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Top Investigative Journalists of All Time

Investigative journalists reveal the truths and the dirty secrets that hide beneath the skin of society. They're the guardians of free speech.

Hunter S. Thompson

Without journalism, there is no first amendment, and investigative journalists are especially crucial to not only free speech but also truth in investigative reporting. These reporters expose corruption, crimes, and human rights violations, among many other scandals. It's why we love investigative podcasts. They belong to media outlets in every genre, and they spend months, if not years, digging deep to uncover lies, cover-ups, and buried skeletons—sometimes literally. Pay homage to these brave, intrepid explorers of the truth, whether it's a local news reporter or a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Ida Tarbell: Exposing a Rockefeller

The next time someone sneers at you about your interest in social justice, tell them to check out the history of the late 19th century leading into the early 20th century. With President Theodore Roosevelt at the helm, the country went through a progressive period devoted to activism and justice. At the time, the government was caught in a corrupt dance with various forms of industry. Ida Tarbell, who worked as a teacher before turning to investigative reporting, profiled one of the wealthiest men in the country, John D. Rockefeller, and his business, the Standard Oil Company. The articles appeared in McClure's Magazine, and they led to the breakup of Standard Oil, which was guilty of breaking antitrust laws. During her time, Ida was known as a muckraker; today, she's a heroine. 

Murrey Marder Brings Down McCarthyism

You know about Joe McCarthy, right? The gentleman was a U.S. Senator in the 1940s and 50s. He had a pet project: according to him, over 200 employees in the U.S. State Department were Communists. During his reign, he called for the blackballing of scientists, fellow politicians, upper-echelon members of the military, and all manner of entertainers. McCarthy also accused personnel in the Army of espionage. Murrey Marder, an investigative journalist at the Washington Post, revealed the senator's claims to be lies. Most of McCarthy's accusations were based on falsehoods and outright fabrications.

David Halberstam Blows Up the Vietnam Spot

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The Vietnam War stands as a blight in the history of the United States. Early in the 1960s, the protesters who eventually defined the age were still a minority, and wartime propaganda was in full force. Although President John F. Kennedy tried to bolster patriotism and support for the war by feeding the public tales of optimism regarding the efforts of South Vietnam's government against North Vietnam. David Halberstam, a reporter for The New York Times, diligently—and some say doggedly—reported what was really going on in the bush. JFK actually asked the paper's publisher, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, to take the earnest, honest investigative journalist off of his Vietnam assignment. Instead, Halberstam went on to win a Pulitzer Prize because of his reports from the war. Some of the best detective movies of all time were based on his heroics. 

Woodward and Bernstein: Investigative Journalists and Heroes

Corruption isn't new in the United States government. Richard Nixon's presidency was rife with it. Two courageous investigative journalists, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, wrote a series of stories that ultimately uncovered the Watergate scandal and brought down Richard Nixon's paranoid power plays. The two stand as proof of the need for a free press, particularly one that's interested in forcing the government to take responsibility for its actions.

Kate Adie Still Rules the Journalism Game

British journalist Kate Adie has a mile-long resume that speaks to her bravery and her insistence on discovering the truth. She's still active and presents a show on BBC Radio 4, From Our Own Correspondent. Her most in-depth investigative report took place in 1980. Kate covered the siege on the London Iranian Embassy while hiding from soldiers and bombs, tucked behind a car door as chaos exploded around her.

Melvin Claxton Uncovers Prison Abuse

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Investigative journalists Melvin Claxton and Ronald J. Hansen worked together to reveal rampant sexual abuse occurring in women's prisons, primarily by the male corrections officers and guards tasked with caring for the inmates. As a result of these exposes, which happened in Michigan, male guards were removed from women's correctional facilities and replaced with female COs. 

Henry Nxumalo Uncovers Apartheid

Throughout the 1950s, South African reporter Henry Nxumalo worked for Drum magazine. Although the magazine tempered its reporting with levity and local events, Nxumalo made a name for himself—and a lot of enemies—by going undercover to write truthful accounts describing prison conditions in Apartheid-era Johannesburg and farming conditions in Bethal. The reporter successfully revealed the atrocities but paid for it. In 1957, Henry died from stab wounds that occurred under decidedly murky circumstances.

Hunter S. Thompson Defined a Genre

Hunter S. Thompson is probably best-known for his ostentatious approach. The man defined investigative journalism on a new level: gonzo journalism. While the term makes it sound as if Thompson, who committed suicide in 2005, believed in exaggeration and hyperbole, gonzo journalism is something else entirely. The reporters get involved. They participate rather than merely describe the events. Gonzo journalists don't take the passive approach. Sometimes, Hunter became engaged to his own detriment, but there's no denying that he changed the shape of investigative reporting.

Anderson Cooper Continues Thompson's Legacy

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Silver fox Anderson Cooper doesn't go gonzo in quite the same way as Hunter S. Thompson, but he's built his career on the premise of following his conscious and getting his hands dirty when it's necessary. These days, you can watch him on Anderson Cooper 360, but while making his bones in journalism, he earned a reputation for personal, raw coverage. In the early 1990s, he received awards for covering the Somalian famine. He also documented the intensity of the Iraq War and took a hands-on approach during his coverage of Hurricane Katrina. He's also written a mindblowing book for anyone who likes true crime

Christiane Amanpour: A Journalist's Journalist

It's impossible to pinpoint a single story for which Amanpour is famous. Her career spans several decades, and her work covers every major story throughout that time, ranging from wartime reporting to exposes about abuses of power and crime corruption. Not only has she won both major and minor broadcasting awards, but she landed the only interview with Hosni Mubarak, and she also managed to interview Muammar Ghadafi. At present, Amanpour sits on the board of directors of the Center for Public Integrity, the International Women's Media Foundation, and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Without investigative reporters and editors, there's no telling how many stories of abuse, corruption, and unfair power plays would go under the radar. While a degree helps, investigative journalists are often born, not made. Anyone with a nose for the truth and a desire to do the right thing can research public records and produce investigative stories. Have you ever considered pursuing this method of speaking truth to power?

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