The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation announced Thursday that the ProPublica series “Disaster in the Pacific” won the organization’s Journalism Award for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense.
The stories by reporters Robert Faturechi, T. Christian Miller and Megan Rose centered on three accidents in 2017 and 2018 — the crashes of the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain within just a few months of each other, and a nighttime aviation training exercise — that killed 23 service members in the Navy and Marines. The reporting uncovered a staggering cascade of leadership failures that were responsible for the deadly accidents.
After obtaining more than 13,000 pages of confidential Navy records and interviewing officials up and down the chain of command, the team revealed how senior Navy and Marine Corps leaders ignored years of warnings about the precarious state of their broken ships and planes; overextended fleet; and exhausted, undertrained sailors and aviators. When the inevitable accidents occurred, investigations led by senior officers blamed rank-and-file service members for what were clearly systemic shortcomings.
“Disaster in the Pacific” was also recognized for its immersive design led by ProPublica creative story technologist Agnes Chang. Xaquín G.V., Lucas Waldron, Katie Campbell, Sisi Wei, Joe Singer, Kengo Tsutsumi, Ruth Baron, David Sleight, Claire Perlman, Joshua Hunt and Nate Schweber also contributed to this series.
“Their reports captured these catastrophic events and their aftermath — from the perspectives of the sailors and airmen involved, who were under immense pressure to maintain grueling operational tempos, all the way up to the highest levels of the Department of the Navy where leaders struggled with crippling budget, resource allocation, and national strategy concerns,” judges said. “ProPublica’s conclusions serve as a warning to the other military services where similar erosions in funding, maintenance, and leadership could lead to similar consequences.”