Investigative journalism can be both fantastic and awful. There is great euphoria when you break the story and/or solve a mystery. But leading up to that, you work terribly long hours, and can suffer serious damage to your physical and family life. Then there’s the disappointment when you publish your findings, only to discover that some nobody from The Nowhere Gazette beat you to it. We have found a few such instances here, hoping to give proper credit to the ones that REALLY should receive it.
FIFA Was Taken Down by One Determined Old Reporter
We mostly think of soccer as the sport where players pretend to get concussions from being touched on the shoulder. But the play isn’t the only area of questionable ethics. The 2015 FIFA scandal, that involved bribery, racketeering, and other organized crime-ey things, exposed the dark side of the game. We now know the game had been stolen by greedy millionaires who act and sound like Bond movie villains. But what few people realize is, it was the result of 15 years’ work by one grouchy old Scotsman.
Andrew Jennings has reported on the Iran-Contra affair and the Chechen mafia. But his biggest story started with a tip from old friend Bourne series director Paul Greengrass, who suggested that Jennings look into FIFA when they both worked at World In Action. He did, but with skepticism. He said journalism is a matter of finding disgraceful, disgustingly corrupt people and you go from there.
Jennings discovered that this was more like an organized crime sting than a corporate scandal. So he went to a FIFA press conference, and asked President Sepp Blatter, “Herr Blatter, have you ever taken a bribe?” He was sending Blatter a message (“I’m on to you”) as well as sending an unspoken message to others (“if anyone has dirt, let me know”).
Six weeks later, Jennings was in Zurich when a senior FIFA official gave him evidence to create a documentary and at least two books.
Jennings was taken to London to meet with FBI special agents to provide them with his findings. That pretty much meant the end of the game. Eventually, several executives were arrested, and Blatter resigned.
And Jennings received little to no recognition or reward. Other than the satisfaction of removing Sepp Blatter from soccer.
A 22-Year-Old Crime Journalist Broke the Sandusky Story Months Before Anyone Cared
2009 saw 22-year-old Sara Ganim was living and working in State College, a small town inPennsylvania, home to Penn State University and its legendary football team. Ganim is the one that burned the whole legacy to the ground.
She was reporting the local crime beat, which was probably mostly date rape and stolen beer. One of her sources started to gossip about some kid going to the cops to accuse Jerry Sandusky, Penn State’s retired assistant coach and local hero , of some nasty stuff. Ganim headed to some online message boards. Using her old Penn State login, Ganim started asking students if they had heard of these things. She not only found a numerous victims, but also that Sandusky was under a secret grand jury investigation for sexual abuse. You can win a Pulitzer for that in Pittsburgh. In State College, it only gets you hated for daring to question anything about the football team.
Ganim and her paper, The Patriot-News, got little traction. Bigger papers overlooked her, while the locals treated them like lepers. But Ganim kept up her pursuit. Only months later, Sandusky was arrested, did the larger media start covering the trial. With the country now focused on Sandusky, Ganim went after everyone involved in the cover-up – which was just about everyone with a title at Penn State. The Patriot-News called for the resignation of the university president, Graham Spanier, and head coach Joe Paterno. They were fired less than 24 hours later.
Ganim has since accepted both a Pulitzer Prize and a position at CNN. She may not stop writing about this scandal until the only people left in the Penn State admin offices are the janitors.
The Researchers Who Exposed Volkswagen Emissions are Still Begging for Funding
In 2012, Daniel Carder and his five-nerd research team secured a $70,000 grant (which, in the research world, is just enough to buy a candy bar) to test the emissions of some new “clean diesel” vehicles. They severely damage one of the biggest car manufacturers in the world. They also became famous – just not “give them money” famous.
They wanted to test emissions on the open road instead of in a lab. So they performed road tests along the way while driving from LA to Seattle. They were shocked to find some Volkswagen vehicles putting out 35 times more emissions levels than expected. They had botched the tests, Carder assumed. While a tiny deviation means you haven’t wasted your time, a massive one usually means ‘we’re all fired.’
After the researchers submitted their results (which probably included an “Um, WTF” at the end), several government agencies confronted Volkswagen. Carder and his team were surprised – mostly because the study had already been published for 18 months before anyone noticed. Volkswagen would confess to using illegal devices to cheat the more commonly-used emissions tests. Volkswagen was out almost $15 billion, its stock plumetted 30 percent, and CEO Martin Winterkorn was compelled to take all of the blame and resign.
in 2016Carder was named one of the Time Magazine 100 most influential people for this important contribution to environmental protection. This is the type of fame quiet engineers probably have stress dreams about. But even though Volkswagen was forced to fund $4.7 billion in transport research to compensate its actions, Carder and his team still struggle for funding. He may have to manage his next earth-shattering breakthrough with an abacus and a handful of quarters for gas money.
Grieving Father Uncovers International Banking Scandal
A school study trip to Israel in 1995 was ruined by a suicide bomber. Alisa Flatow was killed in the attack. Stephen Flatow was her father and a lawyer. He successfully sued Iran, which financed the terrorist group responsible, for $247.5 million in damages.
Iran didn’t pay up. Imagine that. Flatow wasn’t deterred. He investigated started an Iranian-owned skyscraper on 5th Avenue in New York City. Among the building’s tenants were some charitable foundations, a Juicy Couture shop, and some billionaire oil traders. But the United States wasn’t supposed to do business with Iran, even if the owners of the building were technically an Iranian charitable group.
Flatow asked the New York district attorney’s office to see to it that one of the “charities” that owned the skyscraper, the Alavi Foundation, , pay the damages for his daughter’s death. According to Flatow, Alavi was a business front for the Iranian government. After looking into it, the US government realized Flatow was right. The rent the tenants paid went to Iran – do not pass go, do not collect $200.
Lloyds and Credit Suisse were the ones managing the operation stateside, trying to make everything look normal. As the investigation deepened, ING, HSBC, Barclay’s, and other banks were forced to confess to similar shenanigans. French multinational bank BNP Paribas was given a $8.9 billion fine for their role organizing the evil funds transfers. Never mess with grieving fathers who happen to be lawyers.