Obama

A virtual museum of his presidency

Through a collection of deeply reported stories, videos, photographs, documents and graphics, experience Barack Obama’s historic time in office: as the first black president, as commander in chief, as a domestic and foreign policymaker, and as a husband and father.

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Obama’s Legacy Obama’s America

The American experience is diverse. Obama highlights that in his picks for national monuments.

The protected areas include spots that honor African American railway porters and the gay rights movement of the 1960s, among others.

When it comes to executive authority, U.S. presidents have few tools more powerful than the Antiquities Act of 1906. Only four paragraphs long and originally designed to prevent the looting of archaeological treasures, the law has allowed presidents to unilaterally set the management terms for federal lands and waters, which has resulted in the preservation and protection of some of America’s most iconic geological and historically important sites.

President Theodore Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon a national monument after failing to make it a national park. After invoking the act in 1978, Jimmy Carter forced Congress to designate more than 66 million acres in Alaska as wilderness. And George W. Bush preserved 140,000 square miles of ocean in Hawaii as a national monument, and then protected an additional 87,000 square miles of ocean in the form of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Obama established

national monuments

of historical significance

1

7

8

4

2

5

6

9

10

HAWAII

3

1. Fort Ord

2. Cesar Chavez

3. Honouliuli

4. Pullman

5. Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers

6. Belmont-Paul Women's Equality

National Monument

7. First State

8. Stonewall

9. Harriet Tubman

Underground Railroad

10. Fort Monroe

Source: U.S. Department of the Interior

AARON STECKELBERG/THE WASHINGTON POST

Obama established national monuments

of historical significance

Belmont-Paul Women's

Equality National

Monument

Stonewall

Pullman

First State

Charles Young

Buffalo Soldiers

Fort Ord

Cesar Chavez

Fort Monroe

Harriet

Tubman

Underground

Railroad

HAWAII

Honouliuli

Source: U.S. Department of the Interior

AARON STECKELBERG/THE WASHINGTON POST

Obama established national monuments

of historical significance

Belmont-Paul Women's

Equality National

Monument

WASH.

MONT.

MAINE

N.D.

MINN.

ORE.

IDAHO

S.D.

WIS.

N.Y.

MICH.

WYO.

Stonewall

PA.

Pullman

CALIF.

NEB.

First State

NEV.

IND.

OHIO

Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers

UTAH

W.VA.

COLO.

Fort Ord

ILL.

Fort Monroe

KAN.

MO.

KY.

Cesar Chavez

N.C.

TENN.

Harriet Tubman

Underground

Railroad

OKLA.

ARIZ.

ARK.

S.C.

N.M.

MISS.

ALA.

GA.

TEXAS

LA.

HAWAII

FLA.

Honouliuli

Source: U.S. Department of the Interior

AARON STECKELBERG/THE WASHINGTON POST

Presidents of both parties have used the law, but some of the designations have sparked more controversy than others. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s decision to declare a wildlife preserve in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in 1943 prompted a congressional override (which he vetoed), and led to accusations that his administration was as fascist as the foes the United States was fighting overseas. Bill Clinton’s designation of Utah’s Grand Staircase Escalante in 1996 — which he announced across the border in Arizona — caused an uproar in the solidly Republican state where it was located but helped boost his standing with swing voters that reelection year.

Total national monument acreage added or removed

by each U.S. president

The Antiquities Act, which gives presidents the authority to create national monuments, was signed into law by president Theodore Roosevelt. Devils Tower is the first established national monument and protects 1,194 acres in northeast Wyoming.

Theodore Roosevelt

+1,500,000

 

Monument space

Mostly acres of land

Mostly acres of water

William Howard Taft

-500

 

Woodrow Wilson

+900,000

 

Warren G. Harding

+12,000

Calvin Coolidge

+1,500,000

 

Herbert Hoover

+3,100,000

Franklin D. Roosevelt

+2,800,000

Harry S. Truman

+23,000

Dwight D. Eisenhower

-26,000

John F. Kennedy

+26,000

 

Lyndon B. Johnson

+360,000

 

Richard Nixon

None added

President Jimmy Carter created the most national monument space on land, most of it in Alaska.

Gerald Ford

+90

Jimmy Carter

+54,000,000

The majority of national monument space created by Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush were marine areas in the Pacific Ocean.

Ronald Reagan

None added

H. W. George Bush

None added

Bill Clinton

+5,700,000

 

George W. Bush

+214,800,000

Barack Obama

+548,600,000

Note: Compiled from data by the National Park Service and presidential executive orders; totals have been rounded.

