ProPublica has been producing and delivering the news digitally for 15 years, and while it has never been easy, 2023 was particularly challenging. Audience attention continues to fragment. Many readers find the news depressing and distressing — particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic and the tumultuous political environment of the last few years — and some tune out entirely.

That said, ProPublica’s audience increased meaningfully in 2023, thanks to groundbreaking investigative stories across a variety of subjects and geographies. By the time the year ends, we will have published nearly 600 stories. Our work examining the Supreme Court and its ethical lapses attracted significant attention around the world, though many of our most-read pieces were produced by our regional offices around the country.

Below is the list of the 25 most-read stories published by ProPublica in 2023 as measured by the total amount of time spent reading them across several of our publishing platforms. We’ve also included a list of documentaries and podcasts that you may have missed.

1. Clarence Thomas Secretly Accepted Luxury Trips From GOP Donor
By Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott and Alex Mierjeski

For more than 20 years, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been treated to luxury vacations by billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow. He’s been on cruises in far-flung locales on Crow’s yacht, has flown on the real estate magnate’s private jet, and has kept company with Crow’s powerful friends at Crow’s private resort. Until the publication of our story, the extent of Crow’s largesse had not been revealed.

2. The Ugly Truth Behind “We Buy Ugly Houses”
By Anjeanette Damon, Byard Duncan and Mollie Simon

HomeVestors of America, the self-proclaimed “largest homebuyer in the U.S.,” trains its nearly 1,150 franchisees to zero in on homeowners’ desperation. Our investigation found HomeVestors franchisees that used deception and targeted the elderly, the infirm and those so close to poverty that they feared homelessness would be a consequence of selling.

3. UnitedHealthcare Tried to Deny Coverage to a Chronically Ill Patient. He Fought Back, Exposing the Insurer’s Inner Workings
By David Armstrong, ProPublica; Patrick Rucker, The Capitol Forum; and Maya Miller, ProPublica

After college student Christopher McNaughton finally found a treatment that worked, the insurance giant decided it wouldn’t pay for the costly drugs, determining that the treatment “was not medically necessary.” His fight to get coverage wound up exposing the insurer’s hidden procedures for rejecting claims.

4. A Grad Student Found the Largest Known Slave Auction in the U.S.
By Jennifer Berry Hawes; photography by Gavin McIntyre for ProPublica

Lauren Davila made a stunning discovery as a graduate student at the College of Charleston: an ad for a slave auction that was larger than any a historian had yet identified. The find yields a new understanding of the enormous harm of such a transaction.

5. Inside the Secretive World of Penile Enlargement
By Ava Kofman; photography by Philip Cheung

An exploration of how a doctor’s two-decade quest to grow the penis is leaving some men desperate and disfigured.

6. The Columbia OB-GYN Who Sexually Assaulted Patients for More Than 20 Years
By Bianca Fortis, ProPublica, and Laura Beil, photography by Hannah Whitaker for New York Magazine

For decades, patients warned Columbia University about the behavior of obstetrician Robert Hadden. One even called 911 and had him arrested. Columbia let him keep working anyway.

7. Clarence Thomas’ 38 Vacations: The Other Billionaires Who Have Treated the Supreme Court Justice to Luxury Travel
By Brett Murphy and Alex Mierjeski

The fullest accounting of Thomas’ travel yet shows how the Supreme Court justice has secretly reaped the benefits of a network of wealthy and well-connected patrons that is far more extensive than previously understood.

8. Barricaded Siblings Turn to TikTok While Defying Court Order to Return to Father They Say Abused Them
By Hannah Dreyfus

A judge concluded the children were victims of parental alienation, a theory that continues to influence family courts despite being rejected by mainstream scientific groups, and authorized police to use “reasonable force” to remove them from their mother.

9. Clarence Thomas Had a Child in Private School. Harlan Crow Paid the Tuition.
By Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott and Alex Mierjeski

Republican megadonor Harlan Crow paid for private school for a relative of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, whom Thomas said he was raising “as a son.”

10. Big Insurance Met Its Match When It Turned Down a Top Trial Lawyer’s Request for Cancer Treatment
By T. Christian Miller

Blue Cross and Blue Shield denied payment for the proton therapy Robert “Skeeter” Salim’s doctor ordered to fight his throat cancer. But he was no ordinary patient. He was a celebrated litigator. And he was ready to fight.

11. Justice Samuel Alito Took Luxury Fishing Vacation With GOP Billionaire Who Later Had Cases Before the Court
By Justin Elliott, Joshua Kaplan and Alex Mierjeski

In the years after the undisclosed trip to Alaska on a private jet, Republican megadonor Paul Singer’s hedge fund has repeatedly had business before the Supreme Court. Alito has never recused himself.

