2014 Shadid Award Winner:
Associated Press: Adam Goldman, Matt Apuzzo and Ted Bridis
The AP’s Adam Goldman received a tip from a confidential source that turned out to be the story of an American who disappeared in 2007 on what the U.S. government always maintained was a private business trip to Iran had actually been working for the CIA. The American, Robert Levinson, had been dispatched on an unapproved intelligence gathering mission by rogue analysts. The CIA had lied about its involvement to Congress, the FBI and the White House then – after it was caught – the CIA paid Levinson’s family $2.5 million not to reveal the truth publicly.
Adam Golman and Matt Apuzzo dug into the story over the next few months. Their reporting included obtaining documents and interviewing dozens of U.S. and foreign officials, as well as Levinson’s family members.
The AP approached high level U.S. officials several times to inform them that the AP would be publishing the story in the near future. However, each time, the officials encouraged the AP to delay publishing the story, as it might endanger Levinson or compromise promising leads to find him.
As the AP waited, rival news sources began looking into the story. But, the AP would not let pressure from the competition compromise its ethical standards. The news organization carefully vetted every new piece of the story before publishing the story to ensure it did not include any false information.
Finally-while still under pressure from U.S. officials, which urged the AP not to publish the story-the AP, decided to publish the Levinson story.
“Publishing articles that help the public hold their government to account is part of what journalism is for, and especially so at The Associated Press, which pursues accountability journalism whenever it can,” Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said in the award nomination. “This seems particularly true on this subject at a time when the decisions of intelligence agencies are being extensively debated.”
The AP understood, and said so publicly, that its decision to reveal Levinson’s secret could hasten his release but also might cost Levinson his life.
In January, Levinson’s wife publicly confirmed the AP’s reporting. The family’s lawyer said: “There is no further value in continuing to deny what everyone in the world knows to be the truth.”
The Center for Journalism Ethics honors Adam Goldman, Matt Apuzzo, Ted Bridis and the Associated Press for their commitment to this story, and its ethical implications, and is pleased to award them with the 2014 Anthony Shadid Award for Journalism Ethics.
2014 Shadid Award Finalists:
Minnesota Public Radio: Madeleine Baran, Sasha Aslanian, Mike Cronin, Tom Scheck, Laura Yuen and Meg Martin
Minnesota Public Radio exposed a major sex abuse scandal within the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis after receiving an anonymous tip from a former official at the organization. MPR’s reporting team of Madeleine Baran, Sasha Aslanian, Mike Cronin, Tom Scheck, Laura Yuen and Meg Martin obtained thousands of documents detailing how the archdiocese covered up decades of sexual abuse involving children. Lead reporter Madeleine Baran conducted nearly 100 hours of individual interviews with the whistleblower.
MPR carefully considered the ethical implications of reporting information from documents that included full names of child victims and internal Church memos hiding the names of the priests, providing secret payments to pedophiles and other illegal activities. MPR published seven major investigative reports that led to a judge ordering the archdiocese and a diocese in southern Minnesota to release the names of credibly accused priests.
MPR provided the following comments in the award nomination regarding the story and its dedication to ethics:
Betrayed by Silence is the most ambitious journalism project ever undertaken by MPR News. The reporting team of Madeleine Baran, Sasha Aslanian, Mike Cronin, Tom Scheck, Laura Yuen and Meg Martin has been vigilant in adhering to the highest standards of ethics in journalism. Faith, reputations and fortunes are at stake. We have been respectful yet firm with an institution that resists outside scrutiny. We have been delicate, yet assertive, in taking on two deeply private realms of human existence: religion and sexuality. We have striven to report the truth with care, rigor, independence and humility.
USA TODAY: Paul Overberg, Meghan Hoyer, Jodi Upton, Destin Fraiser, Jerry Mosemak, Anthony DeBarros and Jodi Upton
Even before the Newtown, Conn. killings, a collaborative USA TODAY data team dedicated itself to correct the public’s inaccurate view of mass killings—often created by the FBI and other organizations misreporting mass killing data. The team, which included: database editors Paul Overberg and Meghan Hoyer, senior database editor Jodi Upton, Gannett Digital designers Destin Fraiser and Jerry Mosemak, Gannett Digital director of interactive applications Anthony DeBarros and USA TODAY senior database editor Jodi Upton, worked together to design, research, interview survivors and the victims’ families and publish an online interactive that better defined mass killings and detailed FBI data of actual mass killings from 2006 to 2011 was only 61 percent accurate.
Before speaking with survivors and families of the victims, the team spoke with trauma experts to ensure they approached the issue with sensitivity. The team was made sure to avoid adding trauma to the situation, as the interactive did not name or provide specific ages of victims or survivors and included just one photo of a victim and one of a survivor. The Army’s 2nd Psychological Operations Group contacted USA TODAY to use the data for training, since it was more complete than other available reports.