Source: U.S. Department of the Interior

AARON STECKELBERG/THE WASHINGTON POST

Total national monument

acreage added or removed

by each U.S. president

President

Total acreage

T. Roosevelt

W. Taft

W. Wilson

W. Harding

C. Coolidge

H. Hoover

F. Roosevelt

H. Truman

D. Eisenhower

J. Kennedy

L. Johnson

R. Nixon

G. Ford

J. Carter

R. Reagan

G.H.W. Bush

W. Clinton

G.W. Bush

B.H. Obama

+1,500,000

-500

+900,000

+12,000

+1,500,000

+3,100,000

+2,800,000

+23,000

-26,000

+26,000

+360,000

None

90

+54,000,000

None

None

+5,700,000

+214,800,000

+548,600,000

The majority of national monument space created by Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush were marine areas in the Pacific Ocean.

Note: Compiled from data by the U.S.

Park Service and presidential executive

orders; totals have been rounded.

Source: U.S. Department of the Interior

THE WASHINGTON POST

Total national monument acreage added or removed

by each U.S. president

Mostly acres of land

Mostly acres of water

Monument space

Theodore Roosevelt

+1,500,000

 

The Antiquities Act, which gives presidents the authority to create national monuments, was signed into law by president Theodore Roosevelt. Devils Tower is the first established national monument and protects

1,194 acres in northeast Wyoming.

William Howard Taft

-500

 

Woodrow Wilson

+900,000

 

Warren G. Harding

+12,000

Calvin Coolidge

+1,500,000

 

Herbert Hoover

+3,100,000

Franklin D. Roosevelt

+2,800,000

Harry S. Truman

+23,000

Dwight D. Eisenhower

-26,000

President Jimmy Carter created the most national monument space on land, most of it in Alaska.

John F. Kennedy

+26,000

 

Lyndon B. Johnson

+360,000

 

Richard Nixon

None added

The majority of national monument space created by Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush were marine areas in the Pacific Ocean.

Gerald Ford

+90

Jimmy Carter

+54,000,000

Ronald Reagan

None added

H. W. George Bush

None added

Bill Clinton

+5,700,000

 

George W. Bush

+214,800,000

Barack Obama

+548,600,000

Note: Compiled from data by the National Park Service and presidential executive orders;

totals have been rounded.

Source: U.S. Department of the Interior

AARON STECKELBERG/THE WASHINGTON POST

During his first term, President Obama used the authority sparingly. He declared four sites, totaling less than 20,000 acres, as national monuments. But that changed dramatically once he was reelected. He invoked the Antiquities Act repeatedly to protect significant ecological areas and historically consequential sites. The protected areas were meant to recognize a diverse range of the American experience, including the organizing effort of African American railway porters, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the gen­esis of the gay rights movement of the 1960s.

Obama established national monuments

of archaeological and geographic significance

San Juan Islands

MONT.

MAINE

N.D.

MINN.

ORE.

IDAHO

MASS.

S.D.

WIS.

N.Y.

MICH.

WYO.

CONN.

Berryessa Snow Mountain

NEB.

PA.

IOWA

NEV.

N.J.

Basin and Range

Browns Canyon

OHIO

IND.

California Coastal*

ILL.

W.VA.

Chimney Rock

CALIF.

VA.

KAN.

MO.

KY.

Castle Mountain

Rio Grande del Norte

N.C.

San Gabriel

Mountains

TENN.

Mojave Trails

OKLA.

ARK.

N.M.

S.C.

Sand to Snow

MISS.

ALA.

GA.

Prehistoric Trackways

Waco Mammoth

TEXAS

LA.

Organ Mountains-

Desert Peaks

HAWAII

FLA.