12. Why It’s So Hard to Sue Doctors for Sexual Assault in Utah
By Jessica Miller, The Salt Lake Tribune

When dozens of women sued their OB-GYN for sexual assault, a judge said the case falls under Utah’s medical malpractice law. This story was part of a partnership through our Local Reporting Network.

13. How the Navy Spent Billions on Failed Littoral Combat Ship Program
By Joaquin Sapien

Littoral combat ships were supposed to launch the Navy into the future. Instead they broke down across the globe, and many of their weapons never worked. Now the Navy is scrapping them. One is less than five years old. How did the program fail to live up to its promise?

14. Billionaire Harlan Crow Bought Property From Clarence Thomas. The Justice Didn’t Disclose the Deal.
By Justin Elliott, Joshua Kaplan and Alex Mierjeski

The transaction was the first known instance of money flowing from Crow to the Supreme Court justice. The sale netted the GOP megadonor two vacant lots and the house where Thomas’ mother was living.

15. Facing a Life-Threatening Pregnancy Under Tennessee’s Abortion Ban
By Kavitha Surana, photography by Stacy Kranitz, special to ProPublica

Mayron Michelle Hollis stood to lose her bladder, her uterus and her life. She was desperate to end her high-risk pregnancy. Two doctors agreed that abortion was the best path forward, but doctors in Tennessee feared prosecution after the fall of Roe v. Wade.

16. Behind the Scenes of a Deal With a “We Buy Ugly Houses” Franchise
By Anjeanette Damon

Royanne McNair believed she had canceled her contract with a “We Buy Ugly Houses” franchise, so she pursued another offer on her house — this one for $100,000 more. Then an anonymous envelope froze the deal.

17. How Liberty HealthShare Left Thousands With Debt as It Built a Family Empire
By Ryan Gabrielson and J. David McSwane, graphics by Kolin Pope

Despite a history of fraud, one family has thrived in the regulatory no man’s land of health care sharing ministries, where insurance commissioners can’t investigate, federal agencies turn a blind eye and prosecutors reach paltry settlements.

18. Clarence Thomas’ Private Complaints About Money Sparked Fears He Would Resign
By Justin Elliott, Joshua Kaplan, Alex Mierjeski and Brett Murphy

Interviews and newly unearthed documents reveal that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, facing financial strain, privately pushed for a higher salary and to allow Supreme Court justices to take speaking fees.

19. Clarence Thomas Secretly Participated in Koch Network Donor Events
By Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott and Alex Mierjeski

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has attended at least two Koch donor summits, putting him in the extraordinary position of having helped a political network that has brought multiple cases before the Supreme Court.

20. How Cigna Saves Millions by Having Its Doctors Reject Claims Without Reading Them By Patrick Rucker, The Capitol Forum, and Maya Miller and David Armstrong, ProPublica

Internal documents and former company executives reveal how Cigna doctors reject patients’ claims without opening their files. “We literally click and submit,” one former company doctor said.

21. What Happened to Jefferson Rodríguez
By Melissa Sanchez and Maryam Jameel

When an 8-year-old Nicaraguan boy was run over on a Wisconsin dairy farm, authorities blamed his father and closed the case. Meanwhile, the community of immigrant workers knows a completely different story.

22. Two Women Died on an Alaska Mayor’s Property. No One Has Ever Been Charged.
By Kyle Hopkins, Anchorage Daily News

Before they died, Jennifer Kirk and Sue Sue Norton were both victims of domestic violence, but the men involved — the ex-mayor’s sons — faced few consequences despite a long history of similar allegations. This story was part of a partnership through our Local Reporting Network.

23. How One Chicago Cop Got Out of 44 Traffic Tickets
By Jodi S. Cohen, ProPublica, and Jennifer Smith Richards, Chicago Tribune

Chicago police officer Jeffrey Kriv used the same alibi to contest dozens of traffic tickets over the years. A deeper look at his career sheds light on Chicago’s troubled history of police accountability. This story was part of a partnership through our Local Reporting Network.

24. This Pennsylvania Doctor Has Been Investigated at Every Level. How Is He Still Practicing?
By Annie Waldman

Medical boards, a health department and even federal investigators have scrutinized Dr. James McGuckin’s vascular clinics. Today he still practices, despite a decadelong string of sanctions, fines and lawsuits.

25. People Who Used Recalled Philips Breathing Machines Face Painful Choices
By Margaret Fleming, Monica Sager, Nicole Tan, Susanti Sarkar, Evan Robinson-Johnson and Claire Gardner, Medill Investigative Lab; photography by Liz Moughon, ProPublica

The devices at their bedsides were lifelines, until they learned the foam inside could break down and make them sick. Now, they’re plagued by illness, lost sleep and worry.

