2016 Award Recipient
2016: Koh Gui Qing, John Shiffman, Clare Baldwin and Kristina Cooke, Reuters, “The Long Arm of China.”
The 2016 Clark Mollenhoff Award for Excellence in Investigative Reporting was presented to reporters Koh Gui Qing, John Shiffman, Clare Baldwin and Kristina Cooke of Reuters for their contributions to the series “The Long Arm of China.” Quing and Shiffman’s investigation of covert Chinese propaganda broadcasts around the world was the first news report to reveal the broad scope of such state-sponsored efforts and cover-ups. The series shed light on the use of front companies and corporate restructuring practices that allowed Chinese state media to hide the nature of its involvement with international broadcasts. Since the series’ publication, action has been taken by the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct their own investigations into Chinese actions. Baldwin and Cooke’s reporting exposed the true extent of Chinese influence on United States institutions, such as the Hollywood film industry. Through their investigation of internal emails between Sony Pictures employees, the team was able to paint a picture of how China’s censorship and influence affect the global entertainment industry.
2015: Mark Puente, The Baltimore Sun, “Undue Force”
The Baltimore Sun periodically heard complaints about heavy-handed city police officers, but reporter Mark Puente’s investigation titled “Undue Force” was the first to reveal the seriousness and scope of the problem. He showed that city officers have battered dozens of residents — resulting in broken bones, organ failure and even death — in questionable arrests. The Sun showed that the city paid $5.7 million in more than a hundred civil suits alleging brutality and other misconduct since 2011. And in almost every case, prosecutors or judges dismissed the charges against the people who were arrested — if charges were filed at all.
2014: John Diedrich & Raquel Rutledge of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Backfire”
Diedrich and Rutledge’s hard-hitting series “Backfire” uncovered deep flaws and a profound lack of government oversight in undercover Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives stings across the country.
2013: Ben Poston & John Diedrich, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Crime Data Investigation”
Their investigation found the Milwaukee Police Department underreported thousands of violent assaults, rapes, robberies and burglaries and failed to correct the problem while presenting flawed statistics to the public.
2012: Emily Miller, The Washington Times, “Emily Gets Her Gun”
After a home invasion, reporter Emily Miller decided she needed to purchase a gun for self protection. Miller’s series reveals how unbelievably difficult it is to purchase a firearm in the District of Columbia. While she expected some difficulty and delay, she soon found herself on an odyssey that is clearly designed to discourage people from purchasing guns. From endless amounts of paperwork, hard-to-find classes, a background check, fingerprints and other bureaucratic hurdles, Miller’s series tells of the restrictions and roadblocks put in place by District officials in order to make the purchase of a gun all but impossible.
2011: Mark Schoofs, Maurice Tamman, Anna Wilde Mathews, Tom McGinty, John Carreyrou, Barbara Martinez, Russell Adams and Brent Kendall, The Wall Street Journal, “Secrets of the System”
This ground-breaking series exposed waste and potential fraud in Medicare – the $500 billion program for the elderly. Making use of Medicare data never before obtained by a news organization, WSJ was able to demonstrate that taxpayers were likely being billed by doctors who charged millions of dollars for an improbable number of obscure medical tests. A major finding of the series was that the government has been slow to make full use of its own databases to combat fraud and abuse. The series triggered investigations by the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission and hearings in Congress that could lead to legislation that nullifies the injunction that bars the public from seeing what individual physicians earn from Medicare.
2010: Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker, Philadelphia Daily News, “Tainted Justice”
The Ruderman and Laker series exposed a rogue squad of police narcotics officers that allegedly terrorized and stole cash and goods from store owners and brutalized innocent women. Their series led to an FBI investigation, and numerous reforms by Philadelphia police officials have been implemented as a result.
2009: Michael Berens & Ken Armstrong The Seattle Times “ Culture of Resistance”
The series examined the effects of the drug resistant germ MRSA that lurks in Washington hospitals infecting patients and staff at an alarmingly high rate. Their investigation revealed how the sloppy, uneven response by some hospitals has failed to confront the infection or adequately inform the public. Armstrong and Berens’ series demands for greater transparency by more aggressively monitoring and enforcing hygiene rules in hospitals as well as informing the public of the MRSA infection rates, related traumas, and death.
2008: David Heath and Hal Bernton, The Seattle Times, “The Favor Factory”
This explosive series exposed a system in which congressional members secure funds for companies and receive generous campaign contributions in return. Examining the 2007 defense bill to trace the origins of some 2,700 earmarks worth $11.8 billion, they discovered that of the nearly 500 companies that received defense earmarks, 78 percent had employees or political action committees that made campaign contributions to Congress in the past six years totaling more than $47 million. Their series is a groundbreaking blend of print and online investigative journalism that also features the first national online searchable database linking Congressional members to defense earmarks, campaign contributions, and company spending on lobbyists.
