5 times reporters made a difference
Image: AP Photo
When it comes to the public’s perception of the media, it’s a strange time to be living in the United States. With the 24-hour news cycle forcing reporters to get the story out before all of the facts have been established and the plethora of publications that make stories up for clicks, many people struggle to determine which facts are to be believed. However, nobody can deny that there’s a valid reason that a free press is protected under the First Amendment. Over the years, there have been countless journalists working tirelessly to break important stories to the American people, some of which change the course of history. Here are some journalists you should know and the stories they broke.
Reporters have a laundry list of laws and ethics to abide by these days, including some fuzzy lines they have to be careful not to cross if they need to go undercover for a story. Back in 1887, though, the press was pretty much a free-for-all. In fact, in the late 1800s and into the 1900s, mental institutions were a free-for-all as well. Nellie Bly was a 23-year-old reporter so set on exposing the abuse that was rampant at a New York asylum that she faked insanity to get committed. Once she was able to leave the asylum 10 days later, she wrote an expose describing the foreign women who were being held in the asylum solely because they didn’t speak English, spoiled food served to patients, dirty clothes, ice baths and solitary confinement. After her story ran, nurses were fired, conditions were improved and the state raised the institution’s budget.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Upton Sinclair — author of Oil!, the basis of the movie There Will Be Blood — went undercover in Chicago’s meatpacking plants in 1906 in an effort to find out what kinds of conditions food was being processed and people had to work in. He wrote a scathing expose of the conditions immigrant workers were subjected to, which became a novel, The Jungle. Thanks to Sinclair, the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act were passed shortly after, ensuring food and meat establishments were kept in sanitary conditions.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
When a war is waging, everybody knows it. But nobody really thinks about how the word gets out in the early days. Well, back in 1939, word got out that Germany was going to invade Poland by a 27-year-old rookie reporter named Clare Hollingworth. According to PBS, she borrowed a British consulate official’s car and drove from southern Poland to Germany-occupied territory and gathered that Germany was about to about to invade Poland, judging by the armored trucks and burlap screens hiding military vehicles. Three days later, Germany invaded. Hollingworth died in January of this year at the age of 105.
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
Any even minor scandal these days wouldn’t be referred to as “_____-gate” if Watergate back in 1972 wasn’t one of the biggest scandals in American history. When Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein noticed that one of the people arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Committee was on President Richard Nixon’s reelection committee, they ended up uncovering that 40 administration officials were tied to crimes leading back to Watergate. Within two years of the initial break-in, Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting led to Nixon’s infamous resignation letter: “I hereby resign the Office of President of the United States.”
Image: AP Photo
The Spotlight Team
Matt Carroll, Sacha Pfeiffer, Michael Rezendes and Walter V. Robinson were three reporters and an editor tasked with longform, investigative stories with The Boston Globe. In 2002, the team published a scandal that the Catholic Church is still dealing with: a widespread coverup of priests who abused children. What started as a five-month investigation of a single abusive priest in Boston who had been transferred from parish to parish from led to over 600 stories chronicling 250 priests in the Boston area who had been accused of abusing children, according to the Boston Globe. The story behind the story was told in the 2015 Oscar-winning film, Spotlight.
Image: AP Images