22 of our best stories from the last year

Collage of various images, articles, and graphics from Washington Post stories
(Washington Post photos; AP; iStock/Washington Post illustration)

Over 1,000 journalists work at The Washington Post. Each day, we strive to bring you the news, hold power to account and deliver one-of-a-kind stories you can’t find anywhere else.

This is a selection of some of our best work from the past year, produced by more than 124 journalists. You’ll find stories such as which birds are the biggest jerks at the bird feeder and a definitive account of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

This journalism would not be possible without subscribers. For a limited time, you can get a one-year digital subscription to The Post for just $22. If you already are a subscriber, thank you. Your support powers our reporting.

We hope you’ll find a story (or several!) that you enjoy.


More than 1,700 congressmen once enslaved Black people

By Julie Zauzmer Weil, Adrian Blanco and Leo Dominguez

More than 1,700 people who served in the U.S. Congress in the 18th, 19th and even 20th centuries owned human beings at some point in their lives, according to a Washington Post investigation of censuses and other historical records.

The Washington Post created a database that shows enslavers in Congress represented 38 states, including not just the South but every state in New England, much of the Midwest and many Western states.

This database helps provide a clearer understanding of the ways in which slaveholding influenced early America, as congressmen’s own interests as enslavers shaped their decisions on the laws that they crafted.

Search the database


The Attack: Before, During and After

By Washington Post Staff

A team of 75 Washington Post journalists worked to produce a definitive account of the Jan. 6 insurrection — its causes, its costs and its aftermath, after efforts in Congress to create a bipartisan panel to examine the attack collapsed. The result of that investigation, published as a three-part series, reveals numerous new warnings of violence on Jan. 6 that went unheeded, the cost of President Donald Trump’s inaction as the Capitol was overrun and the distrust that has spread across the country in the aftermath.

The findings are based on interviews with more than 230 people and thousands of pages of court documents and internal law enforcement reports, along with hundreds of videos, photographs and audio recordings.

Explore the immersive three-part series


She was headed to a locked psych ward. Then a doctor made a startling discovery.

By Sandra G. Boodman

Chloe R. Kral, 23, was being held on a 5150, shorthand in California for an emergency psychiatric order that allows people deemed dangerous to themselves or others to be involuntarily confined for 72 hours.

She had spent the previous six months at a private treatment center receiving care for bipolar disorder and depression. Chloe had improved and was set to move to transitional housing when she suddenly became combative and threatened to harm staff and kill herself. Police had taken her to the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital before a planned transfer to a mental hospital.

But something indefinable prompted emergency physician Elizabeth Mitchell to order a CT scan of Chloe’s head to better assess her mental status. When she pulled up the image, Mitchell gasped. “All I could think was ‘How did no one figure this out?’”

Read about Mitchell's stunning discovery


Perspective: The power of reclaiming my Asian name

By Marian Chia-Ming Liu

“I was born in the United States, but I was very much caught between two cultures. In my traditional immigrant family, I learned Mandarin first. Then, starting in kindergarten, I had to take English-as-a-second-language classes and speech therapy, and had a rough time fitting in. So, I became a journalist with hopes of squashing stereotypes. But while I was proactively calling out racism in my stories, I wasn’t doing the same in my personal life — not even with my own name.

“For my community, names are potent symbols that can encompass the dynamics on display that day in South Florida: bigotry, shame, fear, but also pride. Many assimilate through changing or adjusting their given names. I was no exception: Over the years, I’d essentially erased the middle two words of the name on my birth certificate: Marian Chia-Ming Liu.”

Read Marian's full essay


Russia allows methane leaks at planet’s peril

By Steven Mufson, Isabelle Khurshudyan, Chris Mooney, Brady Dennis, John Muyskens and Naema Ahmed

Many countries and companies have long misrepresented or simply miscounted how much fossil-fuel-based methane they have let escape into the air.

