Sports Scandals, Government Abuse, and Shady Companies: The Year’s Best Investigative Journalism

Journalism in the public interest.
Dec. 30 2011 1:48 PM

The Year’s Top MuckReads

The first newspaper on the Sandusky story, NYPD surveillance, shady shell companies, and more.

Jerry Sandusky.
News of the grand jury investigation into former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was first broken in March by Pennsylvania's Patriot-News.

Photograph by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

Here are some of this year’s top must-read stories from #MuckReads, ProPublica's ongoing collection of the best watchdog journalism.

This is far from an exhaustive list of the year’s best work. Please contribute more suggestions in the comments section here, on Twitter with the #MuckReads2011 hashtag (see more worthy submissions here), or by sending an email to MuckReads@ProPublica.org. We’ll continue to add links to the story.

Highlights of AP’s probe into NYPD intelligence operations, Associated Press
“Mosque crawlers” who monitor sermons and “rakers” who embed themselves into minority neighborhoods are among the tactics the New York Police Department has used since 9/11. It was done with the assistance of the CIA, which is prohibited from spying on Americans.
Contributed by @srubenfeld

A Little House of Secrets on the Great Plains, Reuters
A 1,700-square-foot house with a manicured lawn in Wyoming is home to more than 2,000 companies, at least according to their registration addresses. It’s a little taste of the Cayman Islands here in the U.S., as a business uses the home to establish shell companies, or on-paper-only companies able to hide assets.
Contributed by @claudiaparsons

Deadly Force: When Las Vegas Police Shoot, and Kill, Las Vegas Review-Journal
Analyzing each police shooting in the region since 1990, the Review-Journal found “an insular department that is slow to weed out problem cops and is slower still to adopt policies and procedures that protect both its own officers and the citizens they serve.”
Contributed by @blasky

Jerry Sandusky, Former Penn State Football Staffer, Subject of Grand Jury Investigation, the Patriot-News
Back in March, well before the abuse scandal led to the downfall of a legendary coach and the school’s president, the Patriot-News broke the story of an ongoing grand jury investigation. It didn’t register on the national radar until charges were filed against Sandusky in November, and even the in-state media did little to follow on the initial report. But the story ended up being the first indicator of major trouble in Pennsylvania.
Contributed by @bydanielvictor

The Shame of College Sports, the Atlantic
Written long before the Penn State scandal brought new definition to “college sports scandals,” the Atlantic detailed how the flawed structure of the National Collegiate Athletic Association lends itself to corruption.
Contributed by @dafnalinzer

Japan Held Nuclear Data, Leaving Evacuees in Peril, New York Times
Believing the winds to be blowing south and carrying radioactive air away from them, the residents of one Japanese town headed north. But the wind was actually blowing straight toward their path, a fact the government knew but didn’t publicize. It was part of “a culture that sought to avoid responsibility, and, above all, criticism.”

Terrorists for the FBI, Mother Jones
Almost all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings. The story details “how informants are recruited and used and how and why agents are pursuing these aggressive sting operations.”

How the World Failed Haiti, Rolling Stone
The money that was raised hasn’t been spent. The buildings that were pledged haven’t been built. American and international officials said they would be “Building Back Better,” but mountains of rubble remain in the streets, and some 3 million people “languish in permanent misery” in Port-au-Prince.
Contributed by @pgmila

A Vicious Cycle in the Used-Car Business, Los Angeles Times
About one in four buyers default at “buy here, pay here” used-car lots, of which there are 33,000 across the nation. That’d be trouble in most other industries, but it’s another profit generator when the cars are repossessed and sold anew.  The victims tend to be those saddled with debt in low-paying jobs who need cars to get to work.
Contributed by @awaxman

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.

Daniel Victor is ProPublica’s social media editor.