Our History

1977: Co-founders Lowell Bergman, Dan Noyes and David Weir open offices in downtown Oakland.

1978: CIR’s first major investigations appear in magazines such as New Times and Mother Jones, including “The Party’s Over,” exploring how the Black Panther Party degenerated into a criminal gang. The Wall Street Journal editorial page praises the story.

1979: Several CIR magazine stories win major journalism awards. “The Boomerang Crime” explains how U.S. companies ship banned pesticides to the developing world and the poisons then return as residues in imported food. It wins a National Magazine Award for Reporting Excellence as part of a package of stories in Mother Jones. “The Most Captive Consumers” explores the faulty manufacturing of wheelchairs in The Progressive magazine. It wins a National Press Club award. CIR’s first story for national television appears on ABC’s “20/20,” detailing how the fundraising arm for the U.N.-sponsored International Year of the Child acted as a front for gun running and drug dealing.  

1980: “Operation Wigwam” exposes how U.S. officials covered up the possible health effects of a 1955 underwater atomic test off the coast of San Diego. The story is CIR’s first national multimedia investigation, with a lengthy article appearing in New West magazine and a television version airing on “20/20.”

1981: CIR publishes the book “Circle of Poison,” the story of the pesticide-dumping scandal reported in 1979’s “The Boomerang Crime.” The book unexpectedly makes headlines in dozens of countries, is translated into 10 languages and sparks debate in Congress and the United Nations. “Citizen Scaife,” an exposé of one of America’s most powerful and secretive public opinion molders, appears in The Washington Post and Columbia Journalism Review and wins an Investigative Reporters and Editors award.  

1982: “The Illusion of Safety” appears in Mother Jones, revealing that systematic fraud in scientific testing has led to the widespread marketing of drugs, pesticides and consumer products that had never been proven safe. The report wins Investigative Reporters and Editors, Sigma Delta Chi and other awards. CIR releases the book “Nuclear California,” the result of five years of investigation into nuclear accidents, spying on nuclear critics, and nuclear terrorism. CIR begins a multiyear collaboration with CBS “60 Minutes” with a story, “The Bad Drug,” that examines the use of the hypertension drug Selacryn, even though the manufacturer knew it had serious side effects. 

1983: A CIR report in Oceans magazine reveals a 30-year history of radiation accidents in the world’s nuclear-powered navies, sparks a worldwide controversy and wins a World Affairs Council International Journalism Award.   

1984: In front-page stories in the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, CIR reveals a plot by the late Salvadoran death squad and rightist leader Roberto D’Aubuisson to assassinate U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering. ABC’s “World News Tonight” broadcasts a series in collaboration with CIR exposing serious reliability problems with the Pershing II missile and revealing that the Army withheld test data for fear of jeopardizing the deployment of the missile. CIR begins its extensive exposure of the ruthless and illegal rental practices of a German landlord operating in several U.S. cities. These stories would culminate in a 1985 report on “60 Minutes” (“World’s Worst Landlord?”) and the bankruptcy of the landlord’s empire.

1985: The Paris daily newspaper Liberation and NPR’s “All Things Considered” report on CIR’s investigation into how the National Endowment for Democracy secretly channeled U.S. tax dollars to a right-wing French student organization linked to an extremist paramilitary movement outlawed in 1982. The story prompts congressional action. The Quill, in a cover story, and newspapers nationwide publish “Fit to Be Tied,” the story of how the Reagan administration’s sweeping censorship program had been expanded, not rescinded, as the press had reported. In the Los Angeles Times and The New Republic, CIR documents links between Salvadoran death squads and drug smuggling.

1986: On “60 Minutes” (“The Dirtiest River”) and in newspaper stories, CIR reports on how polluters along the U.S.-Mexico border have turned the New River into a flowing dump of toxins and sewage. CIR releases “Yakuza,” a book on organized crime and the far right in Japan. Blacklisted for five years by Japanese publishers, the book is translated into seven languages and wins an Investigative Reporters and Editors award.

1987: A series of CIR stories on KRON-TV in San Francisco and in the daily press reveals that the FBI spied on critics of Reagan administration foreign policy, prompting national media and congressional attention. In The Nation magazine CIR documents the export of toxic waste to the Third World, a story that becomes CIR’s first national television documentary three years later: “Global Dumping Ground.” In the Columbia Journalism Review and CIR’s publication “The Electronic Sweatshop,” CIR exposes the health hazards involved in modern office work and the high-tech industry. 

