Investigative reporting has played a defining role in the pages of the Boston Globe since the newspaper emerged as the dominant media organization in the city in the 1960s under crusading editor Thomas L. Winship, Jr.
The Globe won its first Pulitzer Prize ever, in 1966, for investigative reports about a longtime Kennedy family friend who had been nominated by Senator Edward M. Kennedy for a federal judgeship. Reporter Robert L. Healy -- himself a Kennedy friend who played touch football with the senator’s brother Robert -- helped lead a 10-person team that raised numerous doubts about claims on the resume of Francis X. Morrissey, finally forcing Sen. Kennedy to withdraw his nomination for the bench.
Since then, the Globe has won the top prize in US journalism five times for investigative reporting, including the Pulitzer’s public service medal in 2003 for exposing the sex abuse scandal that continues to rock the Catholic Church today. Investigative reports published in the Globe have played instrumental roles in the downfall of numerous politicians over the last 50 years from Republican US Senator Edward W. Brooke to three consecutive Democratic Speakers of the House on Beacon Hill. Former speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi is serving a federal prison sentence in Kentucky based on corruption allegations uncovered by the Globe’s Andrea Estes and Stephen A. Kurkjian.
Today, the Globe is home to two teams of investigative reporters, including the famed Spotlight Team, the oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative unit in the United States. Even before Watergate made investigative reporting fashionable, the Spotlight team, modeled after the “Insight Team” at the Sunday Times of London, was exposing multiple forms of fraud and abuse: corruption in city and state government, no-show public employees, and a high incidence of leukemia and other forms of cancer among nuclear workers at Portsmouth (N.H.) Naval shipyard.
Under the leadership of editor Gerard O’Neill, the team exposed mobster James “Whitey” Bulger as an FBI informant, whose handlers helped him avoid arrest for 16 years. O’Neill and fellow Spotlighter Dick Lehr went on to co-author the popular book “Black Mass” that detailed the twisted alliance between organized crime and the Boston office of the FBI. Bulger’s main FBI handler went to prison for racketeering and obstruction of justice in the case.
In addition to the Pulitzer for coverage of the clergy sexual abuse crisis while Walter V. Robinson was team editor, Spotlight has won two other Pulitzers. In 1972, under editor Timothy Leland, the team won a Pulitzer for its exposure of widespread corruption in Somerville, and again in 1980, under Kurkjian, for its powerfully effective expose of the MBTA. In 2007, the team’s series “Debtor’s Hell’’ was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for its expose of unscrupulous debt collectors.
Under current editor Thomas Farragher, the Spotlight Team has documented how Massachusetts’ famous teaching hospitals drive up health costs statewide by providing expensive care that is no better than that provided at smaller hospitals and much less cost. The Spotlight reports have spurred extensive state reforms aimed at reducing costs by encouraging patients to get routine care at community hospitals.
The Spotlight team also exposed the rampant patronage and fraud in the state Probation Department where jobs for years went to politically connected candidates. So far, five public officials have been indicted in the case and a federal grand jury is still hearing evidence. In 2011, Spotlight revealed the astonishingly high acquittal rate for accused drunk drivers who waive jury trials and ask judges to render their verdicts. The state’s highest court ordered an investigation that is ongoing. The series was honored with a George Polk Award and the National Headliner top prize for public service.
In 2011, the Globe added a second investigative team, based in the newsroom and committed to public corruption investigations. Composed entirely of veterans of the Spotlight Team, the metro investigative unit has uncovered misuse of public funds and other abuses that have triggered state and federal investigations while prompting numerous resignations. Chelsea Housing Authority chief Michael E. McLaughlin was forced to step down and now faces criminal investigation after the metro team revealed that he had deliberately concealed his inflated $360,000 salary from state officials -- while working only 15 full days at the office.
Metro investigators also exposed a lottery game, Cash WinFall, that was rigged in favor of a few largescale gamblers, who would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time buying tickets. The state lottery promptly canceled the game. Other investigative reports uncovered state failure to investigate light fixtures falling from Big Dig tunnel ceilings, triggering a transportation leadership shake-up, and an expose on a prominent Jesuit leader’s role in allowing sexual abuse to continue on his watch.
The Globe commitment to investigative journalism extends to the larger news staff -- environmental reporter Beth Daley and business reporter Jenn Abelson produced one of the best investigative reports of 2011, uncovering the way fish sold in restaurants and supermarkets is often not the species advertised. Taken together, the Globe is home to the largest group of investigative journalists in New England, including Farragher as well as Marcella Bombardieri and Jonathan Saltzman of the Spotlight Team and metro investigative team members Estes, Sean P. Murphy, Michael Rezendes, Matt Carroll, and editor Scott Allen. Read more about the Globe’s investigative reporters here.