Dig Deep: Dangerous Pesticides and an EPA in Turmoil, Gun Violence and Trump’s Finances

This week's installment of our new series in which we regularly point you to some of the best investigative reporting you might otherwise miss.

Dig Deep: Dangerous Pesticides, Gun Violence and Trump's Finances

The chemical industry is ramping up efforts to derail a ban on Dow Chemical's pesticide chlorpyrifos. With industry advocate Scott Pruitt nominated to head the EPA, many fear the ban will fail. (Photo by Austin Valley/ flickr CC 2.0)

Stephen Bannon, President Trump’s chief strategist, lashed out at the press this week, telling The New York Times that the media should “keep its mouth shut and just listen for awhile.” Investigative reporters are good listeners, but don’t count on them to remain silent about what they hear. Many news organizations are shifting into fact-gathering gear and we will continue to highlight their reports in our weekly roundup.



Poison Fruit
The Intercept, with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute

You might think that if a pesticide were known to cause “intelligence deficits and attention, memory and motor problems in children,” our government would ban it. You might even think companies would want to protect children’s health before profits. Not only is this far from the case, but we are also in danger of seeing decades of careful and painstaking scientific research thrown aside to protect Dow Chemical. Take some time this weekend to read Sharon Lerner’s well-written, comprehensive and disturbing piece about Dow’s blockbuster pesticide, chlorpyrifos. It is a riveting exploration of high-stakes scientific research and the need for an Environmental Protection Agency that does its job. She writes about the long and heartbreaking process of trying to protect children’s health, “After decades of study, the EPA was finally ready to ban chlorpyrifos, a widely used pesticide linked to autism and ADHD. Then Trump was elected president.” An important deadline looms on March 31, before a ban can be enacted. But once again, the chemical industry is ramping up its efforts to derail the proposed regulation. With industry advocate Scott Pruitt nominated to head the EPA, many fear the ban will fail. Writes Lerner, “Every day chlorpyrifos is in use, more kids will be exposed — and more brains altered by the chemical.” (Jan. 14, 2017)

Inside the Race to Stop the Next Mass Shooter
Mother Jones

Mark Follman, national affairs editor for Mother Jones, began his four-part series with a story about the people who are trying to prevent the next mass shooting. The facts are stark: There are more than 300 million guns in the United States, there is a lack of political will to regulate them more effectively, and the frequency of mass killings has increased significantly since the Columbine tragedy 17 years ago. That’s where these unique teams step in to identify and prevent a potential tragedy. Follman introduces us to the police and mental health professionals who work in the growing field of mass shooting threat assessment. “Threat assessment is essentially a three-part process,” he writes, “identifying, evaluating and then intervening. A case usually begins with a gut feeling that something is off.” This report, originally published in 2015, was recognized this month by the American Psychoanalytic Association for unlocking “deep, unconscious thoughts, feelings and motivations.” Unfortunately, the series remains timely. “In a sense, threat assessment is an improvisational solution of last resort: If we can’t muster the courage or consensus to change our underlying policies on firearms or mental health care, at least we can assemble teams of skilled people in our communities and try to stop this awful menace, case by case,” writes Follman. Virginia, Illinois and Connecticut now mandate threat assessment teams in public colleges and universities. And Virginia also requires them in all K-12 public schools. Additional stories in the series include: “How the Media Inspires Mass Shooters“; “The Chilling Rise of Copycat Mass Shooters“; and “The Orlando Mass Shooter Checked Facebook for News of His Attack as He Killed.” (November/December 2015)

Trump’s 10 Troubling Deals with Foreign Power Players
ProPublica and USA Today

This team of reporters is filling in the details of potential conflicts of interest in Trump’s business dealing. Digging up government records, local disclosures and press reports, the investigation has identified Trump’s top 10 troubling deals with powerful foreign players. The countries span the globe from India to Argentina, the Philippines to Dubai and Indonesia to Azerbaijan. (Jan. 19, 2017)

— Buzzfeed

Buzzfeed is also diagramming Trump’s giant network of businesses, investments and corporate connections and has created a map of “TrumpWorld.” The investigative team spent “two months building the dataset from public records, news reports and other sources on the Trump family, his Cabinet picks, and top advisers.” Now they are asking for your help. The database already includes 1,700 people and organizations altogether. Take a look at the sprawling diagram and dig into their database to see if you can help shed light on some of the connections. (Jan. 15, 2017)

FBI, 5 other agencies probe possible covert Kremlin aid to Trump
— McClatchy News Service

Some of the biggest investigations are ongoing and frustratingly slow. The details of Donald Trump’s Russian connections continue to emerge from the fog, but have yet to reveal a clear picture. One of the best overview reports in recent weeks comes from Peter Stone and Greg Gordon of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau and reveals a few new details. Months before the former British spy, Christopher Steele, began sounding the alarm, and months before BuzzFeed released the shocking, but unverified brief, a six-agency task force has been trying to follow the money from the Kremlin to Trump’s victory. Stone and Gordon tapped into people with knowledge of the investigation: “Investigators are examining how money may have moved from the Kremlin to covertly help Trump win, the two sources said. One of the allegations involves whether a system for routinely paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners may have been used to pay some email hackers in the United States or to supply money to intermediaries who would then pay the hackers, the two sources said.”  We will be on the lookout for the next installment of this Russian spy serial. (Jan. 18, 2017)

We broke the Panama Papers story. Here’s how to investigate Donald Trump
The Guardian (Jan. 24, 2017)

Two German investigative journalists, who launched the Panama Papers investigation, have advice for American reporters in the age of Trump: Don’t work alone. They took a global approach when they received the gigantic leak of documents from a Panamanian offshore law firm, sharing the data with 400 investigative reporters. In a letter published in The Guardian, they counsel, “American journalists should stop him from dividing their ranks — however hard their professional competition may be. They should do the opposite: unite, share and collaborate. Even if doing so would mean embracing something quite unfamiliar and new to American journalism.”

Read more in our series highlighting the best investigative reporting. And don’t miss our list of 10 investigative reporting outlets worth following.

Gail Ablow


Gail Ablow is a producer for Moyers & Company and a Carnegie Visiting Media Fellow, Democracy.