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Two ProPublica Projects Named Finalists for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting

The Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School announced this week that two ProPublica projects — one in collaboration with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — are among the six finalists for the 2024 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting. ProPublica was recognized for the series “Friends of the Court” and for the collaboration “With Every Breath.”

In response to “Friends of the Court,” the Supreme Court announced in November that it had unanimously adopted the first ethics code in its 234-year history, and Justice Clarence Thomas for the first time acknowledged that he should have reported selling real estate to billionaire Harlan 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 had 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.

For “With Every Breath,” ProPublica reporter Debbie Cenziper and Post-Gazette reporters Michael D. Sallah, Michael Korsh and Evan Robinson-Johnson joined forces to expose how global powerhouse Philips Respironics concealed thousands of complaints about a dangerous defect in its popular breathing machines over the course of a decade. The company failed to disclose these complaints despite a federal law that requires device makers to quickly report breakdowns to the federal government.

The investigative team, which included students from Northwestern University’s Medill Investigative Lab, also revealed for the first time that the Food and Drug Administration had received warnings about unexplained contaminants in the machines years before the global giant announced a massive recall but the agency repeatedly failed to warn the public or dig deeper into the company’s lagging response. Those using the machines included some of the most fragile people in the country, such as infants, the elderly, veterans and patients with chronic conditions.

Following the investigation, federal lawmakers called for an immediate criminal probe of Philips by the Department of Justice, and the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said it will launch an inquiry into the FDA’s oversight of medical device recalls for the first time in years.

In January, Philips Respironics said it will stop selling sleep apnea machines and other respiratory devices in the United States under a settlement with the federal government that will all but end the company’s reign as one of the top makers of breathing machines in the country.

Philips has said that new testing shows the machines pose no “appreciable harm.” The company also has said it reviewed the complaints on a case-by-case basis and gave them to the FDA after the recall out of an “abundance of caution.”

The FDA has asked Philips to conduct additional testing.

View all the 2024 Goldsmith Prize finalists.

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