say that there is much to be improved in the way our profession handles itself.
In that way, we wish to wholly associate ourselves with the remarks from our colleague Chris Wallace on the occasion of his recognition from the International Center for Journalists last month: “We shouldn’t be drawn into becoming players on the field, trying to match the people we cover in invective. It’s not our role. We’re not as good at it as they are. And we’re giving up our special place in our democracy. There’s enough to report about this president that we don’t need to offer opinions or put our thumb on the scale. Be as straight and accurate and dispassionate as we first learned to be as reporters.”
But all of the lazy, self-interested complaining about the media that’s out there tends to create a false impression in the minds of Americans that we are somehow now living in some era of crisis in journalism. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The new world of journalism is noisy, bumptious and sometimes bewildering, but that might be expected in a trade that is still undergoing a seismic shift away from traditional media to new forms. Yes, more is demanded of news consumers than during the era when three newspapers a wire service and three television and radio networks essentially controlled the national narrative for decades. But that’s a small price to pay for the choices we have today.
It’s not quite the Wild West, but it is certainly a time of opportunity and new beginnings, even with the dangers and uncertainties that such an atmosphere can produce.
With all that in mind, we would ask your indulgence to consider our offerings, leavened by your suggestions, of some of the best journalism of 2017.
One caveat: We have not included any of our fantastic Fox News and Fox Business colleagues. The remarkable work done by the men and women of our network gives us great pride every day and we make a point to share their best with you.
It has been an especially proud year for our news division with the launch of three new shows “The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino,” “Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream” and “Outnumbered Overtime with Harris Faulkner,” to say nothing of the coverage of our producers and reporters across the country and around the world.
Hundreds of newsmen and newswomen work hard every day to bring you the latest and do it in a fair and balanced way. However you ice your political cupcake, the work of our news division stands up to the test.
So without further ado, here is some of the best of journalism from 2017:
REPORTING IN THE FIELD
‘Seven days of heroin’ by Dan Horn, Terry DeMio and the staff of the Cincinnati Enquirer - Cincinnati Enquirer: “It’s a little after sunrise on the first day of another week, and Cincinnati is waking up again with a heroin problem. So is Covington. And Middletown. And Norwood. And Hamilton. And West Chester Township. And countless other cities and towns across Ohio and Kentucky. This particular week, July 10 through 16, will turn out to be unexceptional by the dreary standards of what has become the region’s greatest health crisis [18 deaths, at least 180 overdoses, more than 200 heroin users jailed and 15 babies born with heroin-related problems]. This is normal now, a week like any other. But a terrible week is no less terrible because it is typical. When heroin and synthetic opiates kill one American every 16 minutes, there is little comfort in the routine. There is only the struggle to endure and survive.”
Puerto Rico hurricane coverage by David Begnaud - CBS News During the coverage of Hurricane Maria, many journalists were on the ground doing diligent work. But even to his competitors, CBS News’ David Begnaud stood out among the rest. Begnaud spent two weeks on the island, arriving before Maria, enduring the storm and staying for the aftermath. Begnaud excelled in coverage of the disaster itself and the response. Upon returning, Begnaud has kept an eye on the situation through his Twitter and reporting in the United States.
‘Charlottesville: Race and Terror’ by Elle Reeve - VICE News Tonight: Many journalists are willing to travel to the locations of breaking news, even if it may put them in a potentially dangerous situation. We particularly tip our hats to Vice News’ Elle Reeve, who reported firsthand from the streets of Charlottesville amidst the tiki-torches and chaos of this summer’s deadly race riot. Her coverage of that weekend brought viewers the sights, sounds and severity of the violence, including face-to-face interviews with white nationalists, neo-Nazis, members of the Ku Klux Klan and local activists to tell this story. Because she stood by with a camera ready, she captured raw emotion and footage that you simply have to see to believe.
