The media today: LA Times investigation highlights local news that gets results

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.


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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.