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2021 Award Winners

Golden Padlock 

The Golden Padlock Award recognizes the most secretive publicly-funded agency or person in the United States.


Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry won the 2021 Golden Padlock Award for suing newspaper reporter Andrea Gallo over a public records request. Gallo, an investigative reporter for The Advocate and The Times-Picayune, filed a request in December for copies of sexual harassment complaints made against the head of the attorney general’s criminal division. The agency said it would not release the complaint because it contained private information. Landry then took the extraordinary step of suing Gallo, asking the judge to seal the record and prohibit Gallo from disclosing any information pertaining to the complaint. In response, Gallo’s attorney called it “simply unfathomable” that Landry would sue before even attempting to redact portions of the sexual harassment complaint, as the newspaper had suggested. A judge rejected Landry’s argument in March and ordered the release of the record.

  • Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
  • The Indian Health Service
  • The Trustees of Algonquin Township in McHenry County, Illinois

To learn more about each agency, click here.

Don Bolles Medal

The Don Bolles Medal recognizes investigative journalists who have exhibited extraordinary courage in standing up against intimidation or efforts to suppress the truth about matters of public importance.

  • Josh Chin, The Wall Street Journal
  • Chao Deng, The Wall Street Journal
  • Philip Wen, The Wall Street Journal
  • Chris Buckley, The New York Times

Deng, Chin and Wen were expelled from China in February 2020 in the first mass expulsion of journalists in the post-Mao era. While the government of China claimed that it was retaliating for the headline of an opinion column (knowing that the Journal's news and editorial operations are completely separate), the expulsions enabled Chinese officials to suppress critical reporting about the government's failures. 

Deng was reporting from Wuhan about the ongoing coronavirus crisis when the Foreign Ministry ordered her to cease all journalistic activity and to prepare for expulsion from the country. Her reporting had revealed questions about the accuracy of the government's COVID tests and about how the outbreak had overwhelmed the city's health care system. Previously, Deng exposed how Western companies had become "entangled in China's campaign to forcibly assimilate its Muslim population." 

Wen's reporting raised questions about the potential involvement of Chinese President Xi Jinping's cousin in organized crime, money laundering and influence-peddling schemes. He also revealed how China had shifted its strategy for dealing with ethnic Muslims from forced re-education centers to more subtle forms of control. 

Chin had reported on how China, in an effort to snuff out a Muslim separatist group, had turned the autonomous region of Xinjiang "into a laboratory for high-tech social controls." He revealed how the government, after rounding up Muslim Uighur residents, had demolished neighborhoods in an attempt to purge their culture. Chin also reported on how employees of Huawei Technologies had helped African governments to spy on their political opponents. 

In July 2020, in a signal of the Chinese government's determination to extend its repressive reach, New York Times reporter Chris Buckley was forced to leave Hong Kong after authorities refused to renew his visa. 

Two months earlier, Buckley had been reporting from Wuhan when his press card expired, and he was forced to pack his bags and leave mainland China. In the early days of the outbreak, Buckley had described conditions "with the sick being herded into makeshift quarantine camps, with minimal medical care, a growing sense of abandonment and fear."  

His reporting had previously revealed how China was detaining Muslims in vast numbers, "where they are forced to listen to lectures, sing hymns praising the Chinese Communist Party and write 'self-criticism' essays." He was part of the duo that published the leaked Xinjiang Papers, more than 400 pages of internal Chinese documents that exposed details of the Chinese government's mass detention of Muslims. 

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