Now, new satellites devoted to locating and measuring greenhouse gases are orbiting Earth, with more on the way. These sentinels in the sky are auguring an era of data transparency as their patrons seek to safeguard the planet by closing the gap between the amount of methane that scientists know is in the atmosphere versus what is reported from the ground — industry by industry, pipeline by pipeline, leak by leak.

Satellites can provide real-time evidence of massive, unreported methane leaks — and who is responsible for them. So far, Russia’s numbers don’t add up, a Post analysis has found.

Read The Post's complete findings


‘Nobody believed those teenagers’

By Molly Hensley-Clancy

Last fall, when players in the National Women’s Soccer League publicly accused prominent coach Rory Dames of verbal and emotional abuse, Megan Cnota was immediately transported to two decades before, when she was a teenager playing for Dames in suburban Chicago.

Yes, she recognized the behavior the players described, she said. But she also recognized something else: The NWSL players said they had twice before raised alarms about Dames, only to see him continue coaching.

A Post investigation found that allegations against Dames surfaced decades before in the youth soccer system, with a 1998 police report. And the mistreatment alleged by youth players, in the police report and in interviews with The Post, went beyond the verbal and emotional abuse described by NWSL players.

Read the full investigation


Big business pledged nearly $50 billion for racial justice. Where did the money go?

By Tracy Jan, Jena McGregor and Meghan Hoyer

After the murder of George Floyd ignited nationwide protests, corporate America acknowledged it could no longer stay silent and promised to take an active role in confronting systemic racism. From Silicon Valley to Wall Street, companies proclaimed “Black lives matter.” JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon adopted the posture of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protests against police brutality and took a knee with bank employees. McDonald’s declared Floyd and other slain Black Americans “one of us.”

More than a year after America’s leading businesses assured employees and consumers they would rise to the moment, a Washington Post analysis of unprecedented corporate commitments toward racial justice causes reveals the limits of their power to remedy structural problems.

Read more to see where the money went


What happened to Eric Clapton?

By Geoff Edgers

Before the pandemic, Eric Clapton was one of rock’s elder untouchables, a multigenerational hitmaker with the same draw and standing as Billy Joel, James Taylor and Elton John. He is the only artist inducted three different times into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In an increasingly polarized world, Clapton stayed out of politics. He was never one to pop up at rallies or marches. So it’s been more than a departure to hear him questioning scientists on anti-vaccine websites.

Interviews with more than 20 musicians and acquaintances who have known Clapton over the years, from his days in the Yardbirds to his most recent concerts in September, shed light on why he may have thrust himself into the covid debate.

Read this story


​​Video timeline reveals how and why people died at Travis Scott’s Astroworld concert

By Shawn Boburg, Sarah Cahlan, Joyce Sohyun Lee, Atthar Mirza and Elyse Samuels

At least seven of the 10 people who died at the Astroworld Festival last fall were clustered in a small area enclosed on three sides by metal barriers that became dangerously crowded, according to a Washington Post investigation.

The review — based on dozens of videos examined for when and where each was taken, interviews with witnesses and an analysis by crowd experts — reveals how a crowd surge at a performance by rapper Travis Scott turned one pocket of the audience into an epicenter of chaos and distress.

See The Post's visual reconstruction of the night's events


A Capitol Hill romance: ‘Found love in a hopeless place’

By Sydney Trent

Andy Eichar had just entered the wood-paneled elevator on the fourth floor of the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill when Gloria Nlewedim breezed in behind him with a friend. The ride to the lobby on that June day in 2018 took perhaps 20 seconds and yet, for Andy, the memory is preserved as if in amber.

The air felt charged, the small, wood-paneled car filling with Gloria’s warm, throaty laughter. Andy, captivated by Gloria’s “beautiful full-face smile,” slyly eyed the young woman’s ID badge. “I was trying to figure out whose office I needed to stop by,” said Eichar.

Then the doors slid open to the first floor and the energy dissipated. The two friends headed back to the office of Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.), where they worked as staff assistants. Meanwhile, Andy wondered when he’d see Gloria again.

