Extra Extra : June 2008

Witnesses say federal investigator pressured them to lie

Fifteen witnesses in a trial that led to the conviction of five people in the deaths of six Kansas City firefighters told The Kansas City Star that a federal investigator in the firefighters’ explosion case had pressured them to lie. Star projects reporter Mike McGraw conducted hundreds of interviews and reviewed 30,000 pages of court and investigative files and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act to assemble the third in a series of reports on the 20-year-old firefighter's case.

Drug war on moms

Troy Anderson of the Los Angeles Daily News investigates widespread problems in California’s system of testing pregnant women for drug use. The drug screenings used in California’s hospitals are likely to return false positives. The poor implementation of the testing, originally designed to help crack babies and drug-dependent mothers, has resulted in families being torn apart when hospital workers call DCFS because of false positives.

Supreme Court struck down portion of campaign finance law

Adam Liptak of The New York Times reports that the "millionaire's amendment" was struck down by the Supreme Court in a 5-to-4 decision on Thursday. "The law at issue in Thursday’s decision imposed special rules in races with candidates who finance their own campaigns. Those candidates are required to disclose more information, and their opponents are allowed to raise more money." The majority decision called into question the constitutionality of allowing different contribution levels for candidates running against one another.

Nonprofits work to wield influence on 2008 elections

In a joint effort by NPR and the Center for Investigative Reporting, Peter Overby and Will Evans report on the efforts of nonprofits to influence the 2008 elections. "One network of liberal activist groups, Progress Now and its eight affiliates, is trying to shape the debate with a streamlined operation of small staff, low budgets and the Internet." A graphic by CIR charts the influence and funding behind these independent networks.

Data reveals issues at daycares, other care facilities

Through Freedom of Information legislation, The Vancouver Sun obtained inspection data for more than 3,000 daycares, long-term care facilities and group homes for the disabled. They made the data — which had never been public before — available on the web through a series of searchable online databases. Analysis of the data revealed almost one in nine long-term facilities have been rated "high risk." Additionally, over the last five years, there have been at least 230 incidents when daycares have lost track of children in their care.

Al-Queda's propaganda campaign flourishes online

Craig Whitlock of The Washington Post continues his coverage of the propaganda campaigns at the heart of the war on terrorism. Al-Queda has turned to the internet to spread its message. "Taking advantage of new technology and mistakes by its adversaries, al-Qaeda's core leadership has built an increasingly prolific propaganda operation, enabling it to communicate constantly, securely and in numerous languages with loyalists and potential recruits worldwide," reports Whitlock.

Circumstances of trooper's death kept secret

John O'Brien of The Post-Standard (Syracuse, N.Y.) investigated a fatal friendly fire shooting by state police. For more than a year, top officials kept a lid on details about the killing of Trooper David Brinkerhoff. They avoided a grand jury and kept the trooper's widow in the dark. The story reveals for the first time publicly the details of the shooting, including the name of the trooper who fired the shot.

Online courses inflate faculty pay

Mackenzie Ryan, of the St. Cloud (Minn.) Times, recently looked into state salary earnings and found a state university contract incentive that pays professors for teaching online classes. Pay for these courses, taught in addition to their normal work load, is based on a on a per-student, per-credit bases which pushes some professors to earn among the highest salaries of all state employees.

Mapping shows lottery winnings not evenly distributed

Patrick Lakamp and Susan Schulman of The Buffalo News mapped lottery sales and total winnings for more than 1,500 lottery retailers in western New York. The data showed that $60 was paid out for every $100 wagered in the lottery, but the distribution of these winnings was not equitable. "Poorer neighborhoods tend to be popular spots for the lottery. Statewide, communities with median household incomes below $30,000 spent almost twice as much per adult on lottery tickets as communities with incomes exceeding $50,000." The winning percentage in these poorer areas was below the state average, meaning those ... Read more ...

U.S.-funded network struggles in Middle East

"Propaganda has become a primary front in the war against terrorism, with the United States and al-Qaeda each investing heavily to win over hearts and minds," reports Chris Whitlock of The Washington Post. Al-Hurra, a U.S. government financed Arabic-language television network created to "spread democracy in the Middle East", has proven a flop both in terms of viewership and journalistic integrity. The second article in the series will investigate al-Qaeda's online propaganda campaign, also riddled with problems.