“An overdose, a young companion, drug-fueled parties: The secret life of USC med school dean.” If that headline isn’t enough to grab your attention, nothing will. The Los Angeles Times’s investigation into the troubling behavior of Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito—dean of USC’s Keck School of Medicine, renowned eye surgeon, and key fundraiser—managed to break through the national conversation percolating with news out of DC by engaging in that most honorable tradition in local journalism: taking on a powerful institution and getting results.
The Times discovered that while Puliafito was supervising medical students and researchers, treating patients, and bringing hundreds of millions of dollars to the university, he was also using methamphetamine and other drugs and partying in cars and hotels with people younger than many of his students. Puliafito resigned his post in March of last year shortly after a 21-year-old woman overdosed in a hotel room in which he was present.
Five Times reporters—Paul Pringle, Harriet Ryan, Adam Elmahrek, Matt Hamilton, and Sarah Parvini—contributed to the story, an impressive allocation of resources for a paper that has faced difficulties both financial and internal in recent years. They contacted witnesses, dug through police reports and emergency call records, and gained access to video evidence, producing a 4,000-word story that resulted in Puliafito no longer seeing patients and disciplinary action for a Pasadena police officer who failed to report the hotel overdose of Puliafito’s companion.
While the salacious details of the story no doubt helped propel its reach, the Times reporters deserve credit for delivering local news that packs a punch. Beyond the work of those five journalists, the paper’s investment of time and resources into the investigation is commendable. At CJR, we dedicated our most recent print issue to local news in all its successes, failures, and experimentations. It’s nice to have a story break through that highlights the value of what a well-supported group of reporters can accomplish when they get a tip about a powerful institution and are given free rein to chase it down.
Below, more impactful local reporting from around the country.
- What a four-star hospital looks like: The Boston Globe’s Jonathan Saltzman and Andrea Estes report on a VA hospital in Manchester, New Hampshire, where thousands of patients struggle to get an care at all. Hours after the piece was published, the federal government removed two top officials.
- Pumping the brakes on Google’s expansion: The Mercury News’s Ethan Baron catalogues the potential downsides to the search giant’s plan to build a 20,000-worker campus in San Jose.
- Covering police shootings: The Star Tribune (Minneapolis), whose reporters have recent experience covering the officer-involved shooting deaths of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile, has been doing good work exploring the events the led to the death of 40-year-old Justine Damond over the weekend.
- Money and influence: “What does $80 million buy oil and gas interests?” The Denver Post’s Christopher N. Osher finds that, in Colorado, it gets the industry drilling rights, access to legislators, and a lack of regulation.
- If you’re interested: The folks at Local Matters provide a weekly email rounding up a handful of the best examples of local journalism from around the country. It’s a great newsletter, and it’s where I found the Post story above.
- Cold Water: The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi reports from East Palo Alto, California, asking “What happens to local news when there is no local media to cover it?”
Other notable stories
- The Republican effort to replace Obamacare is dead (for now). The New York Times’s Jennifer Steinhauer writes that GOP senators were tripped up by an old truth: “An American entitlement, once established, can almost never be retracted.”
- For CJR, Elon Green asked some of the biggest names in journalism about their experiences getting scooped. The whole piece is great, but Janet Malcolm’s ice-cold answer takes the cake.
- The NRA put out a disturbing video accusing The Washington Post of damaging America.
- Jim DeRogatis, who has been doggedly covering the story of R. Kelly’s alleged crimes for more than 15 years, published a disturbing and much-discussed story about the R&B legend holding young women in an abusive “cult.”
- Two views of Tucker Carlson: First, from The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart, who writes that, “In his vicious and ad hominem way, Carlson is doing something extraordinary: He’s challenging the Republican Party’s hawkish orthodoxy in ways anti-war progressives have been begging cable hosts to do for years. Max Boot, a recent guest on Carlson’s show, provides a counter-argument: “Carlson’s act gets ratings, but please don’t mistake it for a substantive contribution to the public debate.”
- The New Yorker’s Peter Hessler spent months in rural Colorado reporting on the impact of Trump’s tone on residents there. The sections on conflict with the media are pretty depressing.
- Digiday’s Max Willens reports that Politico now has 20,000 paid subscribers, who contribute half of the outlet’s revenue.