EDITORS’ NOTE: Happy Sunday and welcome back! This week, we're honored to hand the newsletter to guest editor Ben Smith, BuzzFeed News's editor-in-chief and chairman of The City, a new New York non-profit news organization. (He also still finds time to write.)
But before we turn things over, a big ICYMI regarding Don. We're all going to get to hear a lot more from him in 2019, as he launches a new docuseries and podcast for ESPN. Many thanks to everybody who reached out with messages of congratulations since the news dropped.
Lastly, senior editors Jack Shafer and Kelly Dearmore are off this week, but the Classic Read and Long Listen will return soon!
Ok, over to Ben now.
A confession: The single worst thing a reporter can tell me in a job interview is, “I want to write longform.”
That’s not because I don’t love great narrative journalism, or because we won’t publish stories that can run in excess of 25,000 words.
It’s because I want to know what you want to write about, what you want to uncover, what you’re obsessed with. Not how many words you want to write. For all the blather about short attention spans among kids these days, the curse of internet editing is that there’s no pressure to cut. Most pieces could be shorter.
Great longreads, like the ones I read in this newsletter every week, fight as hard for every word as a sonnet or a tweet.
Among the dark memories unearthed last week in America was the question of how young men behaved in the early 1980s, and why. These have been Caitlin Flanagan’s subjects for a long time, and her journey inside the heads of frat boys of that day is harrowing:
“[F]raternities took the chaos of the ’60s—drugs, sexual liberation, communal living that allowed for a high degree of squalor—and combined it with the chaos of the fraternity, including brutal hazing, the sexual conquest of women that often crossed into illegality, and a self-conscious embrace of collegiate machismo of the sophomoric kind. The system soon racked up so many ruinously expensive lawsuits that it eventually created a complex and inflexible risk-management protocol, which at least indemnified the national organizations. But until then, the 1980s were a time of essentially unsupervised, extreme, and often violent behavior.”
It’s too soon for the great narratives of this disturbing week. But Scaachi Koul gets at the heart of the new gender politics, the rise of an ideology of alienated masculinity in the “manosphere,” and she traces its origins in part to the pickup artists of the early aughts:
“Thirteen years ago, men were sold a handbook that promised to give them any woman that they wanted — and consequently, a kind of self-worth they desired. For some men, those taught strategies didn’t work, and we’re left behind with men angry at Chads and Stacys (and Beckys), men who thought they were owed something merely because they asked, nicely or not. Trickier still is that while PUAs can teach pickup, they can’t teach intimacy, or dating, or marriage, or relationships. They can get you through the first 72 hours, but after that, you’re on your own.”
This rare entry in the American conversation about identity seeks to explain to people disoriented by a new language why it’s important, and takes a point of departure how the author, as a girl, clung to the word “tomboy” like a life raft:
“I understand why people balk at labels—why further subdivide the world? But I think of them—tomboy, butch, genderqueer, MOC—as functional and hopeful. That function is communication. If I can’t describe who I am in this world—I am who I am, whether or not I can describe it—then I can’t seek out others like me.”
Something else lost in the haze of the 1980s: While the Kavanaugh hearing deeply echoed Clarence Thomas’s confirmation and Anita Hill’s allegation, “Borking” looks almost quaint in retrospect: It was, at its heart, about policy:
“In Bork’s case, there were real and valid reasons for many Americans to not want him on the Supreme Court, based on his rulings in cases as a Circuit Court judge, his views and actions as solicitor general, and his past statements and writings.”
Yurkiewicz, a doctor, exposes the deadly cost of our pathetic system of handwritten notes, faxes, incomplete electronic records that store our health data. Her conclusion runs counter to so much of the current discussion of data: That clumsy privacy legislation has sabotaged the health care system.
“Over my last few years as a doctor, I can’t think of a time when a patient complained that a doctor knew too much of their medical history. Yet many times, I’ve heard frustration that we don’t know enough.”
This profile of a doctor who advocates with zeal on behalf of parents accused of child abuse — and thinks that a common diagnosis used to take kids away from their parents amounts to a witch hunt — offers no easy answers, and the fact that its protagonist is singularly unappealing doesn’t answer the question of whether he’s right or wrong.
“Holick does not hide his disdain for the child-protection system, nor his belief that the parents he works with are innocent. In the four months I corresponded with Holick, he frequently forwarded me e-mails from parents accused of abuse. He wrote atop one such message, ‘Does this sound like a mother who is abusing and neglecting her child?’”
As genetic analysis becomes ubiquitous, two California amateurs, Margaret Press and Colleen Fitzpatrick, have started solving a particular kind of cold case: Identifying the anonymous dead.
“You know they had a mother. They had a father. They had Christmas presents. They had a birthday party. They bought clothes at Kmart. They had a life just like the next guy driving down the street,” Fitzpatrick said. “You have to wonder where they came from. ... How come they’re in a ditch? How come somebody stabbed them? How did they get there?”