1988: “60 Minutes” broadcasts “Ryan of the FBI,” CIR’s story on the firing of agent John Ryan for refusing to conduct a domestic security/terrorism investigation of pacifist dissidents. CIR releases a series of stories on secrecy, freedom of information and government censorship and wins several honors for this work.

1989: In the first of a series of stories on the crisis in U.S. health care, CIR publishes the magazine investigation “Unsurance” which reveals how insurance companies increasingly fail to pay for promised coverage. A CIR exposé on the dangers of generic drugs wins a National Press Club award.

1990: CIR produces its first independent television documentary, “Global Dumping Ground,” on the international traffic in hazardous waste. Reported by Bill Moyers, the one-hour documentary opens the new season of PBS “Frontline,” sparks federal investigations and is broadcast in at least 18 nations. 

1991: “The Great American Bailout” airs on “Frontline” and reveals the government’s bungled bailout and cover-up of the savings and loan crisis. The program prompts headlines and congressional action and wins George Polk and Investigative Reporters and Editors awards, among others.

1992: “The Best Campaign Money Can Buy,” a CIR investigation for “Frontline,” examines the top donors to the 1992 presidential campaign and wins an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award. Two other CIR Frontline documentaries, “Your Loan Is Denied” and “The Politics of Power,” explore the practice of “red lining” and mortgage-lending discrimination and the failure of U.S. energy policy.

1993: “The Heartbeat of America,” a CIR investigation for “Frontline,” reveals the decisions by General Motors that hurt its workers and delayed development of electric vehicles.

1994: “School Colors,” a two-and-a-half hour CIR television documentary for “Frontline” that examines education and race at an urban high school, wins CIR’s second duPont-Columbia Award. “Charting Diet Aids Danger” explains how a common amphetamine-like drug may lead to strokes for the New York Daily News and Fox Television’s “Front Page.”

1995: “Who’s Watching the Watchdog” examines the practices of the Better Business Bureau and wins a National Press Club award for consumer reporting. “Rush Limbaugh’s America” examines the rise of the right-wing radio host for “Frontline.”

1996: CIR works on three “Frontline” documentaries: “So You Want to Buy a President?,” “Why America Hates the Press” and “The Long March of Newt Gingrich.”

1997: “Hot Guns,” a CIR investigation of the cheap-handgun industry, airs on “Frontline” and wins an Emmy Award. A companion story appears in U.S. News & World Report. “Secrets,” a book examining U.S. government secrecy, wins an Investigative Reporters and Editors award.

1999: “Justice for Sale,” a co-production with “Frontline,” tells the story of how Louisiana residents fought in the courts the construction of a pollution-producing factory supported by Gov. Mike Foster, only to have the state supreme court thwart future legal opposition to chemical plants. Following the broadcast and after learning that CBS News was about to air its own version of the story, Foster stunned business leaders by renouncing his policy of attracting polluting industry to Louisiana's “cancer alley.”

2002: A groundbreaking CIR report detailing the involvement of multinational tobacco companies in smuggling of cigarettes into Colombia appears in The Nation magazine and on the PBS television program “NOW with Bill Moyers.” The investigation directly inspires new but ultimately unsuccessful federal legislation, the Tobacco Smuggling Eradication Act.

2005: In “No Place to Hide,” CIR and Washington Post reporter Robert O’Harrow Jr. explain how the government was teaming up with the data mining industry to monitor Americans as part of the war on terror. The investigation results in a book, Emmy-nominated ABC News documentary and one-hour public radio report. Congress holds two hearings on privacy, specifically citing CIR’s reporting. The same year, “Reasonable Doubt,” a CNN documentary, reveals that FBI crimelabs used faulty forensic science for more than 30 years, sending countless people to prison based on flawed evidence.

2006: “Conflicts on the Bench,” a series for Salon.com, reveals that two of President Bush’s nominees for the nation’s second highest bench violated federal law and the judicial code of conduct by presiding over multiple cases involving companies in which they owned stock. One judge withdraws his nomination; prominent senators, citing CIR’s reporting, oppose the other, who was left hanging at the end of the congressional session. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts orders a review of ethics policies and the judiciary mandates use of computer software to screen for conflicts of interest. 

