Journalism in the Public Interest

Top MuckReads: Slavery, Spying and Fiction-Free Factories Investigation

The best accountability journalism of the past week.

Here are this week's top must-read stories from #MuckReads, ProPublica's ongoing collection of the best watchdog journalism. Anyone can contribute by tweeting a link to a story and just including the hashtag #MuckReads or by sending an email to The best submissions are selected by ProPublica's editors and reporters and then featured on our site and @ProPublica.


Slavery’s Last Stronghold, CNN

Though Mauritania abolished slavery in 1981 (the last country to do so), an estimated 10 to 20 percent of the population remains in "real slavery," say human-rights activists. It’s an open secret, with the government ejecting journalists and allegedly arresting and torturing anti-slavery activists.

Contributed by Dafna Linzer

Federal Contractors Donate to Super PAC Backing Romney, Los Angeles Times

Companies with government contracts have been banned from donating to federal campaigns since 1976. But this year, thanks to a legal gray area introduced by the 2010 Citizens United case, federal contractors have given nearly $1 million to the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future. And at this point, no one seems sure whether the contributions are legal.

Contributed by @elliottjustin

Chinese Firm Helps Iran Spy on Citizens, Reuters

A Chinese firm sold a surveillance system to Iran's government-controlled telecom company, giving it the ability to monitor text messages, phone conversations and web access. Buying through China is also a backdoor way Iran can avoid sanctions and get access to U.S. technology.

Contributed by Steve Stecklow

State Corruption Report Cards, State Integrity Investigation

The Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity teamed up for this “unprecedented, data-driven analysis” of states’ corruption risk. They graded states in 14 categories, measuring the strength of laws to deter corruption — not simply the number of scandals.

Worst grade: Georgia. Best: New Jersey.

RetractionThis American Life

After a "Marketplace" reporter unearthed details that took down “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” the incredibly popular podcast that detailed horrific conditions at an iPhone manufacturer in China, This American Life had him help explain how they’d been duped. Mike Daisey, the monologuist who authored the original show, also was interviewed.

Are Walmart’s Chinese Factories as Bad as Apple’s? Mother Jones

Walmart’s sustainability program has been lauded for its industry-wide influence. But under the watch of idle auditors, and amid an economic slowdown, the company's greening efforts seem to be slowing to a halt.

Contributed by @jaeahjlee


These stories and many more can be found at ProPublica. You can also subscribe to a daily #MuckReads email or follow ProPublica on Twitter. Reader submissions are key to making #MuckReads a success — please contribute!

This is a weird set.  I’m not blaming ProPublica for linking to them, but it seems pretty weak for investigation.

First, there’s slavery in a lot wider range than Mauritania, unless you limit the definition to only government-sanctioned slavery.  End Slavery Now’s “Project Action Map”  might turn a few heads.

Second, the Chinese sold surveillance technology to Iran (a major trading partner) that’s legal in both China and Iran and not banned by any treaty?  Gasp!  Next you’ll tell me that the United States sold weapons to some NATO countries.

Seriously, it’s a bad sign, but hardly an unearthed secret.  Find out who sold Syria the technology to track Marie Colvin, by contrast, and there’s a huge story.  Hell, even following up on her final story would be a bigger impact than this.

Third, I worried about the outcome when I first heard about Daisey’s show.  The problems are real, and I couldn’t help feel that the monologue was designed specifically to be revealed as fiction.  Too much of it didn’t ring true even surrounded by fact.

The investigation I’d like to see is…why.  Daisey has benefitted from the infamy.  Apple has benefitted from having their sins (or support thereof) brought to light and then dismissed as fiction.  Was this an intentional goal or just a misguided attempt to do right that backfired on “This American Life”?

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