Pacific Remote

Islands*

*Expanded existing national monument

Source: U.S. Department of the Interior

AARON STECKELBERG/THE WASHINGTON POST

Obama established national monuments

of archaeological and geographic significance

San Juan Islands

California

Coastal*

Berryessa

Snow Mountain

Basin and Range

Chimney Rock

Browns Canyon

San Gabriel

Mountains

Castle

Mountain

Rio Grande del Norte

Prehistoric Trackways

Sand

to Snow

Mojave

Trails

HAWAII

Organ Mountains-

Desert Peaks

Waco Mammoth

Pacific

Remote

Islands*

*Expanded existing national monument

Source: U.S. Department of the Interior

AARON STECKELBERG/THE WASHINGTON POST

Obama established

national monuments

of archaeological

and geographic significance

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

HAWAII

15

1. San Juan Islands

2. California Coastal*

3. Berryessa Snow Mountain

4. Basin and Range

5. Chimney Rock

6. Browns Canyon

7. San Gabriel Mountains

8. Castle Mountain

9. Rio Grande del Norte

10. Sand to Snow

11. Mojave Trails

12. Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks

13. Prehistoric Trackways

14. Waco Mammoth

15. Pacific Remote Islands*

*Expanded existing national monument

Source: U.S. Department of the Interior

AARON STECKELBERG/THE WASHINGTON POST

John D. Podesta played an instrumental role in pushing for national monument designations while he served in the Clinton and Obama administrations. Presidents have come to embrace the Antiquities Act after seeing sites that are under threat.

“I had that experience with President Clinton,” he said in February 2015. “Once you get out to visit some of the places that are really spectacular in this country and understand that you can have a hand in not only remembering how they connected to the history of our country but to protect them for future generations, presidents kind of get into that. So I think President Obama’s no exception.”

Castle Mountains is surrounded on three sides by Mojave National Preserve and is home to forests of Joshua tree, pinon pine, and juniper.
Castle Mountains is surrounded on three sides by Mojave National Preserve and is home to forests of Joshua tree, pinon pine, and juniper. (David Lamfrom)

FILE - In this Nov. 17, 1998, file time exposure photo, a meteor streaks through the sky over Joshua trees and rocks at Joshua Tree National Monument in Southern California's Mojave Desert. President Barack Obama is granting national monument status to nearly 1.8 million acres of scenic California desert wilderness, including land that would connect what is now Joshua Tree National Park to other established national monuments and national parks in the area. Obama, in California this week for a fund-raising swing, plan to make the announcement Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)
A meteor streaks through the sky at Joshua Tree National Park in South California’s Mojave Desert. (Reed Saxon/Associated Press)

FILE In this Aug. 22, 2014 file photo, the clock tower of the historic Pullman railcar administration building in the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago. President Barack Obama is designating three new national monuments for protection as historic or ecologically significant sites, including the Pullman neighborhood in Chicago where African-American railroad workers won a historic labor agreement. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
A building in the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago, where African American railroad workers won a historic labor agreement. President Obama designated the area as a national monument. (Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press)

A view out of the window of the former living quarters at Manzanar internment camp is seen in Independence, California July 17, 2013. Nearly 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were removed from their homes on the west coast by the U.S. Army and sent to Manzanar and nine other internment camps between March 1942 and November 1945. Two thirds of them were American citizens.  REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY) - RTX11PRR
A view of the former living quarters at Manzanar internment camp in Independence, Calif., where nearly 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were confined during World War II. Many were U.S. citizens. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

FILE - This May 29, 2014 file photo shows The Stonewall Inn, in New York's Greenwich Village. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler annnounced Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, that they will lead a campaign to designate Stonewall Inn as the first national park honoring LGBT history. The  tavern was the scene of a 1969 uprising at a key moment for the nascent gay rights movement.  (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
The Stonewall Inn in New York's Greenwich Village, was the scene of a1969 uprising at a key moment for the budding gay rights movement. The site is now a national monument. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

Paul F. Chavez (C), son of Cesar Chavez, Arturo S. Rodriguez (2R), President, United Farm Workers, and Dolores Huerta (R), Co-Founder of the United Farm Workers, watch as US President Barack Obama and Helen F. Chavez walk from the grave of her husband Cesar Chavez during a tour of a memorial garden at the Chavez National Monument October 8, 2012 in Keene, California. Obama visited the memorial which honors Cesar E. Chavez, an American civil rights activist and labor leader, who helped found the National Farm Workers Association and died in 1993 while also campaigning in California.  AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages)
President Obama walks in 2012 with Helen F. Chavez from the grave of her husband, Cesar Chavez, during a tour at the Keene, Calif., national monument in honor of the civil rights activist and labor leader. (Brendan Smialowski/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)
FILE - In this July 31, 2015, file photo, an orca or killer whale breaches in view of Mount Baker, some 60 miles distant, in the Salish Sea in the San Juan Islands, Wash. Two California Congressmen announced plans Friday, Nov. 6, 2015 to introduce the Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement Act. The proposed federal legislation aims to phase out the captivity of killer whales by banning breeding, importing and exporting the animals for public display to ensure that orcas now at aquatic parks such as SeaWorld are the last ones and that when they die, none will replace them. The bill also would ban taking any whales from the wild. ( (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
An orca swims in the Salish Sea in the San Juan Islands, Wash., as Mount Baker, part of a national forest, looms in the distance. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

This story is part of a virtual museum of President Barack Obama’s presidency. In five parts — The First Black President, Commander in Chief, Obama’s America, Obama and the World and The First Family — we explore the triumphs and travails of his historic tenure.