‘From aggressive overtures to sexual assault: Harvey Weinstein’s accusers tell their stories’ by Ronan Farrow - New Yorker NYT Reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey deserve plenty of credit for getting the scoop on the competition to bust film mogul Harvey Weinstein for his misdeeds, but it was Ronan Farrow who made the moment with his subsequent reporting at the New Yorker. That fact is made more remarkable by the fact that Farrow, 30, last earned notoriety for a cable news show that was panned by critics and viewers. The rap on Farrow quickly boiled down to a son of privilege who was brought along too far too fast. So much for that wunderkind, they said… Instead, Farrow used his access to pull down one of the titans of Hollywood and Democratic Party. And there’s no doubt that the work he helped create the framework for the stories that followed about other powerful men in media, politics and business who abused their positions.
‘Woman says Roy Moore initiated sexual encounter when she was 14, he was 32’ by Stephanie McCrummen, Beth Reinhard and Alice Crites - WaPo: “Leigh Corfman says she was 14 years old when an older man approached her outside a courtroom in Etowah County, Ala. She was sitting on a wooden bench with her mother, they both recall, when the man introduced himself as Roy Moore. It was early 1979 and Moore — now the Republican nominee in Alabama for a U.S. Senate seat — was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney. He struck up a conversation, Corfman and her mother say, and offered to watch the girl while her mother went inside for a child custody hearing. ‘He said, ‘Oh, you don’t want her to go in there and hear all that. I’ll stay out here with her,’ ’ says Corfman’s mother, Nancy Wells, 71. ‘I thought, how nice for him to want to take care of my little girl.’”
‘The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook’ by Josh Meyer - Politico: “In its determination to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama administration derailed an ambitious law enforcement campaign targeting drug trafficking by the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, even as it was funneling cocaine into the United States, according to a POLITICO investigation. … The untold story of Project Cassandra illustrates the immense difficulty in mapping and countering illicit networks in an age where global terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime have merged, but also the extent to which competing agendas among government agencies — and shifting priorities at the highest levels — can set back years of progress. And while the pursuit may be shadowed in secrecy, from Latin American luxury hotels to car parks in Africa to the banks and battlefields of the Middle East, the impact is not: In this case, multi-ton loads of cocaine entering the United States, and hundreds of millions of dollars going to a U.S.-designated terrorist organization with vast reach.”
POLITICS AND ELECTIONS
‘Democrats Weren’t Always Super Liberal On Immigration’ by Harry Enten - FiveThirtyEight It’s hard to think of a political journalist who is more ably bridging the worlds of data determinism and narrative-based storytelling. Instead of just building tables of tables and graphs of graphs, Enten finds unusual seams in the information and mines them for pieces that fit into our larger understanding of the issue. Like so: “Whatever the cause of the Democrats’ move to the left on illegal immigration, it’s clearly happening. And as the congressional debate unfolds over DACA, this polarization could play a key role in whether Democrats and Republicans can reach a deal. If a straight up-or-down vote occurs in Congress (not a guarantee), DACA will probably need only a few Republican votes to pass because Democrats are in near unison in how they now view immigration, and illegal immigration in particular. But Republicans and the Trump administration can likely ask only so much in exchange for codifying DACA — Democrats are far less willing to compromise on immigration than they used to be.”
‘Playbook for a Democratic comeback’ by Josh Kraushaar - National Journal Kraushaar was in January among the first to identify one of the big trends for 2017 and 2018: the birth of an uneasy coalition of affluent suburban whites and minority voters who share a common desire to hold the president in check. In addition to his always level-headed analyses, his ability to see around corners makes Kraushaar stand out. To wit: “The results from the Atlanta suburbs offer Democrats a playbook for how to compete in the future—win over socially liberal, fiscally conservative voters who traditionally lined up with Republicans. This would pair the diverse Obama coalition with voters who have favored free markets and a tough-minded foreign policy. It would be a throwback to the centrist policies of Bill Clinton, along with a full-throated embrace of a diversifying America. It would concede some of the white working-class gains to Trump, while making an aggressive push to bring college-educated suburbanites into the Democratic fold.”
