CIR staff picks: Our favorite investigative reporting of 2013

At The Center for Investigative Reporting, we're proud of the important investigations we've produced in 2013 about bad charities, fraudulent drug rehab centers, failures to assist our returning veterans and the alarming cases of sexual abuse facing female migrant workers. And that's just to name a few.

As we gear up for 2014, some of our staff wanted to share their favorite examples of investigative reporting done by other media outlets. Don't read anything into the order here. We compiled these pretty much as they were submitted. 

Submitted by Will Evans, money and politics reporter: "Americans give away kids they adopted from overseas to people they find on online message boards – without any oversight. The topic was brand new and outrageous. The stories just kept getting more and more shocking and made me want to keep reading. The reporter, Megan Twohey, got nearly everyone to talk to her, which was impressive. Yahoo even shut down the message boards where the children were being exchanged, although Facebook didn't."

Reuters Investigates – The Child Exchange

Submitted by Jennifer LaFleur, senior editor for data: "ProPublica obtained never-before-released data on how physicians prescribe in Medicare Part D. Reporters found that many doctors prescribe in ways that might be dangerous to patients and expensive to taxpayers. Medicare was doing little to change that. No one had ever obtained prescribing data that identified physicians. Reporters were able to show patterns of potential problems that Medicare had never found.

"ProPublica also built an online database so consumers could see how their physician prescribers compared to his or her peers." (Disclaimer: LaFleur worked on this story while at ProPublica).

The Prescribers 

Submitted by LaFleur: "Columbus, Ohio, has failed to go after slumlords with chronic problems, putting people in harm's way. This investigation showed how properties ignored by owners are a danger to the people who live there – and thousands of people live in such dwellings. It's a good example of a data story that other news organizations could do in their communities."

Legacy of Neglect

Submitted by LaFleur: "This investigation identified more than 163,000 fires in America that experts agree have a significant chance of being undetected arsons. These fires caused at least 788 deaths, 13,009 injuries and at least $5.8 billion in property damages.

"We too often do analyses with government data and assume it's right. Thomas Hargrove is a master at proving when that's not the case."

Arson in America: What's the alarming reality?

Submitted by Amanda Pike, The I Files producer: "This Vice documentary worked because videographer Ben Anderson got amazing access to Afghan and U.S. forces there. The interview format around which the doc is framed is a little weird, but the revelation is Anderson's fly-on-the-wall footage. He left his camera running and let scenes unfold in front of him, capturing the disturbing and frustrating reality of the U.S. transitioning authority to Afghan troops.

"He also had a great character in the form of Maj. Bill Steuber, who was completely honest about the failures and frustrations the U.S. military was experiencing in Afghanistan. You can see his frustration as he tries to persuade his Afghan counterparts to stem the tide of corruption and end the kidnapping and abuse of young boys.

"Personally, this series is now the card that comes up in my mind whenever I read a story about Afghanistan. It permanently changed my view of the war, the withdrawal of U.S. troops and my understanding of where the country might go from here.

"Anderson's conclusion is haunting. All it is now is about getting out and saving face. We're not leaving because we achieved our goals. We're leaving because we've given up on achieving those goals, he says. All the fighting has been to introduce a hated and feared government, who in some areas make the Taliban look like the good guys."

Vice: This is What Winning Looks Like

 

Watch the top 20 investigative videos of 2013 on The I Files.

 

Submitted by Mark Katches, editorial director: "The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel exposed how delays in sending early infant screening tests to laboratories can have tragic consequences. The Journal Sentinel meticulously built a national database that pinpointed the bad actors. The series has had an immediate impact." (Disclaimer: Katches previously built and ran the investigative team at the Journal Sentinel.)

Delays at hospitals across the country undermine newborn screening programs, putting babies at risk of disability and death

Submitted by Katches: "The Los Angeles Times identified how the Los Angeles County sheriff tapped criminals and people of suspicious character to serve and protect the citizens of the nation's largest county. The story put the county sheriff on the hot seat."
Sheriff's Department hired officers with histories of misconduct

Submitted by Katches: "The Washington Post detailed how a callous bureaucracy seized the homes of the poor and downtrodden in Washington. One man lost his home because he failed to pay a $134 property tax bill."