Another story of meticulous research and patience, this time on the other side of the ledger: Murder, in the Dallas suburbs, by patient killers who stalked their victim with technology and shoeleather.
Investigators also wondered: Who would go to such great pains and expense—financing a two-year international manhunt—to ensure Guerrero’s assassination?
I’ll read anything Viet Thanh Nguyen writes, and his stories would be gripping even if they weren’t dialed right into the politics of 2018. Here, Nguyen talks frankly about politics, and in particular the politics of his special subject, migration and refuge:
“Trust me, if Americans suddenly had to take to the seas and faced 50 percent survival odds, there would be Hollywood movies made about them as incredible heroes."
“As I watched the audience dance under the watchful eye of the V for Vendetta mask, everything fell into place. The scales fell from my eyes. This was worship. We were worshiping a demon. We think we are so much more advanced than the people of ancient Babylon, but they were doing the exact same things. I felt something like a surge of lightning go through my body. I realized that just because I had never experienced the presence of God before didn’t mean that other people hadn’t.”
We’ve been waiting for Chris Christie’s version, and here it is — probably the most stylish of the blockbuster accounts of Trumpian chaos, an excerpt from a forthcoming book by the author of Flash Boys.
“Chris Christie was sitting on a sofa beside Trump when Pennsylvania was finally called. It was 1.35am, but that wasn’t the only reason the feeling in the room was odd. Mike Pence went to kiss his wife, Karen, and she turned away from him. “You got what you wanted, Mike,” she said. “Now leave me alone.” She wouldn’t so much as say hello to Trump. Trump himself just stared at the TV without saying anything, like a man with a pair of twos whose bluff has been called. His campaign hadn’t even bothered to prepare an acceptance speech. It was not hard to see why Trump hadn’t seen the point in preparing to take over the federal government: why study for a test you will never need to take? Why take the risk of discovering you might, at your very best, be a C student? This was the real part of becoming president of the US. And, Christie thought, it scared the crap out of the president-elect.”
This is the political equivalent of a National Geographic feature on the last of a dying, exotic breed. Overarchingly sad, it contains many eye-popping paragraphs, as when Manchin gets briefed on the Chelsea Manning case:
“Bradley—uh, Chelsea—Manning was the Army private that downloaded a bunch of information in Iraq and then gave it to WikiLeaks,” the aide explained.
“That's treason,” Manchin said, still no closer to knowing what his aide was talking about.
“Yes, sir,” another aide went on. “And while he was in prison, he had a sex-change operation.”
Manchin's eyes flashed with recognition.
“I thought that was the one that became a girl!” he shouted. “That son of a bitch!” He slammed his fist on the subway car's seat. “And we're letting him out now because he's docile?!”
Readers can’t get enough of Taffy Brodesser-Akner. And we readers who are journalists are actively obsessed, because her writing so often explores and exposes the seams in our bizarre profession.
I wanted to talk about Mr. Cooper’s own sobriety, and how it was reflected in Jackson’s drug and alcohol addiction. I wanted to talk about fatherhood — how Mr. Cooper has both lost his father and become a father in the last few years — since fathers haunt the movie. I wanted to talk about love. But he wasn’t having it.
Listen, he said to me. I seem nice. He gets that I’m just doing my job. But he’s not going to get personal with me. He has to promote his movie — he wants to promote his movie — but beyond that? What would telling me anything truly personal really do? “I don’t necessarily see the upside of it. You know? I don’t.”
"It’s always nerve-racking. I dread interviews; I’m never excited. I did a story on synchronized swimming a few years ago, and that’s how I think of it now: You are in the pool and you are working so hard beneath the surface, but you have this crazy smile above the surface that makes it look like you are enjoying yourself."
And, bonus Taffy: More people who don’t read excellent literary tennis magazines should read this moving feature from Racquet Magazine.
For someone whose entire gig is chatting up women in a nightclub, pickup artist Mystery (real name Erik von Markovik) doesn’t appear to be a chick-magnet, especially in a near-empty pub in Toronto. (Later, when I asked our waitress what she thought of him, she shrugs and says, “He seems fine?”)
“I told no one. In my mind, it was not an example of male aggression used against a girl to extract sex from her. In my mind, it was an example of how undesirable I was. It was proof that I was not the kind of girl you took to parties, or the kind of girl you wanted to get to know. I was the kind of girl you took to a deserted parking lot and tried to make give you sex. Telling someone would not be revealing what he had done; it would be revealing how deserving I was of that kind of treatment.”
