7 People Who Unearthed Huge Scandals (And Got No Credit)
Being an investigative journalist is thankless work, involving a lot of late nights, a few crippling addictions, and a smattering of divorces. But it's all worth it when you finally connect the dots and break the story -- only to find out that some nobody from The Nowhere Gazette already did it months ago. That's because for every Bob Woodward, every Snowden, and every Carl Bernstein (they're not conjoined at the hip, you know), there are a bunch of unknown schmucks who have changed the world without us ever noticing them.
A 22-Year-Old Crime Journalist Broke The Sandusky Story Months Before Anyone Cared
In 2009, 22-year-old Sara Ganim was living and working in the small town of State College -- a name it got just for being within driving distance of Penn State University. Penn State and its legendary football team were part of everyday life for her, like the Amish or hating New Jersey. But that didn't stop her from burning the whole legacy to the ground.
She refrained, however, from burning the physical university to the ground.
While she was covering the local crime beat, which must have involved a lot of stolen beer kegs and date rape, a source of Ganim's started to gossip about some crazy kid going to the cops throwing a bunch of allegations at Penn State's retired assistant coach and local hero, Jerry Sandusky. Ganim smelled a story and headed the one place where unsubstantiated rumors are as good as facts: online message boards. Dusting off her old Penn State login, Ganim started poking the student body about hearsay concerning Sandusky being inappropriate with young boys. There was a lot of it. Eventually, she had not only found a bunch of his victims, but had also discovered that Sandusky was under a secret grand jury investigation for sexual abuse. That's the kind of thing that can win you a Pulitzer in the big city, but in a small college football town, all it got Ganim was a lot of dirty looks.
Not Sandusky-dirty. The other kind of dirty.
When Ganim and her paper, The Patriot-News, started reporting on the case, she was met with a whole lot of nothing. Bigger papers ignored her, while the locals treated her and the paper like it was toxic for publishing mere "rumors" about their beloved Sandusky. But Ganim would not stop writing stories about the entire rotten scale of the scandal. Only months later, when Sandusky was arrested, did the media catch up and start covering the trial. But that wasn't enough for Ganim. With the country now focused on Sandusky, she went after everyone involved in the cover-up -- which was just about everyone. And she got results. Less than a day after The Patriot-News called for their resignation, the university fired its president, Graham Spanier, and head coach Joe Paterno.
And "Penn State" is now the name for a particularly unsavory sex act.
Ganim has since moved to the big leagues, having accepted both a Pulitzer Prize and a position at CNN. She's still writing stories about the Penn State scandal -- and she probably won't stop until the only people left in the Penn State admin offices are the janitors.
A Small-Time Traffic Column Uncovered The Bridgegate Scandal
There's not a lot going on in New Jersey. In fact, the most newsworthy thing about the state is how much traffic there is getting into New York, where things actually happen. Even its greatest political scandal had to do with people getting gridlocked on a bridge. But who knew that this would pave the way for a new super team of investigative journalists? The new Woodward and Bernstein. Of transport-related discrepancies. In upstate New Jersey.
We laugh, but that's 80 percent of tri-state Mafia territory.
The Record, a newspaper in northern Jersey, had not one but two reporters working the ever-so-coveted transportation beat in 2013. Shawn Boburg was a staff writer covering the Port Authority, while John Cichowski wrote his "Road Warrior" traffic column -- because only in NJ can you have a career having opinions about traffic. When the paper received a tip about a nightmare gridlock on the George Washington Bridge near Fort Lee, it assigned Cichowski to write another 500 words talking about cars not moving.
"The red car phone is ringing!"
But the gridlock didn't stop. For days, drivers were stuck on the bridge for hours on end because of several closed access lanes. Cichowski, smelling a bigger story, traced the cause to mysteriously closed tollbooths leading into Fort Lee. He even managed to get a quote from the town's mayor, Mark Sokolich, who suspected the closures were political punishment for not supporting Governor Chris Christie in the upcoming election. That must have sounded a little crazy. It takes one paranoid mind to believe traffic in New Jersey is some kind of government conspiracy.