Documentaries You May Have Missed

1. Inside the Uvalde Response
Co-published with FRONTLINE and the Texas Tribune

The May 2022 gun massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, left 19 children and two teachers dead. It was one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. More than a year and a half later, findings from a state-led investigation into the chaotic response — in which officers took more than an hour to take down the shooter — have yet to be released. Most of the officers involved in the response have declined to talk publicly about what happened that day. But FRONTLINE, The Texas Tribune and ProPublica gained access to a trove of the materials from the Uvalde investigation and were able to review the accounts of almost 150 responding officers, as well as hours of body camera footage and 911 call recordings.

2. The Night Doctrine: The Truth About Afghanistan’s Zero Unit Night Raids

“The Night Doctrine,” ProPublica’s first animated documentary, traces the story of Lynzy Billing, a young British journalist of Afghan-Pakistani origin, who returns to Afghanistan to find out who killed her family 30 years earlier, only to stumble upon a secretive U.S.-backed program killing hundreds of civilians.

The documentary, presented in partnership with The New Yorker, is a companion piece to Billing’s reporting in “The Night Raids,” a gripping and powerful investigation published in 2022. The film is directed by ProPublica’s Mauricio Rodríguez Pons and Almudena Toral and animated by Rodríguez Pons. Billing is a producer of the film, which is scored by Afghan composer Milad Yousufi.

3. The Human Toll of Philips’ Massive CPAP Recall: With Every Breath

“With Every Breath,” a documentary from ProPublica and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is an intimate glimpse into what happens when people learn that a Philips Respironics CPAP machine may be causing harm.

The film braids together the stories of three people, who face the unanswerable question of how their health has been impacted, and a sleep doctor who leads her patients through the chaotic recall. The film humanizes a public health crisis that has affected millions and whose full scope may not be known for years, if ever.

This 20-minute film is directed by Liz Moughon and produced by Almudena Toral. It accompanies the investigative series also called “With Every Breath,” published by ProPublica in partnership with the Post-Gazette.

4. Uprooted: What a Black Community Lost When a Virginia University Grew

This short documentary reveals a Black community’s decadeslong battle to hold onto their land as officials in Newport News, Virginia, used eminent domain to establish and expand Christopher Newport University.

“Uprooted” is directed by Brandi Kellam, who grew up in the area and has spent more than two years investigating this story. She reported the story with Louis Hansen of the Virginia Center for Investigative Reporting at WHRO. It is produced by ProPublica’s Lisa Riordan Seville, with cinematography, editing and post-production by VCIJ’s Christopher Tyree and graphics by ProPublica’s Mauricio Rodríguez Pons. The work was part of a series from ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network.

5. America’s Dangerous Trucks
Co-published with FRONTLINE

An average of about 5,000 people a year are killed in crashes involving large trucks, a death toll that has soared by almost 50% since 2011, according to the most recent federal data. Tens of thousands more have been injured.

“America’s Dangerous Trucks,” a joint investigation from FRONTLINE and ProPublica, examines one particularly gruesome kind of truck accident — underride crashes — and why they keep happening. Underride crashes occur when a car slides beneath the trailer of a big truck. Trucks can also crush pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists. Hundreds of people die in such accidents every year.

There is a simple solution for reducing these deaths and injuries: build barriers that hang from the sides of the trucks to help prevent vehicles and people from slipping underneath. In the face of opposition from the industry, the federal government has failed for decades to take simple steps to limit the danger.

Podcasts You May Have Missed

1. We Don’t Talk About Leonard
by Andrea Bernstein, Andy Kroll and Ilya Marritz
This podcast series withWNYC’s “On The Media” explores the web of money, influence and power behind the conservative takeover of America’s courts — and the man at the center of it all: Leonard Leo.

2. The Kids of Rutherford County
Co-produced with Serial Productions, the New York Times and Nashville Public Radio
When a video surfaced of an after-school scuffle, 11 Black children were arrested. Their crime: not stepping in to stop a fight. The arrests set off a firestorm of controversy — and an investigation into the juvenile justice practices in one Tennessee county.

Reporters Meribah Knight with Nashville Public Radio and Ken Armstrong with ProPublica obtained years’ worth of personnel files, state inspection reports, emails, depositions and other records, and reports from all 98 juvenile courts in the state.

They discovered that for more than a decade, Rutherford County had arrested and illegally jailed hundreds of children. And behind those decisions was a powerful judge, Donna Scott Davenport, who went unchecked by higher authorities in Tennessee. The work was part of a series from ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network.

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