‘John Boehner Unchained’ by Tim Alberta - Politico: Tim Alberta is the greatest political profile writer of them all. That is all. “Boehner is a fascinating and paradoxical figure in his own right. He was the brilliant salesman who couldn’t get his own members to buy. The back-slapping creature of K Street who never took a single earmark. The gruff chain-smoker who weeps at the mere mention of schoolchildren. The Midwestern everyman who won’t be seen in public without a clean shave and an ironed shirt. The bartender’s son who became speaker of the House. But the story of Boehner’s 25 years in Washington is also the story of the Republican Party, the Congress and American politics in the post-Ronald Reagan era: an account of corruption and crusading, enormous promises and underwhelming results, growing ideological polarization and declining faith in government. The same centrifugal forces that made Boehner’s job impossible have bedeviled his successor, Ryan, and kept the GOP majorities in Congress from passing any landmark legislation in 2017.”
‘House committee approves $10 billion initial payment for U.S.-Mexico border wall’ by Stephen Dinan - WashTimes Stephen Dinan is probably the most underappreciated reporter covering Washington today. In a decade or more at The Washington Times, Dinan has developed a remarkable track record for accuracy, fairness and consistency. We might have included any number of his pieces this year for your consideration, but it seems suitable to pick a piece on immigration, an issue where he has long excelled. From the Mexican-U.S. border wall, to DREAMers and the many sit-ins on Capitol Hill, Dinan always has the latest. As he did in this piece on the border wall: “Democrats vehemently opposed the bill, saying the wall was a boondoggle and the fact that U.S. taxpayers will fund it violates the president’s campaign pledge to make Mexico foot the bill. … The immigration debate is heating up in Congress, with lawmakers racing a March deadline for approving legislation to grant permanent legal status to illegal immigrant Dreamers. Democrats want a full pathway to citizenship and say it should be a mostly stand-alone amnesty, but Republicans have said they want to see border security and other measures attached to head off a future wave of illegal immigration.”
‘Mike Pence’s real power move’ by Eliana Johnson - Politico Many reporters offer readers breathless gushes about the latest palace intrigues at the White House, but too often report in a vacuum. Eliana Johnson avoids the trap of scoops for scoops’ sake because, aside from being wryly smart, she has seen the journalistic world from multiple angles in her still relatively brief career. Her desire to tell the whole story was nicely displayed in her coverage of the rise of Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers: “Though they have grown close over the past three years, some who know the vice president well say that Ayers is a departure from the sort of aides with whom the vice president typically surrounds himself. … Ayers is around to ensure that if Trump is out of the picture for one reason or another his man will be ready. He is elbowing his way into meetings at which the vice president was previously unrepresented and … Ayers freely shares his views on the White House’s messaging and political strategy. He is making himself a ubiquitous figure, pacing the hallways, talking on his cellphone.”
‘The Daily 202’ by James Hohmann - WaPo There are many daily newsletters about the happenings in Washington, present company included, but James Hohmann’s “The Daily 202” takes home the gold. Hohmann’s daily analysis of the current political landscape contributes to conversations in ways that no other newsletter-style piece does. He’s offered breaking news and context on topics ranging from midterms, the Virginia elections and the probe into the Trump campaign.
‘I am cancer’ by Kevin Williamson - National Review: “‘My check didn’t come.’ Eviction court is not the saddest place in the world, but if you were taking a Dantean descent through the underworld of underclass despair and dysfunction, it would be somewhere around the fourth or fifth circle. … She is not the only person whose check didn’t come. The passivity and subjectlessness of these narratives is striking, and strikingly consistent. Domestic events happen. Checks come or don’t come. (Mostly they don’t.) Husbands are sent to jail, children are taken away by the clipboard-toting minions of Authority, disease descends. The money isn’t there. And, in the end, they are evicted. Bad things just happen, and, today, I am the bad thing that is just happening to one of these luckless and unhappy children of God. I am eviction, I am CPS, I am the check that didn’t come. I am diabetic amputation. I am cancer.”
‘How Ta-Nehisi Coates Gives Whiteness Power’ by Thomas Chatterton Williams - NYT: “I have spent the past six months poring over the literature of European and American white nationalism, in the process interviewing noxious identitarians like the alt-right founder Richard Spencer. The most shocking aspect of [Ta-Neshisi Coates’] wording here is the extent to which it mirrors ideas of race – specifically the specialness of whiteness – that white supremacist thinkers cherish. This, more than anything, is what is so unsettling about Mr. Coates’s recent writing and the tenor of the leftist ‘woke’ discourse he epitomizes. Though it is not at all morally equivalent, it is nonetheless in sync with the toxic premises of white supremacism. Both sides eagerly reduce people to abstract color categories, all the while feeding off of and legitimizing each other, while those of us searching for gray areas and common ground get devoured twice.”