Though we never have seen Chris Christie and James Gandolfini in the same place at the same time ...
Except he was totally right. After the paper was doc-blocked by the Port Authority, Boburg got involved. After talking to the right guys and calling in the right favors (New Jersey is union country, after all), he managed to uncover documents that proved Christie's staff were indeed behind a series of infrastructure-related retaliations, in what later became known as Bridgegate -- the only scandal where the "gate" part of the nickname actually works since the first one.
Turns out it was not beneath New Jersey officials at all to endanger public safety just to piss off some small-town mayor. Various outlets immediately pounced on the story, including The New York Times and New York Post, but they carefully danced around who discovered the documents -- as if they were embarrassed that two Jersey boys on a traffic beat discovered one of the biggest political scandals of the year right under their noses. Sometimes it pays to be bridge-and-tunnel people.
Which brings us to our next conspiracy: the mole men.
Melania Trump's Speech Plagiarism Was Caught By An Out-Of-Work Reporter In A Starbucks
When you can finish someone else's sentences, it either means you're destined to be in love or that person is a no-good, stinking word thief.
And finishing someone else's sandwiches either means you're in love or a no-job, struggling writer.
Plagiarism can be hard to prove, but it's a good indicator when someone else can predict exactly what you're going to say -- which is what one Starbucks customer did when hearing Melania Trump's speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
Jarrett Hill, a former TV reporter riding a bad unemployment streak, had been spending the evening of the convention in a Culver City Starbucks -- which tells you everything you need to know about how his life was going. On his laptop, he saw future First Real Housewife Trump issue her speech. Hill recalled finding Trump's word's "really beautifully written," which was the first clue that something was up. Then, as she reached her crescendo, Mrs. Trump boldly declared "the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams ..." which Hill finished along with her "... and your willingness to work for them." People talking to themselves in a Starbucks are not usually noteworthy, but sipping his venti mocha, he had caught the wife of the future leader of the world mouth a bunch of words his campaign had stolen.
Either a supreme act of laziness or a POW blinking for help in Morse code.
Eight years prior, Hill had heard virtually the same words from Michelle Obama during the 2008 Democratic National Convention, being so mesmerized by this line that he had committed it to memory. After Googling the speech for a double-check, he discovered that the plagiarism was way more than one line; it was an entire paragraph of text, altered so slightly that the lazy shit wouldn't even fly at the worst community college. He took to social media, where they eat this type of gotcha journalism like ravenous alligators. The Trump campaign denied the rumors by claiming that Michelle and Melania just had "similar sentiments" -- except for their taste in men, of course.
20,000 retweets, some viral memes, and a national scandal later, it's safe to say that Hill is no longer in between jobs.
Disclaimer: When you get 20k retweets, your life may not change at all.
An Amateur Blogger Kept Catching People Talking Shit During The 2008 Election
During the 2008 elections, when we were still electing real politicians to run our country, the Democratic primaries were a raging battlefield between political behemoth Hillary Clinton and up-and-coming Senator Barry Obama. Plenty of journalists were champing at the bit to see either of the two candidates slip up, but no one could have foreseen that the journalist who would deal the most devastating blow to both candidates was not a journalist at all, but a woman named Mayhill Fowler -- the Forrest Gump of presidential campaigns.
Here she is, reporting and definitely not holding props someone handed her.
Fowler, a middle-aged self-described "failed writer," got her first scoop at a San Francisco fundraising event for Obama. She had gotten in as part of Off the Bus, The Huffington Post's team of unpaid "citizen journalists" (i.e. free labor). She may not have looked like a reporter (or known anything about reporting), but that turned out to be her greatest asset. During the event, she managed to easily walk over to Obama making some harsh comments about Middle America: "They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." It was a potentially career-torpedoing moment -- which delighted Clinton, who took the opportunity to start handing out "I'm not bitter" bumper stickers on her own campaign trail. Of course, that (and almost everything else she has ever done in her entire life) came back to bite her in the ass.
