Impact in 2011 (from our annual report)
In 2011 alone,
- An SEC inquiry in the wake of our reporting on deals that may have had the effect of delaying but then exacerbating the financial crisis led in June to a $154 million settlement by J.P. Morgan Chase and in October to a $285 million settlement by Citi (since rejected by a federal judge as inadequate). In September the SEC proposed a ban on such deals. The staff report of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations issued in April repeatedly cited, and developed additional evidence to support, our reporting.
- In response to our “Brain Wars” series with NPR, the Army in March announced new guidelines that will result in the awarding of Purple Hearts to many soldiers injured by explosive devices who had been denied them. This result, the Green Bay Press Gazette wrote in an editorial, “shows that in this ever-evolving media landscape, there’s still no replacement for thorough, quality reporting that can make a true difference.”
- Leading university medical schools reacted to ProPublica’s “Dollars for Docs” series by tightening conflict of interest rules, and public reports indicated that payments from pharma companies to prescribing doctors may be declining. Schools taking action included Stanford, which disciplined a number of faculty members, and the Universities of Colorado, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Officials at both the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth said publicly that they used ProPublica’s database to check for compliance. Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health is considering mandating online disclosure of payments to researchers. A report on PharmExec.com concluded, “Call it shameless promotion or kickbacks or a necessary part of sponsor-organization relations—whatever you call it, ProPublica will continue to make sure that the financial relationship between pharma and other healthcare industry players is fully transparent to stakeholders—including the public.” The Fort Myers, Florida News-Press editorialized, “Good for ProPublica for compiling the information and, we hope, increasing pressure for fair guidelines that will guide doctors ethically, continue legitimate industry funding and protect the public.”
- In May, the National Academy of Sciences published the first scientific study to link hydrofracking for natural gas to a risk of flammable drinking water, and the Department of Energy named a panel to recommend steps to make fracking safer and cleaner. In December, the EPA finally linked fracking to drinking water contamination. In June of 2011, fracking companies accelerated disclosure of the chemicals they employ in drilling—a move suggested by some of our earliest reporting in this area, in 2008. Texas and Colorado now mandate such disclosure. ProPublica has consistently led the way in reporting on this subject, and especially on the challenges posed to our nation’s water supplies by fracking, winning a George Polk Award for our coverage in 2009. Over three years, we’ve now published more than 150 stories on the subject.
- In November, the Transportation Security Administration, in response to a ProPublica investigation of the possible health risks of X-ray body scanners used at the nation’s airports, pledged before Congress to commission a new independent review of the devices’ safety. When TSA later equivocated, members of Congress demanded the review proceed.
- A ProPublica investigation of Heart Check America, a medical imaging company, and its high-pressure sales tactics was followed by a lawsuit brought against the company in June by the Illinois Attorney General’s office. The lawsuit seeks civil penalties, voiding of contracts and restitution to affected consumers. In August, Colorado regulators followed with a $3.2 million fine.
- In November, federal prosecutors in Manhattan filed suit charging Allied Home Mortgage, the subject of a ProPublica investigation published 16 months earlier, in a massive fraud scheme concerning insurance claims on defaulted home loans. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development suspended the company and its CEO from issuing new loans backed by federal guarantees.
- The Justice Department in March found “systemic violations of civil rights” by the New Orleans Police Department, and the city agreed to a consent decree governing the department’s future conduct, marking another milestone in the inquiries triggered by reporting we began publishing in 2008 and have continued to this day. By year-end, three officers had been convicted in cases of shootings spotlighted by ProPublica reporting.
- The Special Inspector General for the federal government’s TARP program, in his final personal report to Congress in March, based his sharp criticisms of the troubled Home Affordable Modification Program on what he called the “extensive research conducted by ProPublica,” citing our reporting three times in six pages of testimony. A Reuters columnist wrote in October that “ProPublica’s [reporter Paul] Kiel seems to be much better versed on HAMP than anybody tasked with enforcing the program.”
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