2007: The book “Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power” by Mark Schapiro shows how the European Union is demanding that multinationals manufacture safer products, while products developed and sold in the United States are increasingly linked to serious health hazards and are banned in Europe and other parts of the world. CIR’s independent documentary “Banished,” which revisits three towns in the present day that, between 1860s and 1920s, had violently expelled their African American residents, premieres at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, goes on to win numerous awards and airs on PBS “Independent Lens” in 2008. Award-winning journalist Robert J. Rosenthal is named executive director of CIR.

2008: CIR partners with NPR News to produce “The Secret Money Project,” an ongoing election season series documenting the impact and influence of independent groups on the presidential and senate races. The Chauncey Bailey Project, a collaboration of more than two-dozen reporters, photographers and editors from print, broadcast and electronic media looks into the circumstances surrounding the assassination of Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey. The project, with CIR executive director Robert J. Rosenthal serving as executive editor, reveals widespread corruption in the Oakland Police Department and leads to numerous investigations of the department. The project wins awards from Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Online News Association and the National Association of Black Journalists, among others.

2009: CIR launches California Watch, the largest investigative team in the state. Initial stories are carried by more than 30 print, broadcast and online outlets in California. Partnerships with KQED San Francisco, AP Exchange and New America Media bring the stories to millions more citizens and includes multiple languages.

2010: CIR’s Carbon Watch project, led by senior correspondent Mark Schapiro, is featured on public radio’s business program “Marketplace,” on the cover of Harper’s magazine and on PBS “Frontline/World.” “Dirty Business,” a 90-minute feature documentary about the role of coal in U.S. energy policy, premieres at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. California Watch stories appear in nearly 60 television, newspaper, radio, web and ethnic media outlets throughout California, reaching millions of people. CIR receives multiple grants to begin developing an aggressive business model for future sustainability. California Watch wins a general excellence award from the Online News Association and its staff are named Journalists of the Year by the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

2011: California Watch publishes On Shaky Ground, the result of a 19-month investigation into seismic safety issues in California’s public schools. The report is distributed through more than 200 distribution partners in California including leading television, radio, online and print outlets. The report also included an iPhone app and a coloring book for kids and spurs important legislative hearings in Sacramento. The Civil Rights Cold Case Project collaborates with reporter Stanley Nelson of the Concordia Sentinel to publish a groundbreaking story about the unsolved murder of Frank Morris more than 40 years ago. "DIRTY BUSINESS: 'Clean Coal' and the Battle for Our Energy Future," a documentary produced by CIR, takes a hard look at the myth of “clean coal.” CIR serves as an advisor to journalist Mimi Chakarova’s documentary, "The Price of Sex." California Watch Editorial Director Mark Katches takes on a new role as editorial director of CIR, California Watch reporter Chase Davis becomes CIR’s new director of technology and award-winning producer Sharon Tiller becomes CIR’s new director of digital media. Hearst Newspapers executive Phil Bronstein becomes chairman of the board of CIR. California Watch receives a National Headliner Award for Best Online Only Journalism Site.

2012: CIR receives a prestigious MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. Decoding Prime, an investigation into how a major California-based hospital chain boosted its bottom line through aggressive Medicare billing practices, wins a George Polk Award. On Shaky Ground is a Pulitzer Prize finalist. CIR merges with The Bay Citizen, a nonprofit, nonpartisan member-supported news organization that provides in-depth original reporting on San Francisco Bay Area issues. Combined, the organization becomes the largest investigative team in the country. The I Files investigative video channel launches on YouTube. CIR signs a deal with Univision to begin producing investigations in Spanish. Broken Shield, an 18-month investigation, finds that a California state-run police force displays an alarming inability to solve crimes reported against severely disabled patients under its care and protection at the state's developmental centers. The series prompts a criminal investigation, staff retraining and new laws – all intended to bring greater safeguards and accountability.

2013: Broken Shield wins a George Polk Award, two IRE awards, a Radio Television Digital News Association Edward R. Murrow Award and is a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in the public service category, among other recognitions. A team of Bay Citizen reporters continues to find major delays across the country in processing disability claims for veterans. That coverage, which showed for the first time the full extent of the delays, has been cited in debates in Congress and is the subject of numerous news reports. In May, the CIR, California Watch and Bay Citizen brands consolidate into one: The Center for Investigative Reporting.