Read the ultimate Capitol Hill love story


VMI women face attacks on campus and online

By Ian Shapira

An independent investigation of the culture at Virginia Military Institute found a “racist and sexist culture,” fierce resistance to change, and a fear of retaliation among students and faculty who want to report bigotry or sexual misconduct to administrators.

The Post spoke to more than a dozen women who attended VMI, graduated, or still go there about what they’ve experienced. The vast majority had been enrolled within the past two years. Nearly all spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal from college administrators, fellow cadets or VMI’s powerful alumni network.

In the interviews, they described an atmosphere of hostility toward women, with constant ridicule at their expense on Jodel, a widely used anonymous social media app, and an expectation of backlash from male cadets if they reported incidents in which they’ve been groped or raped.

Hear from the women The Post spoke with


‘You can’t get rid of the smell because they die in the walls’

By Rachel Pannett

Every decade or so, Australia suffers a mouse plague. Hundreds of thousands of mice invade homes. They destroy crops. They chew through appliances, sofas, cars — and livelihoods.

One contributing factor is changing farming practices. To maintain moisture in Australia’s arid soil, farmers are sowing new crops directly onto the old stalks that were left in the ground.

That means mice have more places to shelter — and have more food.

To make matters worse, mice are “breeding machines.” One pair of mice can generate about 500 rodents during an eight-month breeding season.

With a shortage of traps, farmers have had to come up with their own systems to catch mice.

Read this story


This tree has stood here for 500 years. Will it be sold for $17,500?

By Juliet Eilperin

As world leaders struggle to save the planet from the worst of global warming, the preservation of old-growth forests is critical to keeping billions of tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. In the fifth installment of our series “Invisible,” The Washington Post explores the tensions between development and conservation through the story of a 500-year-old tree in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

Read this story


Readers share their sacrifices from 20 years of war in Afghanistan

By Jennifer Hassan, Andrew Jeong, Ellen Francis and Grace Moon

Washington Post readers around the world — among them veterans, aid workers and refugees — wrote to tell us how they are processing the new reality in Afghanistan, at a time when thousands risked their lives to escape an uncertain future, some cramming onto evacuation planes or even tumbling from the sky after clinging desperately to U.S. military aircraft.

Their stories, shared in interviews, illustrate the ongoing, everyday impact of the war in Afghanistan on people spanning continents and communities. The war has left a mark on people who, despite being worlds apart, are bound by the same feeling — an overwhelming sense of personal sacrifice.

Read what they lost


Millions of Americans can trace their ancestry back to tenements like this one

By Philip Kennicott, Lo Bénichou, Shikha Subramaniam and Kolin Pope

In the middle of the 19th century, hundreds of thousands of new Americans flooded into New York. They found homes in buildings like this one, on Orchard Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where the population density in some neighborhoods approached nearly a quarter-million people per square mile by the mid-1860s.

Architecturally, 97 Orchard St. was simple and indistinguishable from thousands of other utilitarian structures. Today, it is preserved by the Tenement Museum, an innovative public history organization. Inside, visitors can see relics and reminders of one of the most consequential migrations in human history, a flood tide of humanity that changed the fabric of America.

Step into its cramped spaces to follow this brick structure along the y-axis of time, as landlords and residents grappled with diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera and influenza — and as the fear of fire and bad air, even immigrants themselves, left indelible marks on its design and structure.

Explore the museum


How wellness influencers are fueling the anti-vaccine movement

By Ashley Fetters Maloy and Gerrit De Vynck

For many, the term “misinformation” conjures up images of conspiracy-theory chat forums and Russian bots. But an alarming amount of it is reaching audiences in the health and wellness realms. Many social media influencers who focus on natural remedies, holistic health and new age spirituality have been sharing posts and videos questioning the wisdom of vaccinating against the coronavirus. Public health experts say widespread vaccine hesitancy increases the threat of the virus mutating and helps keep the pandemic raging.

