Muckraker’s Lament

The 2013 Pulitzer Prizes were announced yesterday. At least two of the winners—David Barboza and David Barstow of the New York Times—were in Berkeley over the weekend, participants in the Seventh Annual Logan Symposium, part of the Investigative Reporting Program at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. A.k.a., the J-School.

Barboza took the prize for International Reporting for stories documenting corruption at the highest levels of the Chinese government and a secret fortune, valued at billions of dollars, amassed by the family of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. 

Barstow shared the prize for Investigative Reporting with his colleague at the Times, Alejandra Xanic von Bertrab, for their investigation into Wal-Mart’s widespread use of bribery to dominate the Mexican marketplace.

It was Barstow’s third Pulitzer. He shared his first, in 2004, with Lowell Bergman, the man who directs the Investigative Reporting Program and something of a legend in the field (he was played by Al Pacino in the 1999 film “The Insider”).

Addressing the symposium audience on Saturday afternoon, David Barstow gave a 10-minute talk in which he related an early success in his career. Reporting for the St. Petersburg Times, he managed to call attention to the thousands of youths then incarcerated in Florida’s adult prisons. Not only did laws get changed as a result of Barstow’s reporting, but Eddie McGee, the 14-year-old whose story he focused on, was quickly transferred to a juvenile facility where he would finally get the schooling and counseling he would never receive in the penitentiary.

Score one for investigative reporting, right? Right. But it was no victory for Eddie McGee. The transfer to juvie, where he had to prove himself daily by literally fighting for his survival, became a fresh hell for the boy, the worst years of his life, he later told Barstow. What’s more, Barstow’s reporting—an embarrassment to authorities—made McGee a marked man on the outside, too. 

When he was later caught breaking parole, a Florida judge threw the book at him. As Barstow bitterly recalled to his fellow reporters, he’d gone to the sentencing and sat there, helplessly, as Eddie McGee, now a young man, was sentenced to 17 years. His parole violation? The cops found a joint in a car he’d been riding in.

The title of Barstow’s talk was: “Consequences: A Brief and Cautionary Tale.”

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