T. Christian Miller, a senior reporter for ProPublica, and Ken Armstrong, a writer for The Marshall Project, won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for “An Unbelievable Story of Rape,” their harrowing account of the hunt for a serial rapist. The award is the third Pulitzer Prize for ProPublica, and the first for The Marshall Project, both of which are nonprofit newsrooms.
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Miller and Armstrong collaborated on the piece after coming across one another while they were both investigating the same story: the saga of an 18-year-old woman who had reported being raped at knifepoint in her apartment outside Seattle. Local police did not believe the woman’s story and ultimately prosecuted her for lying to authorities. Years later, two female detectives arrested a man suspected of raping a series of women in the suburbs of Denver. His camera contained pictures of his victims, including one of the young woman from Seattle.
Rather than rush separately to publication, Miller and Armstrong decided to join forces in hopes of producing the best single story. The result was a powerful mix of narrative, exposé and astute analysis. Using previously unreleased police records and first-ever interviews with the woman in Washington, known as Marie; the lead detective in the botched police investigation; the serial rapist and others, Miller and Armstrong showed how disastrously wrong rape investigations can go when law enforcement fails to take victims seriously.
Their reporting unearthed the abusive interrogation of the victim, one that resulted in her agreeing to plead guilty to lying about the attack; the fact that Marie was forced to apologize to her neighbors for making up the story as a condition of keeping her subsidized housing; and the attempt by local authorities to avoid compensating Marie beyond returning the $500 in court fees she had accrued during her wrongful prosecution. Taking readers inside the committed investigation of the detectives in Colorado, the reporters illuminated best practices for police investigators who want to both catch the guilty and protect the victimized. Several enforcement agencies have requested permission to use the article as part of their training programs.
“An Unbelievable Story of Rape exhibits precisely the work that ProPublica was created to do: Use the moral force of investigative journalism to shine a light on abuses of power and spur reform,” said ProPublica editor-in-chief Stephen Engelberg.
ProPublica senior reporter Abrahm Lustgarten was also a finalist for this year’s Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting, for “Killing the Colorado,” his groundbreaking investigation on the water crisis in the American West. A detailed indictment that traces the crisis to flawed public policy driven by greed and political cowardice, the piece marks ProPublica’s fifth Pulitzer finalist. ProPublica reporters received Pulitzer Prizes for Investigative Reporting in 2010 and National Reporting in 2011, in addition to being a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2010.