Room One
The First Black President
Illustrations by James Steinberg
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A hopeful moment on race
Read story
Obama’s effort to heal racial divisions and uplift black America
Barack Obama's presidency signaled a "post-racial" America at first, but the racial conflict followed disproved that.

Barack Obama’s watershed 2008 election and the presidency that followed profoundly altered the aesthetics of American democracy, transforming the Founding Fathers’ narrow vision of politics and citizenship into something more expansive and more elegant. The American presidency suddenly looked very different, and for a moment America felt different, too.

The Obama victory helped fulfill one of the great ambitions of the civil rights struggle by showcasing the ability of extraordinarily talented black Americans to lead and excel in all facets of American life. First lady Michelle Obama, and daughters Sasha and Malia, extended this reimagining of black American life by providing a conspicuous vision of a healthy, loving and thriving African American family that defies still-prevalent racist stereotypes.

But some interpreted Obama’s triumph as much more.

SLUG: NA/OBAMA DATE: 10/31/08 CREDIT: Linda Davidson / staff/ The Washington Post LOCATION: Wicker Memorial Park, Gary, IN SUMMARY: Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama holds a rally in Gary, IN. PICTURED: Members of the crowd respond to Obama as he makes his way down the ropeline. Some seek to shake his hand, others want to touch his head, some just want a hug. StaffPhoto imported to Merlin on Fri Oct 31 23:06:03 2008
Members of the crowd in Gary, Ind., seek to shake the candidate's hand or touch his head as he thanks them for their support in October 2008. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

The victory was heralded as the arrival of a “post-racial” America, one in which the nation’s original sin of racial slavery and post-Reconstruction Jim Crow discrimination had finally been absolved by the election of a black man as commander in chief. For a while, the nation basked in a racially harmonious afterglow.

A black president would influence generations of young children to embrace a new vision of American citizenship. The “Obama Coalition” of African American, white, Latino, Asian American and Native American voters had helped usher in an era in which institutional racism and pervasive inequality would fade as Americans embraced the nation’s multicultural promise.

Seven years later, such profound optimism seems misplaced. Almost immediately, the Obama presidency unleashed racial furies that have only multiplied over time. From the tea party’s racially tinged attacks on the president’s policy agenda to the “birther” movement’s more overtly racist fantasies asserting that Obama was not even an American citizen, the national racial climate grew more, and not less, fraught.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS: NOVEMBER 6 -- President Barack Obama is re-elected to office in Chicago, Illinois, on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)
President Obama is feted in Chicago on Nov. 6, 2012, the night he is elected to his second term as commander in chief. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

If racial conflict, in the form of birthers, tea partyers and gnawing resentments, implicitly shadowed Obama’s first term, it erupted into open warfare during much of his second. The Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in the Shelby v. Holder case gutted Voting Rights Act enforcement, throwing into question the signal achievement of the civil rights movement’s heroic period.

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Beginning with the 2012 shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida, the nation reopened an intense debate on the continued horror of institutional racism evidenced by a string of high-profile deaths of black men, women, boys and girls at the hands of law enforcement.

The organized demonstrations, protests and outrage of a new generation of civil rights activists turned the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter into the clarion call for a new social justice movement. Black Lives Matter activists have forcefully argued that the U.S. criminal justice system represents a gateway to racial oppression, one marked by a drug war that disproportionately targets, punishes and warehouses young men and women of color. In her bestselling book “The New Jim Crow,” legal scholar Michelle Alexander argued that mass incarceration represents a racial caste system that echoes the pervasive, structural inequality of a system of racial apartheid that persists.

DENVER, COLORADO: OCTOBER 24 -- A fan hugs President Barack Obama as he works the rope line following a rally at City Park in Denver, Colorado, on Wednesday, October 24, 2012. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)
A supporter hugs President Obama as he works the rope line following a rally in Denver in October 2012. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Obama’s first-term caution on race matters was punctured by his controversial remarks that police “acted stupidly” in the mistaken identity arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard University’s prominent African American studies professor, in 2009. Four years later he entered the breach once more by proclaiming that if he had a son, “he’d look like Trayvon.”

In the aftermath of racial unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, and a racially motivated massacre in Charleston, S.C., Obama went further. In 2015, Obama found his voice in a series of stirring speeches in Selma, Ala., and Charleston, where he acknowledged America’s long and continuous history of racial injustice.