There were a number of remarkable photographs coming out of the dramatic Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh this past week. With only eight Capitol Hill photographers at a time reportedly allowed into the small hearing room, access – and elbow room – was limited. From the center position, crouching low, Getty Images photographer Win McNamee captured Christine Blasey Ford straight-on as she was sworn in before her testimony. Being front-and-center isn’t always the best vantage point in a tight, pool scenario like this. Shooting from the side often provides a more layered perspective, with lawyers and audience members in the background. In this case, the simple, singular view proved to be powerful. Eyes closed, hand raised, her body braced as if taking a deep breath to face the moment, Ford’s steely posture conveyed the weight of the remarkable event. The clock on the wall directly behind her solitary figure provided another contextual layer, conveying the place and time of the historical moment. This is one of those images that will stand the test of time.
Patrick Farrell, the curator of The Sunday Still, is the 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winner for Breaking News Photography for The Miami Herald, where he has worked since 1987. He is currently a Lecturer in the Department of Journalism and Media Management at the University of Miami School of Communication.
I’ve thought a lot about escapism over the last few years. These are important times, I don’t think we should shield ourselves from the heavy stuff swirling around us. But I’ve also come to value the warm, heartfelt parts of our culture more and more. I knew Thursday was going to be a rough day. So I made sure to start my morning by listening to Jon Batiste talk to Terry Gross about the music he loves. It helped.
Sunday Pod curator Jody Avirgan is the host of FiveThirtyEight's politics podcast and is heading up the new "30 for 30" podcast documentary series from ESPN.
"I’ve been thinking about this lately in reference to Tom Petty, who will have been gone for exactly one year on October 2. Ever since he passed, it’s been impossible for me to hear any Tom Petty song and not love it. This is true even of songs I didn’t particularly like when he was alive — if you put on 'Rhino Skin,' I’ll ask you to turn it way the hell up."
This well put together film borne of a partnership between Retro Report and The New Yorker travels back thirty years to understand how a community built on mistrust sought to heal itself and erase a legacy of racism in law enforcement. We meet gang members, cops and local pols plus we revisit an incident that captured the attention of the nation This engrossing story not only illuminates the past but serves as a useful lesson for today.
Earlier this summer, the University of Maryland commissioned a third-party consultant to investigate "the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of University of Maryland, College Park football player, Jordan McNair." The partially-redacted 126-page report was publicly released on September 21.
Sunday Esoterica curator Ryan Rodenberg works as a professor at Florida State University, where he teaches research methods and sports law. He writes a lot of academic articles and some mainstream pieces too.
Founder, Curator: Don Van Natta Jr. Producer, Curator: Jacob Feldman Producer, Curator: Étienne Lajoie Senior Recycling Editor: Jack Shafer Senior Long View Editor: Justine Gubar Senior Photo Editor: Patrick Farrell Senior Music Editor: Kelly Dearmore Senior Limerick Editor: Tim Torkildson Senior Podcast Editor: Jody Avirgan Senior Editor of Esoterica: Ryan M. Rodenberg
Digital Team: Nation Hahn, Nickolaus Hines, Megan McDonell, Alexa Steinberg Podcast Team: Peter Bailey-Wells, Cary Barbor, Julian McKenzie, Jonathan Yales Webmaster: Ana Srikanth Campus Editor: Peter Warren
Contributing Editors: Bruce Arthur, Shaun Assael, Nick Aster, Alex Belth, Sara J. Benincasa, Jonathan Bernstein, Sara Blask, Greg Bishop, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Maria Bustillos, Chris Cillizza, Anna Katherine Clemmons, Rich Cohen, Pam Colloff, Maureen Dowd, Charles Duhigg, Brett Michael Dykes, Geoff Edgers, Hadley Freeman, Lea Goldman, Michael N. Graff, Maggie Haberman, Reyhan Harmanci, Virginia Heffernan, Matthew Hiltzik, Jena Janovy, Bomani Jones, Chris Jones, Peter Kafka, Paul Kix, Mina Kimes, Peter King, Michael Kruse, Tom Lamont, Chris Lehmann, Will Leitch, Glynnis MacNicol, Drew Magary, Erik Malinowski, Jonathan Martin, Betsy Fischer Martin, Ana Menendez, Kevin Merida, Heidi N. Moore, Eric Neel, Joe Nocera, Ashley R. Parker, Anne Helen Petersen, Jo Piazza, Joe Posnanski, S.L. Price, Jennifer Romolini, Julia Rubin, Albert Samaha, Bob Sassone, Bruce Schoenfeld, Michael Schur, Joe Sexton, Jacqui Shine, Rachel Sklar, Dan Shanoff, Ben Smith, Adam Sternbergh,Matt Sullivan, Wright Thompson, Pablo Torre, Kevin Van Valkenburg, John A. Walsh, Seth Wickersham and Karen Wickre.
Header Image: Sara Press
You can read more about our staff, and contact us (we'd love to hear from you!) on our website: sundaylongread.blog. Help pick next week's selections by tweeting us your favorite stories with #SundayLR.