Read about misinformation in wellness spaces


The only high-risk OB/GYN in central West Virginia says abortion is never necessary to save a mother’s life

By Caroline Kitchener

Byron Calhoun is the only high-risk obstetrician and gynecologist in Charleston, W.Va., with a strong hold over much of the central part of the state. He is also an internationally known antiabortion activist. In treating women with fetal abnormalities or preexisting conditions that could complicate their pregnancies, Calhoun rarely discusses abortion, according to interviews with three former patients and six doctors. His practice highlights a fraught ethical area: When doctors personally oppose abortion, their beliefs can affect the care they provide, leading a patient down a path that could put their health at risk.

Read this story


Which birds are the biggest jerks at the feeder?

By Andrew Van Dam and Alyssa Fowers

The interactions between birds in the park or at your backyard feeder may look like chaos, but they’re actually following the subtle rules of a hidden avian social order.

Armed with a database of almost 100,000 bird interactions, experts known as ornithologists have decoded that secret pecking order and created a continentwide power ranking of almost 200 species — from the formidable wild turkey at the top to the tiny, retiring brown creeper at the bottom.

See the ultimate bird-feeder pecking order


When you ‘Ask app not to track,’ some iPhone apps keep snooping anyway

By Geoffrey A. Fowler and Tatum Hunter

Say you open the app Subway Surfers, listed as one of the App Store’s “must-play” games. It asks if you’re okay with the app “tracking” you, a question iPhones started displaying in April as part of a privacy crackdown by Apple. Saying no is supposed to stop apps such as Subway Surfers and Facebook from learning about what you do in other apps and websites.

But something curious happens after you ask not to be tracked, according to an investigation by The Washington Post and researchers at privacy software maker Lockdown. Subway Surfers starts sending an outside ad company called Chartboost 29 very specific data points about your iPhone, including your Internet address, your free storage, your current volume level (to three decimal points) and even your battery level (to 15 decimal points). It’s the kind of unique data that could be used by advertisers to identify your iPhone, possibly letting them know what other apps you use or how to target you.

In other words, it’s sidestepping your request to be left alone. You can’t stop it. And your privacy is worse off for it.

Find out how to protect yourself


A database of every fatal shooting by an on-duty police officer in the United States

By Julie Tate, Jennifer Jenkins and Steven Rich

In 2015, The Washington Post began to log every fatal shooting by an on-duty police officer in the United States. In that time there have been more than 5,000 such shootings recorded by The Post.

After Michael Brown, an unarmed Black man, was killed in 2014 by police in Ferguson, Mo., a Post investigation found that the FBI undercounted fatal police shootings by more than half. This is because reporting by police departments is voluntary and many departments fail to do so.

The Post’s data relies primarily on news accounts, social media postings and police reports. Analysis of more than five years of data reveals that the number and circumstances of fatal shootings and the overall demographics of the victims have remained relatively constant.

Search the database


Some Trump records taken to Mar-a-Lago clearly marked as classified

By Jacqueline Alemany, Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky and Josh Dawsey

The existence of clearly marked classified documents — which has not previously been reported — in the trove that Donald Trump took to his Mar-a-Lago residence is likely to intensify the legal pressure that Trump or his staffers could face and raises new questions about why the materials were taken out of the White House.

While it was unclear how many classified documents were among those received by the National Archives and Records Administration, some bore markings that the information was extremely sensitive and would be limited to a small group of officials with authority to view such highly classified information, the two people familiar with the matter said.

Read about what this discovery means for Trump


Bare rooms, rotten fruit and boredom: Quarantine life on infected cruises

By Hannah Sampson and Meryl Kornfield

Although passengers must follow strict rules to cruise — with the vast majority of people onboard vaccinated and everyone required to test negative — infections have slipped through. As positive cases mount, passengers and crew members have coped with less-than-ideal accommodations.

Many interviewed by The Washington Post reported long waits for service, hours without water, bare-bones food and confusion over when and whom to test — even as most ships maintain their course.

Read more about quarantine on cruises