Policy-wise Obama has launched a private philanthropic effort, My Brother’s Keeper, designed to assist low-income black boys, and became the first president to visit a federal prison in a call for prison reform that foreshadowed the administration’s efforts to release federal inmates facing long sentences on relatively minor drug charges.

Despite these efforts, many of Obama’s African American supporters have expressed profound disappointment over the president’s refusal to forcefully pursue racial and economic justice policies for his most loyal political constituency.

From this perspective, the Obama presidency has played out as a cruel joke on members of the African American community who, despite providing indispensable votes, critical support and unstinting loyalty, find themselves largely shut out from the nation’s post-Great Recession economic recovery. Blacks have, critics suggested, traded away substantive policy demands for the largely symbolic psychological and emotional victory of having a black president and first family in the White House for eight years.

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Others find that assessment harsh, noting that Obama’s most impressive policy achievements have received scant promotion from the White House or acknowledgment in the mainstream media.

History will decide the full measure of the importance, success, failures and shortcomings of the Obama presidency. With regard to race, Obama’s historical significance is ensured; only his impact and legacy are up for debate. In retrospect, the burden of transforming America’s tortured racial history in two four-year presidential terms proved impossible, even as its promise helped to catapult Obama to the nation’s highest office.

DES MOINES, IOWA: NOVEMBER 5 -- President Barack Obama wraps up his campaign with a final stop in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, on Monday, November 5, 2012. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)
President Obama wraps up his campaign with a final stop in downtown Des Moines on Nov. 5, 2012. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Obama’s presidency elides important aspects of the civil rights struggle, especially the teachings of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. King, for a time, served as the racial justice consciousness for two presidents — John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Many who hoped Obama might be able to serve both roles — as president and racial justice advocate — have been disappointed. Yet there is a revelatory clarity in that disappointment, proving that Obama is not King or Frederick Douglass, but Abraham Lincoln, Kennedy and Johnson. Even a black president, perhaps especially a black president, could not untangle racism’s Gordian knot on the body politic. Yet in acknowledging the limitations of Obama’s presidency on healing racial divisions and the shortcomings of his policies in uplifting black America, we may reach a newfound political maturity that recognizes that no one person — no matter how powerful — can single-handedly rectify structures of inequality constructed over centuries.

Peniel Joseph is professor of history and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy and the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.

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Room Two
Commander in Chief
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Room Three
Obama’s America
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Eight turbulent years
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Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.

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The price of Obamacare
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A new state of unions
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Shots fired
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A cultural shift
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A mark in the wilderness
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Room Four
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Determined restraint
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For Muslims, unanswered prayers
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Open hand, clenched fist
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The first dogs
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Obama’s Legacy
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Credits
Credits
Editing
  • Terence Samuel, project editor
  • Allison Michaels, project manager, digital editor
  • Shannon Croom, multiplatform editor
  • Courtney Rukan, multiplatform editor
  • Emily Chow, graphics assignment editor
Design and development
  • Seth Blanchard
  • Emily Yount
Illustrations
  • Suzette Moyer, art director
  • James Steinberg, illustrator (The First Black President)
  • Brian Stauffer, illustrator (Commander in Chief)
  • Thandiwe Tshabalala, illustrator (Obama’s America)
  • Jasu Hu, illustrator (Obama and the World)
  • Erin K. Robinson, illustrator (The First Family)
Video
  • Dalton Bennett
  • Gillian Brockell
  • Bastein Inzaurralde
  • Claritza Jimenez
  • Ashleigh Joplin
  • Whitney Leaming
  • Osman Malik
  • Zoeann Murphy
  • Erin O’Conner
  • Sarah Parnass
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Photo editing
  • Stephen Cook
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Writing and reporting
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  • Juliet Eilperin
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  • Thomas Gibbons-Neff
  • Robin Givhan
  • Will Haygood
  • Sari Horwitz
  • Greg Jaffe
  • Peniel Joseph
  • Paul Kane
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  • David Maraniss
  • Greg Miller
  • Steven Mufson
  • David Nakamura
  • John Pomfret
  • Missy Ryan
  • Peter Slevin
  • Kevin Sullivan
  • Krissah Thompson
  • Neely Tucker
  • William Wan
  • Vanessa Williams
Research and graphics
  • Darla Cameron
  • Scott Clement
  • Emily Guskin
  • Tim Meko
  • Stephanie Stamm
  • Aaron Steckelberg
  • Elise Viebeck