‘When rage is all the rage’ by Matt Labash - Weekly Standard: “I regularly say this to both my conservative and liberal friends, the latter of whom now likely frequent this site in lesser numbers than they did even five years ago, as everyone is now consigned to their digital masturbatoriums to have their prejudices confirmed and partisan passions inflamed. This is a pity. We all benefit from cross-pollination. From having to confront ideas that don't naturally reside in our own brainpans. As that great fictional liberal Atticus Finch put it, ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’ Skin-suits aside, liberals and conservatives need each other more than either side is willing to let on. Without conservatives, liberals would likely have no country music, U.S. Marine Corps, or Chick-fil-A. Without liberals, conservatives would have no entertainment industry, farm-to-table restaurants, or porn.”
‘S-Town’ by Brian Reed - Serial Productions We don’t need to say much about this Southern gothic murder mystery, since it has already been acclaimed from Tuscaloosa toTucumcari as the best of the bunch. And we do strongly encourage a listen for those who missed it. But there’s another consideration here. News organizations have poured increasing resources into podcasts for in-depth coverage and investigation and producers like Brian Reed have met the opportunity with innovate forms of storytelling. Reed’s story of intrigues in a small Alabama town isn’t front-page news, but using the intimacy of the medium he draws listeners in deeply. Once there, they are gently given insights into the larger world of region, race, politics and more.
‘The Remnant’ by Jonah Goldberg - National Review We perhaps wouldn’t have singled out Jonah Goldberg’s new podcast from the scads of other worthwhile pods on policy and politics but for the fact that he has been so daggone hard on himself about the thing. But perhaps what makes his offerings so palatable is the fact that he presents them like a guy selling dented or label-less canned goods – “Maybe it’s yams, maybe it’s cat food. Pay 15 cents and find out.” His wares end up being not only nutritive, but quite relishing, something hard to do when talking about philosophy, history and political theory. Aside from benefitting from the scratch-and-dent expectations he sets for himself, Goldberg is also helped by the generosity of his friends who come aboard to talk through matters profound without resorting to profundities. In sum, Goldberg did what few writers can: translated a distinctive style from text to sound.
‘Constitutional’ by Lillian Cunningham - WaPo Building on the success of her previous series “Presidential,” Lillian Cunningham pivoted to the making of and amendments to our nation’s charter. There may have been an undue focus at times on identity politics, perhaps a reflection of a certain sheepishness on her part about praising a document and a process often condemned as racist, sexist and elitist. But her love of history and evident esteem for our constitutional system show through. Most impressive is the depth of research she applies to developing full contexts for long-ago debates that would otherwise fall flat on our ears.
[Ed. note: It seems like now would be a good time to take a little break, dear readers. It has been a remarkable year and a great privilege – a privilege purchased with your continued support – to get to cover it. But the taxes passed, the shutdown was averted and perhaps the world can live without my daily ramblings for a week or so. Wherever you go and whatever you do in this last week of 2017 you do it with my gratitude and most affectionate thoughts. I do many things here at Fox News, but nothing is as important or, ultimately, as satisfying as hashing out the news of the day, every day, here with you. Your thoughtful and generous comments and questions are an integral part of that experience. Please keep them coming. But more importantly than that, please consider the possibility of a political detox next week. I’ll be busy writing my forthcoming book and hopefully blissfully unaware of the daily grind of politics and outrage. I would encourage you to do the same. My professional life’s work centers on politics, but that is a starvation ration by itself. The degree to which we can experience our lives as individuals and as Americans without first applying a political lens might just be determinative of our portion of happiness. This note will return on Jan. 2, when I will be ready to get back on top of the bucking, snorting bull that we call American politics. Merry Christmas, a happy New Year and a joyous celebration of whatever you may celebrate.]
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.