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Our 15 biggest stories -- ever

It's our 15th birthday! And to celebrate, we're honoring our greatest hits

    “They destroyed her,” Andrew Ross interview with Camille Paglia" data-thumbnail="http://media.salon.com/2010/12/15_years_15_biggest_stories-slide-1-300x200.jpg" >
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    1997: “They destroyed her,” Andrew Ross interview with Camille Paglia

    Salon’s early, arts-and-lit magazine aspirations were trounced by the death of Princess Diana — and by the huge number of readers that our real-time coverage of the tragedy generated. A general interest news site was born. Among the biggest stories was an urgent interview with founding Salon columnist Camille Paglia, who now recounts: “Salon’s reporting on the death of Diana was a breakthrough moment in online journalism, which was still not taken seriously by many in the mainstream press. The accident happened on Labor Day weekend, when the major players in the U.S. media were on vacation. It also happened in the middle of the night, London time. Salon was able to mobilize instantly and fill the gap with news and commentary, winning worldwide attention.”

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    1998: “This hypocrite broke up my family,” by David Talbot

    Our 1998 expos

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    1999: Faster Pussycat, Wax! Wax! by Christina Valhouli

    This piece captured the raw, bleeding edge of an emerging trend: the Brazilian bikini wax. The story began with an enticing first sentence — “I am lying flat on my back, naked, holding my butt and legs up in the air while a middle-aged Brazilian woman peers at my crotch” — and finished with a crucial lesson for all Internet media companies: When you’re first to a trend, the Google sun shines brightest upon you. Valhouli’s piece pre-dated a “Sex and the City” episode that featured the Brazilian by a full two years, and that meant this story, and Salon, has been a destination spot for more than a million readers desperate for any information on the inflammatory treatment for over a decade.

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    2000: Prime-time propaganda, by Dan Forbes

    As the New York Times quaintly put it: “An article in this week’s Salon Internet magazine [reports that] television networks have been secretly submitting scripts for some of their most popular television shows to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy as a way of getting more than $22 million worth of credit for required public service advertising. Barry McCaffrey, President Clinton’s drug czar, then allots advertising points for segments that convey an anti-drug message — a scene in which a youth rejects an offer of marijuana, for example, or a passage showing a group of drugged-out teenagers looking like losers.”

    Salon was already experimenting with publishing stories in real time by then, but the Times was otherwise correct in trumpeting Forbes’ media expos

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    2000: Stalking Gary Bauer, by Dan Savage

    Was Dan Savage’s story a rip-roaring piece of gonzo journalism — as we felt — or “a gross violation of ordinary civility,” as a reader, Ron Ackerman, put it?

    In his story, Savage described going to work during the Iowa primaries for conservative presidential candidate Gary Bauer, who was campaigning hard against same-sex marriage. “Seeing Bauer go off about gay marriage reminded me of something he said back in December … ‘I think what the Vermont Supreme Court did last week was in some ways worse than terrorism.’” A flu-addled Savage hatched a plan: “I decided that if it’s terrorism Bauer wants, then it’s terrorism Bauer is going get — and I’m just the man to terrorize him.”

    One night, after the campaign headquarters emptied out, Savage reported that — with great zeal — he “started licking doorknobs.”

    “The front door, office doors, even a bathroom door. When that was done, I started in on the staplers, phones and computer keyboards. Then I stood in the kitchen and licked the rims of all the clean coffee cups drying in the rack.”

    We defended running it by calling it “powerful writing, Swiftian in its desperate, satiric outrage at anti-gay discrimination.” We also added: “We still believe publishing the article was the right choice, but we also feel compelled to say: We didn’t assign Savage to infect Bauer. We don’t condone or endorse what he says he did.”

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    2001: Radio’s big bully, by Eric Boehlert

    Boehlert, now a senior fellow at Media Matters, remembers: “In early 2001 I suggested to my editor Bill Wyman that we do a big story about radio industry giant Clear Channel Communications. It soon became clear after talking to sources that the other crucial, unfolding industry story was the insane amount of money being spent on payola at FM radio (a bonanza Clear Channel was pushing), so we decided to write about both. And for the next couple of years, on and off, we produced several dozen articles, virtually all of which were exclusive and broke new ground.

    “I think Clear Channel made the fatal mistake of not taking Salon’s reporting seriously (i.e., it was just an online magazine). In truth, it was Salon’s online base that brought the stories to life, virally, as the articles circulated for weeks and months after they were published. Better yet, my in box soon began to fill up with e-mail messages from off-the-record Clear Channel and record label sources who wanted to tell their dark tales of greed, money and music.

    “All in all, it was a helluva ride.”

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    2001: Condit’s team: Chandra was no angel, By Joshua Micah Marshall

    The murder of Chandra Levy, a government intern in Washington, D.C., became an enormous story in the summer of 2001, especially after it became clear that Levy had had an affair with Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif. At Salon, the intimate twists and turns of the criminal investigation proved less interesting than the way the media — and the small army of hardball media handlers employed by all sides — were manipulating the story. Reporter Joshua Micah Marshall — still a few years away from becoming the Talking Points Memo mogul he is today — was speaking with Condit’s spokeswoman Marina Ein one day when she told him that Levy had “a history of one-night stands,” and proceeded to raise questions about Levy’s character. He was shocked. Had Ein simply forgotten to go off-the-record? When we published Marshall’s story, Ein denied making the charges — though others confirmed she did — and the story created a tidal wave of outrage that broke over Condit. (It wasn’t until just last month that Ingmar Guandique was found guilty of murdering Levy.)