"Dissing all Republican voters? Yeah, that's a mistake I'd never make."
The Clintons got their own Fowler-delivered comeuppance only a few weeks later, when she caught Hilary's lesser half at a rally in South Dakota. She wanted to ask Bill to arrange an interview with Hillary, but in her excitement, she dropped her business card -- again, these types of journalistic moves take at least three or four years of training. In her panic to think of a reason to be talking to him, she asked Clinton about a recent scathing profile of him published in Vanity Fair. Not realizing he was talking to someone with a tape recorder in her hand, a weary Clinton reacted like Tupac, spitting a rapid-fire series of insults toward the writer of the piece, which he claimed to not have even read. You wouldn't expect that kind of language from a guy who cheated on his wife in the most important room in the country.
"Keep your mouth shut" is advice Bill has never endorsed.
No one knows why some random old lady kept getting the most outrageous quotes of the 2008 Democratic race. She attributes it to "persistence, serendipity and an acknowledged flouting of the old rules of mainstream journalism," but maybe she's got one of those faces you wanna fling all your worst opinions at.
A Canadian Girl Is Why Milo Yiannopoulos Vanished
If you don't know who Milo Yiannopoulos is, skip this entry and hang onto that innocence for dear life. For far too long, the Breitbart editor (and ruiner of lives and hair) was king of the internet's worst people. Journalists, famous comedians, and everyone on Twitter who doesn't have an anime Nazi avatar tried to get rid of this bleached asshole. But in the end, all it took was a single conservative Canadian teenager.
Yes, there are conservatives in Canada. Shocker, we know.
In 2016, despite getting banned from Twitter (and think about how much of a piece of shit you have to be to be famous and get banned from Twitter), Yiannopoulos's star was rising. Thanks to the alt-right making hate more marketable than ever, he was picking up lucrative book deals and speaking engagements. But when he was invited to speak at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference -- the Comic-Con for people who think desegregation should never have happened -- it was the final straw for one teenage Canadian (Teenagian?) known only as "Julia." A self-proclaimed conservative, hearing about the slimy troll's acceptance into her mainstream shook Julia into action. And she had the perfect ammunition to shoot Yianopoulos down: a career-ending statement about the benefits of pedophilia.
"Ending my career was benefit number one."
In July of 2016, Yiannopoulos appeared on an obscure right-wing podcast called Drunken Peasants, which apparently has the conservative Canadian teenage girl market cornered. On it, he declared to the host that he sees no problem with older men trying to fuck 13-year-old boys, as it could foster a great "coming-of-age relationship ... in which those older men help those younger boys discover who they are." (People who need years of therapy, mostly.)
Julia went back through the archives, found the footage, and notified a blog called The Reagan Battalion, which let the Republican world know that Yiannopoulos had finally hit upon one of the rare categories of people whose lives are not okay to destroy. She had only hoped to get his speech canceled, but wound up obliterating Yiannopoulos' job, his book deal, and what was left of his self-worth.
He left Breitbart. Think about how much of a piece of shit you have to be to be ousted from Breitbart.
Let this be a lesson to the alt-right: Those who live by the comments of angry teenagers on the internet die by the comments of angry teenagers on the internet.
FIFA Was Taken Down By One Determined Old Reporter
Soccer, the sport wherein grown men pretend to get concussions from being touched on the shoulder, is a rather corrupt game. The 2015 FIFA scandal, which involved bribery, racketeering, and other words we associate with organized crime, finally gave proof to fans that their game had been stolen by greedy millionaires who act and sound like low-rate Bond villains. But while the scandal raged through the media like a whirlwind, it was the result of a decade-and-a-half's worth of work by one crotchety old Scotsman.
Which, let's be honest, is the only kind of old Scotsman.
