The Rise of “Meghann Thee Reporter,” the Internet’s Favorite Court Insider

From a Washington Post story by Anne Branigin headlined “The Rise of ‘Meghann Thee Reporter,’ the internet’s favorite court insider”:

It takes reporter Meghann Cuniff a little more than an hour and a half to commute from the courthouses of downtown Los Angeles to the hills of San Clemente, but there’s at least one upside.

If any of her haters decided to tail her home from court one day, Cuniff joked, “they’re going to turn around by the time they get to Orange.”

Yes, a legal reporter can have some real, dedicated haters — for Cuniff, 40, these are mostly fans of rapper-singer Tory Lanez (more on that in a moment). But as of late, there are many more people cheering her on.

Either scenario is hard to imagine stepping into her modest apartment, its walls lined with Carl Hiaasen books and stacks of yellowing newspapers, where Claire, an elderly ginger cat with all the verve of a doormat, is her only company.

Everything you’d ever want to know about Cuniff is laid out in the open: the Grateful Dead paraphernalia and National Park stickers; the wall of awards dating back to 2005 (the best ones are “the hardware,” she says, pointing to the four trophies on her desk); the press badges hanging off coat hooks; the trio of calendars, this month’s and two months in advance, a planning trick she learned from trial judges. In the eye of the storm sits a sprawling desk with an old MacBook and a monitor that occasionally conks out.

She has little patience for pretense or ceremony. With Cuniff, what you see is what you get. And what you see, amid her life’s detritus, is the person who is arguably the most influential legal journalist working today.

News has entered its creator era: No matter the topic, whether it’s celebrity trials or Israel’s invasion of Gaza, more people are turning to trusted personalities over legacy institutions.

Cuniff has become one of those personalities, thanks in large part to her coverage of Lanez’s December 2022 trial, in which he was convicted of shooting Megan Thee Stallion during a late-night argument in 2020.

Unlike many of these creators, Cuniff is a reporter by trade who cut her teeth covering courts, cops and school board meetings. Her work is defined by old-school news values: Lead with the facts. Don’t cloud the reporting with your emotions. Pay attention to all sides of the story. Be accurate and be fast.

Over the course of her 20-year career, Cuniff has captured the attention of fellow journalists and legal professionals, who say her gavel-to-gavel reporting is unparalleled. But since the Lanez trial, Cuniff has cultivated a new and, for her, unexpected following among “Black Twitter” by covering the legal trials and tribulations of hip-hop stars. Her work — and daily X (formerly Twitter) threads — have even earned her the nickname “Meghann Thee Reporter.”

A recent viral meme sums up this relationship. How does Black Twitter respond to Black celebs in legal trouble? By sending out not a “bat signal” but a “bob signal,” a reference to Cuniff’s trademark blunt cut.

On Wednesday, rapper A$AP Rocky approached her outside his preliminary hearing for a gun assault case, shook her hand and, according to Cuniff, said, “Love the work, love the work.”

And when another X account impersonated Cuniff earlier this month, her fans shut it down in less than five minutes: “We really don’t play about Meghann,” one follower chimed in.

Cuniff is still reporting on Lanez’s legal issues — in 2023, the rapper filed a motion for a new trial and has challenged his 10-year prison sentence — but she’s since left her imprint on a slew of other cases, too.

She’s covered Smokey Robinson’s breach of contract lawsuit. She broke the story of Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis’s letters of support for former “That ’70s Show” co-star Danny Masterson, as well as news of Nicki Minaj’s husband’s house arrest. She published a previously unreleased call between former Los Angeles Dodger Trevor Bauer and a woman who accused him of sexual assault. Her X followers begged her to take on an alleged Ponzi scheme involving DJ Envy, a co-host of the popular hip-hop morning show, “The Breakfast Club.” (After stating she “had nothing to add” about the latter case, she quickly backtracked.)

Cuniff is still taken aback by the attention: “I frankly don’t think what I’m doing is all that wonderful,” she said. But she clearly relishes the outpouring of affection — and, of course, the memes.

“Why would I not want to look at this s—?” Cuniff said, her phone open to X. “People love me.”

