15/05/13 at 9:24 am
This week, Wired Magazine featured the astonishing story of David Anthony Whittaker, a convicted con man who pulled off a federal sting that got Google to pay the Department of Justice a $500-million fine. The story was written by Jake Pearson, from the Stabile class of 2009, who began following the global trail of online pharmacies as part of a project for the Stabile investigative seminar.
Pearson kept abreast with the topic even after graduation and remained in touch government investigators looking into how these pharmacies were freely selling counterfeit, substandard or restricted drugs. Pearson’s class produced a website, Behind Online Pharma, and published an article in the Huffington Post that described how Google was making millions from online ads that encouraged readers to buy restricted drugs through online drugstores that didn’t demand prescriptions as required by law.
The article was the first to expose Google’s profitable arrangement with online pharmacies and was published just as the U.S. government was initiating its own investigation. Pearson’s story for Wired describes in colorful detail how Whittaker, who was in prison in 2009, and federal agents pulled off a sting that entailed creating a bogus Internet marketing firm that sold illegal drugs online and advertised its wares on Google.
The sting lasted three months during which Whitaker received instructions from Google representatives on how to tweak his site so it would pass Google scrutiny, even if company reps knew he was selling illegal drugs. Here’s a scene from Pearson’s story:
Whitaker was set up in the dank basement of an old school administration building in North Providence. He was given two monitors, a laptop, a landline phone, and a cell phone. A federal agent sat behind him and watched everything he typed, listened to everything he said, examined every website he visited. Every phone call was recorded. Off to the side, a kitchen was stocked with snack food that had been purchased in bulk—Atomic Fireballs, beef jerky, chips, crackers, peanuts.
The first e-book from a project supported by the Stabile Center was released this week. Making the Weight: Boxing’s Lethal Secret by Barry J. Whyte (Stabile ’10) examines the 24-hour weigh-in, a controversial system that is used widely in professional boxing. It allows boxers to “boil down” for the weigh-in the day before the fight then pile the weight back on in the time left before stepping into the ring.
Since its introduction in the late 1990s, the practice has encouraged boxers to engage in extreme dehydration to make weight for fights. Such dehydration weakens boxers, leaving them open to more punches, to heat-stroke, heart-failure, increased risk of long-term brain damage, and possibly even death. Dehydration has caused at least one death in the ring in the last 10 years.
Whyte began researching the topic for his master’s project while enrolled in the Stabile Center in the 2009-2010 school year. With support from the Stabile Center, he continued working on the story after graduation and sold it to BackPage Press, a UK publishing house that specializes in sports titles.Full Story
Every year since 1979, the Investigative Reporters and Editors has been giving out the annual IRE Award to recognize outstanding investigative work. This year, two Stabile alumni received the award and three others were finalists.
Vytenis Didziulis, Stabile ’09, was part of a team from Univision’s “Here and Now” program that won the award for investigative reporting in large broadcast markets for its investigation of the “Fast and Furious” sting operations conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The team obtained hundreds of documents using Mexican public laws and cross-referenced these with US government documents. The data led to previously unknown crimes committed with weapons sold through the sting operations, including the shooting of 14 teenagers at a party.Full Story
Antoinette D. Stabile, a journalist and philanthropist who endowed the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism, died in Naples, Florida on March 10. In a letter announcing her death, Columbia Journalism School dean Nicholas Lemann described Stabile as “a wonderful journalist and one of the most significant donors to the Journalism School in its 100-year history.”
“Toni was more than just generous,” said Lemann. She was a remarkably effective philanthropist, whose two major gifts have created institutions so essential to the Journalism School that it’s impossible to imagine life here without them. She was lively, engaged, and active right up to the end. She never stopped reminding us of the importance of investigative journalism.”
Since last fall, Sasha Chavkin (Stabile ’10) has been digging into political advertising, producing reporter’s guides as well as stories for the Columbia Journalism Review. His reporting until December last year was supported by the Stabile Center.
In the current issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, for example, Chavkin examined the avalanche of political advertising – nearly $60 million worth – that fell upon TV networks in Denver.
“Outlawed in Pakistan,” a new documentary film by Habiba Nosheen ’09 and Hilke Schellmann ’09, premiered this month at the Sundance Film Festival and will be nationally broadcast on PBS FRONTLINE. Schellman is a graduate of the Stabile program.
The film tells the story of Kainat Soomro, a Pakistani teenager who accuses several men from her village of gang-raping her. Pursuing her case in the courts, she experiences Pakistan’s flawed criminal justice system.
“We are thrilled to work with PBS FRONTLINE on this important film,” said Schellmann. “This character-driver documentary examines the difficulty of prosecuting rape in a place like Pakistan. We follow the story of a Pakistani teenager over several years as she fights her rape case in the Pakistani courts. The film is told through the perspective of this teenager as well as the alleged rapists.”Full Story