Great news today that A.C. Thompson was named a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, for a series of reports on white vigilante violence in New Orleans — and NOPD complicity — in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. His ambitious, multiyear investigation is an example of how it seems to take a village these days to pull off spectacular enterprise reporting.
Thompson’s effort began with an 18-month Investigative Fund probe into white vigilante violence — and police complicity — after Katrina, published in The Nation as “Katrina’s Hidden Race War” and “Body of Evidence” in January 2009. It was a long reporting slog, involving endless reporting trips to New Orleans and even a Nation Institute lawsuit against the New Orleans coroner for access to autopsies, so it was a boost that ProPublica devoted significant additional resources to the investigation in the home stretch, after bringing Thompson on as a staff reporter. (Not only that, but two other nonprofits, New America Media and the Center for Investigative Reporting, also assisted Thompson along the way.)
Then, over the past year, ProPublica partnered with the New Orleans Times-Picayune and PBS’s Frontline to dig further into the NOPD’s collossal negligence in investigating homicides in the wake of the storm, including the use of deadly force by its own ranks, work that resulted in a disturbing four-part series in the Times-Pic in December 2009.
The original Nation stories sparked an FBI investigation last spring, which resulted in a months-long federal grand jury examining police conduct, whose scope has likely expanded in response to Thompson’s December Times-Pic series. The hearings are widely expected to yield indictments and to upend the NOPD. One former New Orleans prosecutor told the New York Times it could be “the most significant investigation in any FBI office in the country.”
Thompson, it should be noted, was a key member of the reporting team known as theChauncey Bailey Project, which managed to track down those complicit in the killing of theOakland Post editor where police investigators had failed. And he won a Polk back in 2005 forreporting in the San Francisco Bay Guardian that exposed the atrocious conditions in San Francisco’s housing projects. In other words, the guy has got serious reporting chops — that rare combination of hard core document hound and sensitive cultivator of human sources — matched by a serious commitment to social justice. We’re glad his work on New Orleans is garnering the attention it deserves.