Fort Lauderdale, Charleston, Marine Corps newspapers exhibit public service
Aug. 1, 2005
NEW YORK (AP) — The South Florida Sun-Sentinel's
uncovering of millions of dollars' worth of fraudulent hurricane relief
claims won the Associated Press Managing Editors association's 35th
annual Award for Public Service.
The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette
won the award in the 40,000-100,000 daily circulation category for
stories documenting alleged unethical conduct by a powerful West
Virginia state legislator, the association of newspaper and online
editors also announced Monday.
In the under-40,000 circulation category, the Marine Corps Times of Springfield, Va., won for its investigation into substandard military body armor.
The winners were among entries from 44 newspapers of above 100,000
circulation, 33 between 40,000 and 100,000 circulation and 20 below
40,000 circulation. The circulation categories were reorganized and a
third added this year. Submitted work was published between June 1,
2004, and June 30, 2005.
The awards will be presented during the association's annual conference Oct. 26-29 in San Jose, Calif.
Stuart Wilk, APME's immediate past president and one of the judges,
called the Sun-Sentinel's series "Cashing In On Disaster" a "textbook
example of watchdog journalism." Examining 1.1 million claims and
reviewing other records, the Fort Lauderdale newspaper documented more
than $31 million in federal hurricane aid to Miami-Dade County
residents largely unaffected by the four hurricanes that hit the state
The newspaper reported residents hosed down furniture and destroyed
belongings to give the appearance of hurricane damage. It also reported
that hundreds of new relief inspectors had little training and some had
"In the best tradition of public service journalism, the
Sun-Sentinel staff kept digging, poring over thousands and thousands of
documents," Wilk said. "Ultimately, they were able to make a
bullet-proof case about questionable and outright fraudulent disaster
relief claims and payments."
In selecting the Charleston newspaper, the judges said reporter Eric
Eyre relentlessly pursued West Virginia House Education Chairman Jerry
Mezzatesta, reporting how he "double-dipped" in collecting two
taxpayer-funded salaries, diverted state school money to local fire
departments and improperly used his influence to solicit grants.
State investigations were launched, and Mezzatesta was removed from
the education committee post and voted out of office. He and his wife,
a staffer on the House Education Committee, pleaded no contest to a
misdemeanor charge of altering and destroying legislative computer
Of the Marine Corps Times entry, the judges said the investigation
was more than great journalism. "Sometimes great reporting is a case of
life and death. Such was the case when an anonymous tip led the Marine
Corps Times to establish that the Marine Corps had knowingly provided
substandard armored vests to 19,000 troops," they said. After the
newspaper's inquiries and on the eve of publication, the Pentagon
recalled 5,000 vests.
The judges also cited 15 finalists:
Over 100,000 circulation
• Los Angeles Times, for exposing deadly medical problems and racial injustice at an inner-city hospital. www.latimes.com
• The Seattle Times, for reporting how business considerations color doctors' diagnoses. seattletimes.nwsource.com
• Detroit Free Press, for exposing lavish personal spending by Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. www.freep.com
• The Star-Ledger, Newark, N.J., for documenting widespread abuse in a $6 billion state school reconstruction program. www.nj.com/starledger
• Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, for a detailed look at the successes and failures of voucher schools. www.jsonline.com
• The Sacramento Bee, for documenting how
high-ranking law enforcement officers go out on disability just before
retirement, enhancing their benefits. www.sacbee.com
• The Dallas Morning News, for catching a Texas school district cheating on national achievement tests. www.dallasnews.com
• The (Baltimore) Sun, for exposing how wounded soldiers in Iraq bleed to death for want of a tourniquet. www.baltimoresun.com
• The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, for reporting how lack of oversight has led to major abuses within local fire districts. www.stltoday.com
• Erie (Pa.) Times News, for exposing how the legal system failed a disabled 15-year-old child. www.goerie.com
• Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Ma., for documenting automobile insurance fraud in urban communities. www.eagletribune.com
• Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal, for raising questions about the investigation of a brutal beating 10 years ago. www.journalnow.com
• Florida Today, Melbourne, Fla., for an investigation of Florida insurers following the hurricanes of 2004. www.floridatoday.com
Under 40,000 circulation
• Virgin Islands Daily News, St. Thomas, U.S.
Virgin Islands, for its expose of corrupt contracting processes and
other dealings in the islands government. www.virginislandsdailynews.com
• The Anniston (Ala.) Star, for uncovering
efforts extending all the way to Capitol Hill to keep dying workers,
exposed to asbestos, from collecting damages or benefits. www.annistonstar.com
Joining Wilk in judging the competition were David Hawpe, editorial
director and vice president of The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky.;
Ed Jones, editor, The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.; Deanna
Sands, managing editor, Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald; and Sandy Johnson,
chief of AP's Washington bureau. Judges refrained from discussing or
voting on entries from their newspapers.
APME is an organization of editors, managing editors and online
editors of the more than 1,700 newspapers served by the AP in the
United States and Canadian Press in Canada.