Investigative Reporter and Host of Backstory
Don Van Natta Jr. is an investigative reporter whose work appears across ESPN platforms including Outside the Lines and ESPN.com. He also is the host of Backstory.
Since joining ESPN in January 2012, Van Natta has done cross-platform, investigative stories about scandals embroiling the National Football League, Commissioner Roger Goodell, Penn State University, Rutgers University and others. Besides his written work, he is often featured on Outside the Lines, the network’s Emmy-award winning investigative series. Van Natta’s long-form articles were anthologized four consecutive years in The Best American Sports Writing series and in 2018, a series of stories about the NFL that he co-wrote with ESPN senior writer Seth Wickersham was a finalist for a National Magazine Award. In 2016 the Society of Professional Journalists named Van Natta a “Fellow of the Society,” the organization’s highest professional honor awarded for “extraordinary contribution” to the journalism profession.
Prior to joining ESPN, Van Natta worked for 16 years as an investigative correspondent for The New York Times, where he was a member of two Pulitzer Prize winning teams for National Reporting, in 1999, and for Explanatory Reporting, in 2002. At the Times, Van Natta was based in New York, Washington, D.C., Miami and, from 2003 to 2005, in London as the newspaper’s first investigative correspondent in its history to be posted overseas, covering counter-terrorism and intelligence issues. He broke hundreds of stories for the Times about a wide range of subjects, from the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996, the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, the 9/11 attacks, extraordinary rendition of terror suspects abroad, campaign finance abuses and the phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World in London.
Prior to joining the Times in 1995, Van Natta worked for eight years at The Miami Herald, where he was a member of the Herald staff that won the 1993 Pulitzer Medal for Public Service for its coverage of Hurricane Andrew in August 1992 and its aftermath. In the hours after the hurricane, Van Natta wrote a first-person, page one account of riding out the hurricane in a Florida City motel, which was torn apart by the category 5 hurricane’s 165-mile per hour winds. While at The Herald, Van Natta won numerous other national and regional awards, including the IRE Gold Medal, the American Bar Association Silver Gavel and the Green Eyeshade Award from the Society of Professional Journalists. He was also a finalist for a Livingston Prize given to journalists under the age of 35.
Van Natta is the bestselling author of three books: First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers and Cheaters from Taft to Bush (Public Affairs, 2003), which The Economist called “the best book ever written on American politics,” Wonder Girl: The Magnificent Sporting Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias (Little Brown, 2011) and the co-author, with Jeff Gerth, of Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton (Little Brown, 2007). First Off the Tee was a New York Times bestseller and was translated into six languages. Her Way was also a New York Times bestseller and was translated into nine languages. Wonder Girl won the United States Golf Association’s Warren Herbert Wind Golf Book Award in 2011, given to the top golf book published that year.
He was born in Ridgewood, NJ, in 1964 and graduated from Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, NJ and Boston University. While at BU, Van Natta served as the editor-in-chief of The Daily Free Press, the university’s independent student newspaper, and won the Scarlet Key Award, given to student leaders. In 2000, Boston University’s College of Communication awarded Van Natta its Distinguished Alumni Award. In 2018, Don Bosco Prep inducted him into its Hall of Fame.
He lives in Miami with his wife, Lizette Alvarez, the former award-winning Miami bureau chief for The New York Times, and their two daughters, Isabel and Sofia.