by Jason Fagone
Here are the four stories I wrote in 2014 that I liked the best. Many thanks to the editors and fact-checkers who worked with me this year. (h/t to Erik Malinowski for the idea.)
4. How a Squad of Ex-Cops Fights Police Abuses, Mother Jones
A few years ago I came across a short article in a Florida newspaper about a guy named Al Smith, who had won an award for “Public Defense Investigator of the Year.” I wasn’t even aware that “public defense investigator” was a job that someone could have, so I called Al Smith, and he told me his story: For 26 years he had been a cop, putting people in jail, but now he was working for the “other side,” using his knowledge of police technology and procedure to help overburdened public defenders challenge police testimony and beat powerful prosecutors. It turned out that Smith was in charge of a whole team of ex-cops who worked for the public defender in Broward County, Howard Finkelstein. There aren’t a lot of good models for reining in bad police — the police aren’t good at policing themselves, and civilian oversight boards tend to be slow and toothless — and after visiting Broward and talking to the investigators and attorneys, I felt like they had built an innovative model that could work.
3. Grief in the Age of Paranoia, Philadelphia
In August 2011, during a nighttime raid in Afghanistan, 30 American soldiers, eight Afghans, and a military search canine were killed when a Taliban fighter struck their helicopter with an RPG. Charlie Strange’s cryptologist son was one of the dead. Charlie, a blackjack dealer at a Philadelphia casino, didn’t accept the military’s explanation for the failed mission, and spent the next several years fighting for a new investigation. Along the way he sued the NSA.
2. The Secret to Getting Top-Secret Secrets, Matter
A profile of Jason Leopold, investigative reporter and FOIA expert. Doing this piece taught me a lot about the open-records process, its dysfunctions and limitations but also its latent power. Since this piece went up, Leopold has published a number of scoops related to the CIA torture report.
1. The Construction of a Twitter Aesthetic, NewYorker.com
This was a shorter piece but probably the one that brought me the most joy. A story of a surprising transformation.