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    2001: Everything you were afraid to ask about “Mulholland Drive,” by Bill Wyman and Salon staff

    Wyman, former arts editor of Salon, now a writer at the blog Hitsville,remembers: “David Lynch’s remarkable ‘Mulholland Drive’ was a huge flop. But it quickly became apparent that everyone who did go see the film went home and found our article — and then sent us an e-mail with their personal explication! The article is regularly cited in studies on Lynch, sometimes bizarrely. (Personal to Martha Nochimson: Oh, shut up.) Roger Ebert sent me a note less than an hour after it was published. It included a one-word message — ‘Wow!’ — and an excellent headline change.”

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    2002: Enron’s last-minute bonus orgy, by Jake Tapper

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    2004: The Da Vinci Crock, by Laura Miller

    “Debunking the conspiracy theory behind the biggest selling book in a generation is risky business. Not because people get angry — the response I got to ‘The Da Vinci Crock’ has been both overwhelming and overwhelmingly enthusiastic and grateful — but because you can fall down any number of rabbit holes chasing a lead and emerge days later even more confused than you started out. Also, you end up on a lot of weird e-mail lists and doing cameos on a lot of strange TV shows. Nevertheless, the story of the Priory of Sion, with its madcap cast of frauds, kooks and dupes, was always fascinating. I’m not sure how many true believers I managed to convert to skepticism, but it turns out there are a whole lot of skeptics out there anyway, and they welcomed me with open arms.” — Laura Miller, Salon founder and columnist, and author of “The Magician’s Book : A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia.”

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    2006: The Abu Ghraib files, By Mark Benjamin and Salon staff

    On March 15, 2006, Salon published the most extensive documentation of the abuse at the U.S. Army’s Abu Ghraib prison site, an archive that includes 279 photos and 19 videos.

    “Abu Ghraib was part of an overall Bush administration decision to intensify interrogation tactics everywhere, and the focus on low-level soldiers by much of the military and the media obscured the real story — the problem wasn’t just ‘bad apples,’ in the words of Donald Rumsfeld; it was a policy that came from the top.” — Joan Walsh, editor in chief (2005-2010) and current editor at large.

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    2006: My son, the stranger, by Anne Lamott

    “Sam thinks it is the best thing I’ve ever written. Needless to say, I ran it by him before I ran it, and he insisted on one major change — that I come across as having behaved as badly as he is, which was the truth. Then, a few years ago, I gave a reading in a huge auditorium near a junior college he was attending. He invited 20 friends, and then requested that I read this piece, because he thinks the writing is so good, and he said it would help the most parents in the audience. So that’s really all that matters to me about this story.” — Anne Lamott.

    Lamott’s most recent book is “Imperfect Birds.”

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    2006: Teammates: Allen used “N-word” in college, by Michael Scherer

    “This was one of those rumors that had been circling around for years, but it was too obscure to justify chasing it. Then two things happened: George Allen began entertaining the possibility of a 2008 presidential campaign and he said ‘macaca.’ I cold-called a librarian at the University of Virginia and asked for a copy of the football roster from Allen’s years on the team. I figured if the rumors had any validity, his teammates would remember.” — Michael Scherer, now White House correspondent for Time.

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    2009-2010: Arlington National Cemetery investigation, by Mark Benjamin

    Beginning in 2009, Benjamin began exposing extensive irregularities — falsely marked graves, forgotten and misplaced remains of soldiers, and a core systemic failure — at Arlington. It turned into a 20-part investigation that ultimately led to the dismissal of top Arlington officials and ongoing congressional hearings.

    “With the Arlington National Cemetery scandal, what was shocking was how many good employees had tried to blow the whistle and notify higher-ups, even in Congress, about what they saw. And they were ignored. It’s tragic that while we were fighting two wars, and sadly burying many more American soldiers than in recent memory, it took Salon to get attention to the way we were treating war casualties at our most hallowed cemetery.” — Joan Walsh, editor in chief (2005-2010) and current editor at large.

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    2010: The strange and consequential case of Bradley Manning, Adrian Lamo and WikiLeaks, by Glenn Greenwald

    “In June, U.S. Army PFC Bradley Manning was arrested and charged with leaking hundreds of thousands of secret documents to WikiLeaks. Shortly thereafter, convicted hacker Adrian Lamo claimed that Manning had contacted him out of the blue over the Internet and quickly confessed these crimes to him, after which Lamo contacted government authorities and turned informant. Lamo’s claims were first reported by Wired’s Kevin Poulsen, who has a long, involved and complex history with Lamo. To date, much of the critical evidence shedding light on what really happened here continues to be concealed by Lamo and Wired, and substantial questions remain about what actually transpired between Lamo and Manning that led to the latter’s arrest.” — Glenn Greenwald, Salon writer and author most recently of “Great American Hypocrites.”