A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

SDX Awards: TV investigative reporting, CBS News

By Quill

Embedded journalism dominates the coverage of the war in Iraq. However, when the story of the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib broke, 60 Minutes II offered viewers unfiltered coverage. CBS News confirmed the reports, obtained photographs and videotape of the abuse and reported the story despite pressure from the Defense Department.

60 Minutes II reported the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison on April 28, 2004. Within days, the story saturated television broadcasts and print publications. Within the week, the Pentagon was shaken to its core.

“President Bush went public to announce he had not known about the abuse until he saw the pictures on 60 Minutes II,” said executive producer Jeff Fager. “The president said he was outraged by what he saw and came quite close to apologizing to the citizens of Iraq for what had been done.”

While the Pentagon would not answer questions about the case, CBS News learned the names of the photographed soldiers and gained access to documents that spelled out the whole story.

“Pressed by the Pentagon to withhold the story, 60 Minutes II redoubled its investigative efforts, eventually becoming the first news operation to gain access to the now-famous Taguba report,” said Fager. “Our team also obtained some of the attachments of the Taguba report – a telling collection of documents that included statements by witnesses to a rape, names of civilian contractors at the prison and statements detailing their techniques in getting inmates to talk.”

The reports on Abu Ghraib generated international outcries, prompting government hearings, intensive investigations and an apology from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

“We’re all proud to be part of an important story that will resonate for years and one that has prompted a re-evaluation of how the U.S. military operates during times of war,” said producer Dana Roberson. “It is quite humbling to have been able to tell a story of such magnitude and consequence.”

Judges agreed.

“In a category dominated by claims of ‘ground-breaking,’ ‘thought-changing’ and ‘public perception-changing’ investigative journalism, this CBS News report on abuses at Abu Ghraib prison stood out as one of the few entries to completely fulfill those promises,” they said. “We believe this story represents and honors the best traditions of accurate, ethical journalism and stands on its own merits, despite recent criticism of its reporter and producer.”