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Home > Publications > Quill > The fruits of public records


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Saturday, September 1, 2007
The fruits of public records

Jon Marshall

Reporters used the federal Freedom of Information Act and state open-records laws to write great stories this year. From drunken paramedics to wasted Katrina aid to corrupt U.S. allies, these stories brought serious problems to light. Here are examples of some of them.

Wasted on the way

If you have a serious accident, you’ll want the people responding to your emergency to be functioning at their best. But what if they’re drunk or stoned?

Andrew McIntosh of The Sacramento Bee revealed in “Some rescuers pose threat” that increasing numbers of California paramedics are getting caught abusing drugs and alcohol. His story used strong examples, such as the paramedic near Modesto who swiped $6,100 from an unconscious woman. Another paramedic in the resort town of Big Bear stole 350 vials of morphine from his department’s safe. To conduct this investigation, McIntosh interviewed dozens of people and reviewed paramedic enforcement records and court documents.

Read the story: www.sacbee.com/101/story/114035.html

Betrayal

Richard Mauer of McClatchy Newspapers sifted through evidence collected after a deadly raid on a U.S. garrison in Iraq and came to a disturbing conclusion: Iraqi police, supposedly the allies of U.S. forces, were behind the attack. 

Mauer’s two-part “Who betrayed the Americans, helped with deadly Karbala raid?” vividly described the assault against the U.S. soldiers serving in Karbala and presented the clues that the Iraqi police were involved. Mauer, who was embedded with American forces, used the Freedom of Information Act to get a copy of the previously unreleased Army investigation of the attack.

Read the story: seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2003791114_karbala16.html

Electric deals

Why do people in the Niagara Falls region pay through the nose for electricity when they live near one of the most abundant power supplies in the country? James Heaney of The Buffalo News answered this question with “Power Failure,” a tremendous investigation into the sweetheart deals that let some corporations in western New York get cheap electricity while residents pay rates that are 50 percent higher than the national average. Heaney did a great job unraveling the complexities of utility deals and showing how they affect average homeowners and limit the region’s economic future.

Read the story: www.buffalonews.com/296/story/64341.html

Underground time bombs

In “Wastes of war,” Russell Carollo of The Sacramento Bee detailed how military bases covering an area more than twice the size of Connecticut may be “contaminated with toxic chemicals, bombs and other munitions or even radioactive waste.” Many of these waste sites, which could take 300 years to clean up under current funding levels, aren’t identified on military maps, leaving unsuspecting civilians to stumble upon them. 

Carollo described how one farmer kept finding Army debris in his fields and how scuba divers discovered hazardous ordnance and explosive waste in Monterey Bay. To complete this story, Carollo used hundreds of thousands of military records contained in databases obtained through a FOIA request.

Find it: www.sacbee.com/821/story/159101.html

Military aid

The Center for Public Integrity put together a fascinating look at U.S. foreign and military policy. The center’s “Collateral Damage” project featured a database allowing readers to look at U.S. military aid, human rights records and foreign lobbying expenses on a country-by-country basis.

The project’s Web site included articles by 10 reporters from around the world, including Prangtip Daorueng’s look at the CIA’s work in Thailand, Sarah Fort’s examination of U.S. support for Uzbekistan’s repressive regime and Marina Walker Guevara’s investigation of torture in Jordan.

Read the story: www.publicintegrity.org/MilitaryAid

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