Left with nothing

Submitted by Aaron Williams, news applications developer: "The Guardian's approach for this project best showed how to cover what may be considered the issue of our time and contextualized it down to its atoms. It's often hard to take a complex issue and break it down, and with something like this Snowden story, there are a ton of layers. Furthermore, it's a gorgeous and well-functioning Web page, reminding us that solid investigations don't have to just live on an article page."

NSA files decoded: Edward Snowden's surveillance revelations explained

Submitted by Rachael Bale, researcher: "Black lung is on the rise, and some doctors and lawyers are working with the industry to avoid paying out benefits. Seriously, black lung is still around!? And doctors are helping the coal industry deny miners their benefits? This story has shock factor, tragic personal stories and tales of how money corrupts, all tied together in a David vs. Goliath narrative.

"Since the investigation, Johns Hopkins has suspended its black lung program after the story revealed a leading doctor was consistently not finding black lung in cases where other doctors found advanced cases. He was the coal companies' go-to doctor to evaluate black lung workers' comp claims, and it appeared he'd purposely helped deny miners' workers' comp benefits in court. Two U.S. congressmen have called for the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General to investigate claims in the report. Senators are working on legislation to reform the federal black lung benefits program." (Disclaimer: Bale used to work at The Center for Public Integrity, which reported this story.)

Breathless and Burdened 
Submitted by Matt Drange, business reporter: "The Washington Post used Snowden documents to highlight not just the spying being done by the National Security Agency, but also to focus on the money set aside for such activities. It's great reporting on something that already had everyone's interest: the NSA and data collection. Instead of focusing on the nuts and bolts of how, when and where the agency worked, The Washington Post went behind the scenes of the budget that funds the nation's intelligence program across the board. In a time when most government budgets are in the red, this graphic showing the rapid increase in how much money each agency receives is mind-boggling."

The Black Budget

Submitted by Sharon Tiller, executive producer: "This FRONTLINE co-production with ProPublica features investigative reporter A.C. Thompson, who goes behind closed doors in assisted living facilities across the country to reveal how this multibillion-dollar industry is putting seniors at risk with little or no official scrutiny or regulation. Assisted living has been marketed as a safer, more humane alternative to nursing homes, but Thompson uncovers just how far this is from the truth. In lively interviews and with unprecedented access, Thompson makes a strong case for tougher oversight and regulation of the facilities that house 750,000 seniors in America."

Life and Death in Assisted Living

Submitted by Stephen Talbot, senior producer: "My favorite investigative documentary of the year was 'The Gatekeepers,' an Israeli film that was nominated for an Academy Award. (Technically it's a 2012 film, but it went into general release this year.) It is the story of Shin Bet, an Israeli secret service and anti-terrorist agency. It is a well-crafted, dramatic, intense documentary, combining amazing interviews with uncovered footage.

"But I am picking 'The Gatekeepers' mainly because it highlights the importance in great investigative documentaries of ACCESS – getting inside, getting to the right people and convincing them to appear on camera. It also reveals how important it is to ask the right questions to illicit revealing (in this case, even shocking) answers. The interviewer is skilled, even though we rarely hear his questions.

"The director/interviewer/reporter pulled off the extraordinary feat of getting six former heads of this super-secretive agency to talk on camera ... and to bare their souls about matters of life and death, terrorism and anti-terrorism, and the failures of Israeli-Palestinian relations. The reveal in the film is that all six of these men now say the policies they carried out have failed. A stunning series of admissions from officials like these.

"Just imagine trying to line up six former CIA chiefs and drawing out of them anywhere near this level of honesty, self-doubt and wrestling with moral quandaries."

 

 

 

Which investigations moved you in 2013? Share your picks in the comments below.

 

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