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“Friends of the Court” Wins Investigative Reporters & Editors Award

Investigative Reporters & Editors announced Friday that “Friends of the Court” won an IRE Award, and three other ProPublica projects are finalists.

The series, which examined Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ decadeslong friendship with real estate tycoon Harlan Crow and raised questions about influence and ethics at the nation’s highest court, won in the print/online-division I category. ProPublica’s Justin Elliott, Joshua Kaplan, Brett Murphy, Alex Mierjeski and Kirsten Berg contributed to the series.

In response to the reporting, Thomas for the first time acknowledged that he should have reported selling real estate to Crow in 2014. Writing in his annual financial disclosure form, Thomas said he “inadvertently failed to realize” that the deal needed to be publicly disclosed. Thomas also disclosed receiving three private jet trips from Crow, two of which ProPublica reported on. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to authorize subpoenas of Crow and conservative legal activist Leonard Leo as part of the panel’s ongoing effort to investigate ethics lapses by justices. Crow has said he never tried to influence Thomas on any matters.

“This ambitious project, revealing how certain sitting justices benefitted from the largesse of wealthy tycoons, sparked a national conversation on judicial reform and prompted the adoption of the court’s first-ever ethics code,” contest judges said. “From building their own database of Alaska fishing licenses to tracking down yacht workers scattered around the globe, ‘Friends of the Court’ offers a masterclass in investigative journalism.”

Exposed: Cover-up at Columbia University,” a podcast collaboration with Wondery Media, is a finalist in the audio-large category. The podcast follows a ProPublica investigation, published in collaboration with New York Magazine. Medical journalist Laura Beil and former ProPublica Abrams fellow Bianca Fortis found that Columbia University had failed to act on years of warnings as Robert Hadden, an OB-GYN, abused at least hundreds of patients during his 25-year career at the university. In 2012, administrators allowed Hadden to continue seeing patients even after he was arrested for assaulting a patient.

The story prompted waves of criticism toward Columbia. State Assembly members held a press conference on campus. A unanimous resolution by the university senate said that the Hadden revelations have “shaken our community to the core.” The university announced a sweeping series of changes to address the school’s failures to protect patients who were sexually assaulted by Hadden.

How Tennessee’s Justice System Allows Dangerous People to Keep Guns — With Deadly Outcomes,” a collaboration with WPLN through ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network, is a finalist in the small-audio category. The investigation showed how Tennessee has some of the highest gun violence rates in the country and weak oversight of gun laws. The story found that nearly 40% of the people killed in domestic violence shootings in Nashville since 2007 were shot by people who were legally barred from having a gun.

We Don’t Talk about Leonard,” a podcast series with WNYC’s “On The Media,” is a finalist in the longform journalism in audio category. Reporters Andrea Bernstein, Ilya Marritz and Andy Kroll explore 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.

See all IRE Award winners and finalists.

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