Honorable Mention: Scott Reeder, Small Newspaper Group, “Hidden Violations”
2007: Kathleen Carroll and Jean Rimbach, The Record (Bergen County, N.J.), “Lessons in Waste: How public money fed private greed”
This series examined the New Jersey early education program and revealed dysfunction so severe that preschool owners were helping themselves to public dollars without punishment. Offenses the two uncovered included preschool operators driving Mercedes as “company cars,” owners hiring family members for nonexistent jobs, and shorting teachers’ salaries while taking out loans for themselves. Their findings prompted an investigation from the state Attorney General and indictments of three preschool owners.
2006: Scott Reeder, Small Newspaper Group, “The Hidden Costs of Tenure”
In his six-month investigation of the Illinois public school system, Reeder revealed that of an estimated 95,500 tenured educators in Illinois, only two on average are fired each year for poor job performance. In discovering this and other previously-unknown facts, Reeder faced obstacles from an entrenched school system bureaucracy and powerful teachers unions.
2005: M.L. Elrick and Jim Schaefer, Detroit Free Press, “Detroit Mayor Serves Himself Before the Public”
A series of articles by M.L. Elrick and Jim Schaefer of the Detroit Free Press which exposed various scandals in the administration of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, including his mother’s ties to a questionable political action committee and the efforts of his chief of staff to have a bank involved in city business give her a loan. The articles contributed to Mayor Kilpatrick making an extraordinary apology to Detroit voters in May: “Detroit, I’ve made some mistakes, and I’m sorry if those mistakes hurt anyone.”
Runner Up: John Hill and Dorothy Korber, The Sacramento Bee, “Chief’s Disease”
The Sacramento Bee’s John Hill and Dorothy Korber documented an epidemic known within the California Highway Patrol as “chief’s disease” — in which high-ranking members of the department develop mysterious ailments just before retiring.The designation allows them to leave with a disability pension on top of an already generous retirement benefit that in many cases would be close to full pay even without the added perk. Many of these same officers then miraculously recover, finding jobs elsewhere that seem every bit as difficult as the ones they claimed they were no longer healthy enough to perform.
2004: Mei-Ling Hopgood & Russell Carollo, Dayton Daily News, “Casualties of Peace”
This 20-month investigation into safety issues at the Peace Corps, by Hopgood and Carollo, revealed that the organization regularly put its volunteers in danger, confirming that volunteers have died at the rate of about one every two months since 1962. After interviewing more than 500 people, traveled to 10 countries, filed 75 Freedom of Information Act requests and, ultimately, sued the Peace Corps in federal court to pry free public records that documented the assaults against volunteers, the series has sparked a worldwide Internet debate that continues to this day.
2003: Melvin Claxton, Norman Sinclair & Ronald Hansen, The Detroit News, “Hiding In Plain View”
This four-part series written by Claxton, Sinclair and Hansen uncovered a pattern of neglect, incompetence and mismangement by the Wayne County Law Enforcement in regard to the apprehension of fugitives. During their six-month investigation, they revealed that officials had left more than 26,000 fugitives on the streets, putting the residents of Michigan at risk. For years, fugitives in Detroit knew that police didn’t hunt fugitives and courts never prosecuted them for fleeing. Traveling around some of Detroit’s most dangerous neighborhoods, Claxton, Sinclair and Hansen located 53 of the city’s 280 most wanted fugitives. More than half were living at a home or at an address that police had on file.
2002: Duff Wilson & David Heath, The Seattle Times, “Uninformed Consent: What patients at ‘The Hutch’ weren’t told about the experiments in which they died”
This series revealed that 80 cancer patients–many of whom might have survived with conventional treatment — died in one of the nation’s leading cancer research centers after submitting to treatment by experimental drugs without being fully told of the risks involved. The series also uncovered that some of the doctors involved in the experiment at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle had financial interests in the drugs being tested unbeknown to their patients. The five-part series has been a catalyst in national efforts to reform the regulation of human clinical trials. It also prompted the board of the prestigious Hutchinson Center to appoint a special study panel, which has since recommended that the Center adopt tough new conflict-of-interest rules.
2001: Mary Zahn & Jessica McBride, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Wisconsin’s Death Penalty: Wisconsin Prison Term Can Equal a Death Sentence”
Zahn and McBride’s series was the culmination of an eight-month investigation into Wisconsin’s prison health care. It painted a stunning portrait of a system in which questionable, sometimes shocking, deaths could occur with minimal outside review. Judges for the Mollenhoff Award described the series as “a compelling chronicle of neglect and indifference to human life.” They said the series “perfectly met the definition of investigative reporting. It involved extensive original work by the reporters; it involved a matter of importance, and some of the key persons involved preferred to keep this information hidden.”