When she enters the First Street U.S. Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles later in the week, a process that requires a metal detector and a bag search, three plastic water bottles in varying states of emptiness tumble out of her bag. No matter where she is, Cuniff always has some water nearby, she said — “part of that, I think, is just always needing to be occupied.”

Throughout the day, Cuniff is a perpetually in motion, ping-ponging across the cavernous building. First there’s jury selection for the trial of Jerry Boylan, the former diving boat captain eventually convicted of “seaman’s manslaughter” after he fled a boat fire that killed 34 people off the coast of Southern California. Then a lunchtime interview with Slate’s “ICYMI” podcast on DJ Envy, Black Twitter and, again, Tory Lanez. (Some of his fans blame her for his conviction, “but only the really, really dumb ones,” Cuniff says.) Then back to the Boylan trial for opening statements and witness testimony, and, when that slows down, downstairs to catch snippets of a murder-for-hire trial she thinks might be “fun.”

By day’s end she has: One legal pad’s worth of notes; some juicy gossip fielded from attorney friends; an interview request from a popular hip-hop blog (accepted). What she does not have: a photo of a witness leaving the courthouse she might sell for a few bucks (he was preoccupied with his lawyer).

The only time Cuniff can be found still is in the courtroom, when she sits against a back wall, her pad at rest on her lap, taking in all the motions of the court — the trial attorneys’ nervous side-chatter; the aides wheeling in stacks of white binders stuffed with trial exhibits; the shoptalk of federal lawyers behind her; the gasping sobs of victims’ families.

“It was like she was naturally born to do this,” says her longtime friend and former editor, Shadra Beesley.

Before the courtrooms of Southern California, though, there was the McDonald’s in Corvallis, Ore.

Cuniff grew up working class in the mostly White town; her father was a small-town lawyer and an alcoholic who died when she was 20. As a teen, working at the ubiquitous fast food chain was Cuniff’s way of getting out of the house — and maybe out of Corvallis itself.

“Working was always the way that I could better my situation, the way that I could get out and travel,” said Cuniff. “I kind of realized, you know, there [are] McDonald’s all over the country. If all else fails, I can always go move somewhere random and get a job at McDonald’s.”

At the University of Oregon she found the college paper and it dawned on her — there were newspapers in every town, too.

Cuniff was a standout reporter at the Daily Emerald, according to Beesley. Cuniff wrote more stories than other students, stayed out in the field longer and made fewer mistakes. And then there was her temperament — she is always “on,” Beesley said. Even when they go camping, Cuniff is constantly checking her phone for news, so long as she can get a signal. But she’s also unflappable, Beesley added, always “the calm in the center of the storm.”

Over the next 20 years, Cuniff would go from writing about student-led neighborhood cleanups for the Daily Emerald to covering crimes — the grisly, the mundane and the bizarre — for the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash. In 2008, she sat in a Boise federal courtroom for weeks covering a major death penalty case — her first time using Twitter to do live coverage of a trial. An opening at the Orange County Register in 2013 brought her to California, though she found the work itself — covering small-town city council issues — less than thrilling. When layoffs hit the paper, she moved on to law-focused publications, including the Los Angeles Daily Journal and

By the time Cuniff began covering the Lanez trial in December 2022, she had already spent hundreds of hours in court galleries and caught the eye of elite attorneys, who saw in Cuniff something special.

Clark Brewster, an Oklahoma attorney who represented Stormy Daniels after the porn star ditched Michael Avenatti, recalls meeting Cuniff for dinner in California in the lead-up to one of Avenatti’s fraud trials. Brewster was so impressed with her knowledge of the law, he couldn’t help but suggest a change in career.

“I told her she’d be the best paralegal I’d ever seen in my life,” Brewster said. “And she said, ‘I thought of that, but I want to be a journalist.’”

If a reporter attends the trial — already the exception — they tend to be present for opening statements and closing arguments, maybe star witness testimony, and the verdict. Few can, or want to, navigate the hundreds of pages of court filings that have accrued before the trial even begins. Court beat reporters, if an outlet even has them, also tend to focus on one courthouse: federal cases, for instance, or criminal.

Before the judge bangs the first gavel, Cuniff would have already read the filings and consulted other attorneys on their thoughts. She looks into the lawyers and firms involved and is typically already familiar with the judges and how they govern their courtrooms.