Andrew Jennings is an old, old-school investigative reporter who has reported on such weighty matters as the Iran-Contra affair and the Chechen mafia. His biggest story, however, started with a tip from an old friend. That friend? Bourne series director Paul Greengrass. Greengrass suggested that his then-colleague at World In Action look into FIFA. He did, for about 15 years. Jennings likes to take his time. "This journalism business is easy, you know -- you just find some disgraceful, disgustingly corrupt people and you work on it" ... is pretty much the quote why this will never be turned into a movie.
The investigation was the only thing slower than the soccer games themselves.
Slowly, Jennings discovered that he had to tackle this affair not like a corporate scandal, but like an organized crime sting. So he did his best Elliott Ness impression, hiked into a FIFA press conference, and asked President Sepp Blatter (a supervillain name if there ever was one), "Herr Blatter, have you ever taken a bribe?" This, Jennings claimed, was not only to rattle Blatter, but also to show any disgruntled employee that he was the man to snitch to. And they did. They leaked all over him. Six weeks later, Jennings found himself outside a building in Zurich at midnight, "wondering why I've been asked to go there by somebody I don't know," when "a senior FIFA official" rolled up and gave him so much evidence that he needed to write two whole books and a BBC documentary about what was going on.
Then the FBI got involved. The "fish-out-of-water comedy" feel never let up, as Jennings was taken to London to meet "three men with American accents government-style haircuts introduce themselves as FBI special agents and give me their business cards, which say 'organized crime squad.'" With the FBI's resources and Jennings' documents, a massive case was built against FIFA. In the end, several executives were arrested and Blatter resigned, much to the old reporter's glee.
Above: Unrelated photo of Sepp Blatter's glee, probably at ordering someone's death.
And that was it for Jennings. After 15 years of doggedly uncovering one of the biggest corruption scandals of the decade, on the morning the FIFA scandal reached its media apex, "I turned off actually to get some more sleep, because whatever is happening at six in the morning is still going to be there at lunch time, isn't it?" For Andrew Jennings, the world only moves when he says so. Just ask Sepp Blatter.
The Researchers Who Blew Open Volkswagen Emissions Are Still Begging For Funding
When Daniel Carder and his five-nerd research team managed to scrounge together a $70,000 grant (about a buck fifty in research grant dollars) to test the emissions of some new "clean diesel" vehicles in 2012, they never expected to cripple one of the biggest car manufacturers in the world. It also made them famous, though not in a way that would get them any cash.
And not that famous either, let's be real.
Instead of rolling a bunch of cars on treadmills in a lab, Carder tested emissions by going on the world's lamest road trip from LA to Seattle, performing road tests as they went. To their great surprise, certain Volkswagen vehicles were showing as much as 35 times the levels of emissions they expected. Carder immediately assumed they had fucked up, because in science, a tiny deviation means you haven't wasted your time, but a massive one usually means Dave didn't calibrate the microscopes properly and now we're all fired. Thanks, Dave.
VW Golf 2009: "Will you stop, Dave? Stop, Dave. I'm afraid."
Thankfully, Dave hadn't. After the researchers submitted their results, whose conclusion probably contained a single "Um, WTF" at the end, several government agencies started having strong words with Volkswagen. Carder and his team were surprised by the massive reaction to the study -- though mostly because it had been already been published for a year and a half before anyone noticed. Eventually, the company confessed to having used illegal devices to cheat the more commonly used emissions tests. The cover-up cost Volkswagen almost $15 billion, its stock plunged 30 percent, and CEO Martin Winterkorn was forced to take all of the blame and resign -- because that's part of the CEO job description these days.
"From now on, I'll stick to a field free from scandal: European football."
For his incredible contribution to environmental protection, Carder was named one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in 2016, garnering the type of fame quiet engineers probably have stress dreams about. But that was about it. Even though Volkswagen was forced to fund $4.7 billion in transport research to compensate for stinking up the planet, Carder and his team are still struggling to find funding. In fact, his university budget is facing cuts upon cuts, meaning he'll have to manage his next earth-shattering breakthrough with an abacus and a handful of quarters for gas money.
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