Weekend Reading: Celebrity Deaths, Sexual Misconduct, the Facebook Files, and More

The best reporting and writing from the past week, and context to understand it.

There’s a lot of great journalism out there. Every week, in a format short enough that it won’t be clipped by your inbox, we aim to share some of the best, with additional context for understanding the biggest news of the day. This is a weekly digest of stories you can savor and reporting you can rely on.

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The Question Michael K. Williams Asked Me Before Every Season of ‘The Wire’ — David Simon, The New York Times

The death of Michael K. Williams was sudden and tragic. In an ongoing year-and-a-half of sudden and tragic deaths, by the hundreds of thousands at the hands of a pandemic, it can seem extravagant to lavish such attention on a singular death. But to hear David Simon, one of the creators of The Wire, the show that first gave a home to Williams’ talent, tell it, Williams was exactly as we wanted to believe he was.

  • 📖 Death of a Storyteller — Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture/New York: An incredibly touching piece that celebrated what Williams gave to his audiences.

His enduring power as an artist came from his belief in himself — not merely as an actor or a performer but as a storyteller. Williams used that word in interviews when describing himself: storyteller. He used it aspirationally, sincerely. In his mind, he wasn’t just hitting marks and saying lines. He was creating, incarnating, inhabiting, spell-casting.

The contact that Williams made with the public through Omar is rare and destabilizing. When Omar was killed, in 2008, toward the end of The Wire, Williams lost his moorings and his sense of identity. On the block, fans would call him by his character’s name, which is to say that they were asking after a ghost. To be reminded that the actor was “more than” Omar is to acknowledge in the same breath that Omar was a masterpiece. But Williams was, of course, more than that one role.

  • 🎥 Typecast — Michael K. Williams, HBO & The Atlantic: Two-and-a-half minutes of brilliance, made now more tragic by his death. Watch and remind yourself that he’s simply talking to himself, no matter how real the conversation seems.

  • 📖 Norm Macdonald Was the Real Thing — Nathan Heller, The New Yorker: A surprised writer’s recounting of the comedian’s dedication to the creative process and his generosity with his particular brand of genius.

  • 🎧 Conan Talks About Norm MacDonald — Conan O’Brien, Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend: If you’ve engaged with any of the Norm Macdonald remembrances, you’ve probably seen at least two clips: his “roast” of Bob Saget and his moth joke told to Conan O’Brien. A funny man on what made another man so funny.

Mr. Weber’s Confession — Nancy Jo Sales, Vanity Fair

A truly bizarre case of yet another he said-she said, except this one has a twist: He said he kissed her inappropriately when he was her teacher, and she says that never happened. The prestigious boarding school believed him.

  • 🗄️ From 2018: Everyone Believed Larry Nassar — Kerry Howley, The Cut/New York: This week, USA Gymnastics’ biggest stars ripped into the FBI for its handling of the abuse case brought against Larry Nassar, the former team doctor who abused hundreds of girls. Read an in-depth account of his case so we do not forget why and how the team was so spectacularly failed by nearly everyone involved.

  • 🗄️ From 2018: The Rise of the Victims’-Rights Movement — Jill Lepore, The New Yorker: The history of the victims’-rights movement, which, in 2018, saw a judge allow nearly 150 women to give victim impact statements against Larry Nassar for the harms he caused through crimes he’d never been charged with, saw its turning point in the 1990s with one of the darkest chapters of the Clinton presidency: the Oklahoma City Bombing.

Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show — Georgia Wells, Jeff Horwitz & Deepa Seetharaman, The Wall Street Journal

A big-time exposé from the WSJ on how Facebook and Instagram are harming teen users.

“We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” said one slide from 2019, summarizing research about teen girls who experience the issues. “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” said another slide. “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”

  • 📖 Facebook Says Its Rules Apply to All. Company Documents Reveal a Secret Elite That’s Exempt. — Jeff Horwitz, The Wall Street Journal: The revelations about what Facebook knew about Instagram’s negative effects on teen girls is just one small part of a larger project by the WSJ called The Facebook Files. The first story to break from the batch of internal documents WSJ reporters obtained answered the age-old question: Why does it seem like certain people can just get away with saying anything on the platform, despite it’s so-called rules?

  • 📖 Facebook Tried to Make Its Platform a Healthier Place. It Got Angrier Instead. — Keach Hagey & Jeff Horwitz, The Wall Street Journal: You know what they say about the best laid plans, right? Of course you do, but it appears that Mark Zuckerberg might not. After changes to the site’s algorithm that were to improve connections and interactions backfired, Zuckerberg resisted updates because he feared it would decrease users’ engagement with the site.

More of Our Favorites From the Past Two Weeks

The Tragedy of America’s Rural Schools — Casey Parks, The New York Times Magazine

Football, Firemen, and Cops — and What It Means to Never Forget 9/11 — Tom Junod, ESPN

How Tucker Carlson Lost It — Alex Shephard, The New Republic

‘Concerned Citizen’ at Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes’ Trial Turns Out to Be Family — Bobby Allyn, NPR

Can MIT’s Tim Berners-Lee Save the Web? — Tom McGrath, Boston Magazine

One Woman’s Mission to Rewrite Nazi History on Wikipedia — Noam Cohen, Wired

Regina King in Her Element — Jesmyn Ward, Vanity Fair

Super League Rage, Ronaldo Mania, and the Fight for the Soul of Manchester United — Wright Thompson, ESPN+

Peter Thiel Hates a Copycat — Sebastian Mallaby, The Atlantic

The Disastrous Voyage of Satoshi, the World’s First Cryptocurrency Cruise Ship — Sophie Elmhirst, The Guardian

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