She also has an uncanny ability to transcribe testimony and exchanges quickly — a feat that is made harder by the fact that many judges don’t allow laptops or cellphones in their courtrooms. (This restriction alone, Cuniff argues, is the difference between a well-covered case and one that falls between the cracks.) As an independent journalist, Cuniff can cover whatever she wants, and unlike most other outlets, she is not just interested in outcomes, but process. And she believes readers, whether they’re following her tweets or her deep-dive articles, are too.

Celebrity trials are often not her first choice, but they serve an important function, Cuniff noted. They tend to be the cases that acquaint the public with our legal system, so making that system legible is important.

“What she does is she weaves a narrative that is very people-oriented,” said Richard Marmaro, a retired attorney who befriended Cuniff after she covered one of his high-profile cases. “And I think she does it in a way that humanizes the parties, humanizes the lawyers. She’s critical of the lawyers sometimes; and other times she praises them. But she doesn’t seem to have an agenda in any given case.”

Cuniff knows she has the credibility. She has a growing audience. She seemingly has the temperament for fame — brushing off insults and harassment with a smirk and a roll of her eyes. But how does she translate the attention into income?

Her Substack, Legal Affairs and Trials with Meghann Cuniff, which she launched this year, is essentially a one-woman media company: Cuniff reports and writes all the stories and takes all the photos. A retired court clerk copy-edits her, but Cuniff makes all the editorial decisions about what she will cover and how.

She’s especially popular with hip-hop fans, in part because their legal affairs are often misreported by gossip sites and bloggers.

These stories aren’t just fan service for Cuniff, who applies both her legal expertise and her ear for the absurd to them. She’s particularly interested in a slew of defamation suits targeting “new media” creators, such as a lawsuit 50 Cent filed against the Instagram gossip account, the Shade Room, after it erroneously implied the rapper had gotten a penis enhancement surgery. The parties settled out of court.

“When you read the lawsuit, the details of how this came about, this is absolutely outrageous,” Cuniff said. “These people [gossip bloggers and creators] have no idea what they’re doing. They have no training whatsoever.”

But their audiences have few other options, she adds.

“What struck me was how even the people who read all those blogs and [watch] the YouTubers don’t even seem to actually like them … they just don’t feel like they can get that news anywhere else,” Cuniff said.

But while her tweets about A$AP Rocky might get more eyeballs, Cuniff’s “bread and butter” — the content her subscribers pay $8 a month for ($80 a year) — is federal white-collar crimes; the kind of complex cases that legal professionals follow. (She has more than 8,000 subscribers; 300 of which pay her for her work.)

Cuniff has long been aware that you have to have money to make money. She recently met with a branding firm that said it would charge $5,000 a month for its services.

She’s unsure how much she wants to make Meghan Thee Reporter her brand — doing so would tie her to the Tory Lanez case forever, and Cuniff is ready to move on.
So she’s playing with a few ideas. She started a YouTube channel — because it’s more lucrative than other platforms, and because so many of its talking heads were just sharing her work anyway. Maybe merch, like a “Googly-eyed b—-” T-shirt, a callback to Lanez’s pointed insult of Cuniff during his sentencing hearing. (Cuniff’s right eye tends to drift inward, a condition that she says has gotten worse over the last few years.) Cuniff is interested in writing a book about her experiences covering celebrity trials during an age of rabid internet fandom — but she needs to find time to hammer out a book proposal. Right now, there’s still far too much to cover.

Beesley, Cuniff’s former editor, recently stumbled upon a show on which Cuniff had appeared, “Megan Thee Stallion vs. Tory Lanez,” a short docuseries dissecting both sides of the now-famous case. It’s not the first such appearance Cuniff has had — in the past, she’s also appeared on Nancy Grace’s show and “Snapped,” a cable true-crime series that follows the life of a woman charged with murder.

The appeal of these programs, Beesley notes, is that they’re salacious, and she’s learned to be wary of the way they present their stories. But when Cuniff is on that kind of show, she gives it a legitimacy it wouldn’t otherwise have, Beesley said — she knows whatever Cuniff says is “the straight-up truth.”

Anne Branigin is a staff reporter in Style covering breaking news and writing feature stories. Previously, she worked at the Root covering news, politics, health and social justice movements through the lens of race and gender.

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