2000: Russell Carollo, The Dayton Daily News, “Falling from the Sky: A Series on Military Aviation Safety”
This series examines problems in aviation safety in the military. Carollo revealed that dozens of people have died in aviation accidents because of shoddy work to repair planes and helicopters. Through more than 150 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, Carollo obtained and analyzed databases and reports from military legal investigations. Much of this data had never before been released, and once obtained, were complex and not easily analyzed. He also interviewed more than 150 people including pilots, mechanics, accident investigators, and relatives of accident victims. The military kept maintenance records secret from the pilots who risked their lives to take to the air and the taxpayers who foot the bill. Carollo found the details that proved the cover-up and the people to tell the human stories. It prompted a call for congressional hearings and changes in Defense Department policies regarding maintenance.
1999: Fred Schulte & Jenni Bergal, Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale), “Hidden Dangers of Cosmetic Surgery”
This series exposed the lack of state regulation in Florida over doctors performing cosmetic surgery, and directly traced 34 deaths in the state and over 1,100 injuries to this type of surgery. In compiling their data, the Sun-Sentinel reporters spent six months gleaning information from individuals, court records and state agencies. They also reviewed thousands of autopsy reports throughout the state. “This series was in the highest tradition of investigative reporting,” the judges wrote. “It was comprehensive in scope, solidly documented, well written and inarguably in the public interest. For the first time, the series bared major problems in the way that both the state and the medical profession regulate cosmetic surgery in Florida. The series has done what all good investigative stories should. It has exposed a threat to the public good and provoked the process of reform.”
1998: Bill Conroy & Jason Method and staff of the Asbury Park Press, “House of Cards”
The focus of this series of stories was a mortgage scam in which real estate speculators were making millions of dollars off fraudulent mortgages on the backs of some unwitting citizens. The swindle involved the speculators purchasing city homes then quickly reselling them, to a straw buyer for many times the initial sale price — with fraudulent appraisals supporting the bigger mortgages. “House of Cards” has led to indictments, changes in New Jersey real estate law, and to the break-up of what would have been the largest merger of two mortgage companies in U.S. history. The Press used computer-assisted reporting, brought in handwriting experts, and hired independent appraisers to verify information. Ultimately, reporters established a fraudulent degree of complicity among speculators, appraisers, certain bankers and mortgage lenders that was happening not only in other parts of New Jersey, but in other states as well.
1997: Wes Hills, Rob Modic, and Jim Bebbington Investigative Team, The Dayton DailyNews, “Police and Judicial Abuse in Drug Law Enforcement”
In our nation’s current war on drugs, we have to trust law enforcement to protect us from the criminals pushing drugs to our children. Unfortunately, as Hills, Modic and Bebbington uncovered, in Greene County, Ohio, law enforcement officials are anything but trustworthy. They uncovered proof of witness tampering, reducing charges for money, over-zealous enforcement, abuse of the Ohio forfeiture law and numerous conflicts of interest throughout the legal system. Their investigation led the Ohio Supreme Court to call for changes in the way acting judges are named to municipal court benches, the release of one wrongly imprisoned drug defendant, the resignation of the two top officials of the Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission, and the review of three Greene County judges by the Ohio Supreme Court’s judicial ethics panel.
1996: Chris Adams, The New Orleans Times-Picayune, “Medicaid Madness”
A deep analysis of the manic leap — some 9,000 percent between 1991 and 1996 in public funding of private psychiatric care for Louisiana’s poor. Drawing on a computer-assisted examination of 60 million records and more than 400 interviews, Adams documented the sociopathology in sickening detail. A three-sentence rewrite of the rules, for example, elevated profit margins to 40 and 50 percent (as compared with the industry standard of 5 percent) for a group of small, mostly unaccredited facilities owned by state officials, political supporters, campaign contributors, and legislators, including the president pro tem of the House. Another quiet one-sentence rule change, in which three facilities owned by political and business associates of the governor were designated “teaching hospitals,” brought in $9 million in one year alone for supervising six part-time medical students. Doctors’ salaries also got a shot in the arm, sometimes to nearly $1 million a year (as compared with the national average of $130,000) while the former lieutenant governor and two of his partners paid themselves $50,000 a month each for serving as members of their hospital’s board. In addition to five state and federal investigations, the Times-Picayune’s exposé produced promises from all seven gubernatorial candidates that, if elected, they would cure the problem (Columbia Journalism Review ).