“USA TODAY covers breaking news as all news outlets do, but we try to avoid the ‘If It Bleeds, It Leads’ mentality that, unfortunately attract many readers. This project was a lot more work and we were not first, but we felt it was more important for both victims and survivors to be right,” said Upton in the award nomination.
Propublica: Michael Grabell
While reporting on the recession, Michael Grabell, a reporter for ProPublica, discovered a harrowing series of abuses against temp workers in the U.S.—revealing an industry-wide problem of exploitation and other offenses against workers who had been laid off from factory jobs and were only able to find work through temp agencies or as independent contractors.
“I wanted to learn more about this growing ‘contingent’ workforce and set out to learn everything I could through data and on-the-ground reporting,” Grabell said.
Through interviews with over 100 temp workers across the U.S., Grabell saw much of the injustice first-hand.
Early on, I came across a group of immigrant laborers in Chicago who were getting on a school bus at 4:30 a.m. on a cold January morning. All they knew was that a labor broker named “Rigo” told them there was work at a place called los peluches — Spanish for the stuffed animals — and to meet in the alleyway behind the dental clinic. It turned out they were working through one of the largest temp agencies in the United States for one of the largest stuffed animal manufacturers in the world.
My editors and I struggled with how to expose abuses that could only be documented through on-the-record interviews and how to balance the fears of workers living a neighborhood where the labor market is largely controlled by these labor brokers.
Grabell also interviewed labor brokers, temp agency employees, worker advocates and others in the temp industry. After obtaining workers compensation claims, he discovered that temp employee were six times more likely to be hurt on the job than regular employees with similar jobs.
Many of the workers — and the other temp workers we wrote about in the series — were afraid they wouldn’t be sent out by the temp agency anymore if they talked.
‘I would be homeless if they found out who I am,’ one woman said. Another explained that after the reporters left and the story was published, ‘I still have to live in this neighborhood.’ This is why many of the interviews were conducted in the early morning hours or late at night and why many of the workers remained on background. One interview was conducted entirely in whispers as the woman feared her neighbors in the next apartment would overhear. During another interview, one man simply got up and left, telling a reporter in a text message that he feared he had been seen by a labor broker’s sons.
“Thankfully, after multiple trips to Chicago, I gained the workers’ trust and many had the courage to go on the record. After the stories, several temp agencies changed their practices,” Grabell said.
The Illinois and federal labor departments have launched a joint initiative to investigate issues temp workers face on the job, and have since opened investigations into three temp agencies for issues Grabell wrote about.
Stephanie Mencimer, writing for Washington Monthly
Stephanie Mencimer set out to set the record straight about an alleged 2005 rape incident that happened in Iraq and involved U.S. citizens and a private contractor.
The story of Jamie Leigh Jones, a contractor in Iraq working for the Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) private contractor company and her personal account in 2007 of how she was raped by a gang of coworkers in 2005, created a media firestorm and national outcry regarding the regulation of U.S. companies involved in the Iraq War.
Media coverage fueled a national discussion and prompted Congress to get involved. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to introduce and pass legislation on the victims behalf, which banned the Pentagon from contracting with companies that require employees to arbitrate sexual assault claims rather than appear in a jury trial.
However, when Jones was finally granted a jury trial in 2011, a Houston jury found no evidence that Jones’ story had ever happened. The jury had reviewed evidence that reporters, who earlier sensationalized her claims, never fully examined. The media fell silent and few media outlets covered the verdict.
“From start to finish, this piece is an exercise in accountability. It takes to task the media and Congress in one strong piece based on solid, verifiable documentation,” Mencimer said.
Mencimer sifting through court documents, State Department reports and expert witness testimony, seeking to report what the mainstream media left out. But, to minimize harm, Mencimer decided not to disclose the family’s mental health history.
Throughout her reporting, Menicmer emphasized the value of accountability and her dedicated to the highest standards of journalism. Mencimer commented:
My story was an attempt to set the record straight. It took apart Jones’ story and exposed just how little of it was true–and how the American media failed to correct the original narrative, possibly in part because the real story was uncomfortable and challenged a lot of conventional wisdom.
Mencimer received some backlash from people, stating her story would hinder efforts to maintain actual victims with access to the court system, but Menicmer argued she was a journalist – not an advocate – and people had the right to know Jones’ story.
A graduate of the UW-Madison, Anthony Shadid died in 2012 while crossing the Syrian border on a reporting assignment for the New York Times. He won two Pulitzer Prizes for his courageous and insightful foreign correspondence. Shadid sat on the ethics center’s advisory board and strongly supported its efforts to promote public interest journalism and to stimulate discussion about journalism ethics.
The award, which now carries a $1,000 prize, honors a journalist, or team of journalists, whose reporting on a specific story or series best exemplifies four key criteria: accountability, independence, and commitment to finding truth and to minimizing harm. In its first five years of awards, the ethics center limited nominations to journalists in Wisconsin, but this year expanded the scope nationwide.
[Photo by Jentri Colello for UW Center for Journalism Ethics].