Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

2012: Top Investigative Stories

2012: Top Investigative Stories
GUESTS:Joanne Faryon, KPBS Investigative Producer Amita Sharma, KPBS Investigative Reporter

ALLISON ST JOHN: We are taking a look back at the important stories of the last year with our team of reporters, stories that help us be more deeply informed about the way the world is changing. Today we have our investigative reporters Amita Sharma and Joanne Faryon with San Diego News Source. Thank you so much for joining us. JOANNE FARYON: Good to be here. AMITA SHARMA: Thanks for having us. ALLISON ST JOHN: Let's start with you Joanne, The San Diego mayoral election is one of the most critical decisions that voters had to make this year and you did stories investigative news source also did stories about the two finalists Bob Filner and Carl DeMaio that gave the voters something that you want about the candidates beyond the normal campaign rhetoric. So tell us first about the Bob Filner investigation that you did. JOANNE FARYON: So our team took a deep dive into some of the campaign issues with some of the candidates. So with Bob Filner investigative news source reporter Brad Racino decided to look at one of the sort of biggest campaign promises that he had made which was to expand commerce at the port and Brad actually interviewed Mr. Filner a few times. Now, Mayor Filner and what he learned is that Bob Filner had got a lot of his facts wrong when it came to the port. He said there was absolutely no commerce whereas the statistics did not support that I later did a follow-up interview with Bob Filner is also calling him on this and again he really didn't back down from his misstatements. And he got a lot of bad press. And I think more than it being a story about the port it was a turning point for Bob Filner and his campaign where a lot of his critics said he was not really in the campaign. Was behind with regard to raising money. He didn't always return phone calls. He was not a lot of the events and campaigning like some of the other candidates were and I think what it did is draw attention to his campaign and how will that campaign was being run, how well he knew his fax. ALLISON ST JOHN: Of course he did win in the end but perhaps the story helped him focus his attention on his campaign a little bit more. JOANNE FARYON: I think it did I think we can take some credit for not necessarily changing the path of his campaign by drawing attention to it. Drawing attention to like if you say stuff we are going to check the fax and call you a better going forward it's like putting the candidates on notice. The other candidate we looked at was councilmember Carl Di Maio and the story led by Brooke Williams investigative news source reporter Brooke Williams really looked at the long relationship between Carl Di Maio and the owner of the newspaper and UT San Diego Doug Manchester and what Brooke was able to do using a lot of documentation was show over a was show how Doug Manchester funded Carl Di Maio's political committee and they had this campaign connection and why is that important? That's important because of the connections played themselves out with elected officials. We know the Doug Manchester but the newspaper and he makes no bones about it. He has an agenda and he happily promotes his agenda on the front page in editorials. On editorials inside the newspaper as well and he says look I bought the paper and I'm going to do that. One of the things that Doug Manchester was promoting was more development at the waterfront specifically building a stadium at the 10th Ave. terminal. ALLISON ST JOHN: Once again the port comes into the picture. JOANNE FARYON: Exactly the port is a common theme and insert John Lynch is the CEO of the newspaper very close friends with Doug Manchester even claimed in an e-mail to have the support of one of the mayoral candidates both candidates denied it was them so that was more the story of pulling back the curtain slightly looking at the candidates and asking the question will this ultimately impact major decisions that get made at City Hall. ALLISON ST JOHN: And giving voters a peek behind the curtain. So let's move on to a story this relatedness exhibits about Doug Manchester and his purchase of the paper one of the most important stories for the media in this town. Tell us about what you found out about how the paper has changed since he's taken it over? AMITA SHARMA: For one thing it has expanded. As soon as Doug Manchester purchase the UT, it turned into the UT San Diego he created a television station so now reporters there were converged just like we are sure they produce content for the hold in your hands newspaper. They produce content for online and they went on television and talk about their stories. And back in September Doug Manchester about the North County Times, which was the second remaining daily in the County so now he owns the only two daily newspapers in the County. The way the paper changed content wise, Joanne touched on some of this, they started printing these front-page editorials to basically tout what they thought was their agenda and one of those was building a sort of entertainment center including a Stadium for the Chargers on the waterfront specifically at the 10th Ave., Marine terminal. They also touted the mayoral candidacy of Carl DiMaio and Doug Manchester made no bones about it. If you talk to him about what he wanted by buying the paper, what was his goal he says, I wanted to shape events I've always wanted to shape events. And John Lynch says the same thing. At the same time for long-standing readers in San Diego everyone knows that the paper tends to lean conservative, but a lot of readers noticed that it had even gotten a little bit more conservative than some more turned off by this. I talked to John Lynch about this. I asked him about the paper's opinion stances. And he made no apologies. NEW SPEAKER: And we believe in pro-family, pro-military and pro-conservative business values. We believe those are the things that have always fired the engines of development in San Diego and in the entire country. And we are, I don't know anybody who is not for those things. I think some of the editorials have been done with a bit of cache to attract statement and comment ALLISON ST JOHN: Now you spoke also with several staffers at the paper what did they tell you about how life is changing under Manchester and John Lynch? AMITA SHARMA: You know they express some consternation over this idea that they were being asked to do stories the positive bent. And many of them wondered aloud whether they had if say Duke Cunningham bribery scandal story on their hands whether they would be allowed to dig as deep as they had with Congressman Cunningham. Would they have been allowed to progress deeply as they did if the Cunningham story have happened today and you know, they say that there is this sort of adolescent petulant atmosphere that has been created in the newsroom. And they feel intimidated. ALLISON ST JOHN: I guess the election was a bit of a setback for all of the agendas that the paper had and you will be following in the coming year to see how perhaps that has modified AMITA SHARMA: Yeah it is evolving. ALLISON ST JOHN: Let's move on here. Amita, you did another interesting story about San Onofre that will impact the community for the community for years and about San Onofre and the safety record on fire issues. AMITA SHARMA: We received some internal documents it said there had been fire concerns at San Onofre for quite some time and fire safety problems arise from what is called hot works, basically welding and driving activity that takes place in the plant and back in 2010 the regular federal federal regulators had told Southern California Edison that runs San Onofre that they needed to take some corrections otherwise there could be a fire that started the plant again this was then in 2010 when over a two-month period 102 warnings were issued on fire safety violations and there were five fires. Fast forward to this year over a one-month period. There were 52 fire safety warnings that were issued and one fire. Basically at the same rate. I have Southern California Edison about this, whether they have taken steps to correct the problem. They said that yes they have a problem back in 09 and in 2010 and they corrected the problem. ALLISON ST JOHN: What did the NRC have to say AMITA SHARMA: The NRC said they were aware of the problem back in 2010 but they were not aware of any of the problems from this year. Even though those nuclear notifications that were sent out earlier this year had been sent to the NRC. They are obligated to read those warnings. Okay and we know that Edison is currently applying for license amendment that would allow it to keep the frequency with which it does some of the safety checks in documents that are no longer in the public eye. So I guess we will be keeping an eye on that and the NRC is going to be deciding in perhaps as early as March as to whether they can restart unit two so I guess that is another story that we will be following next year. ALLISON ST JOHN: Joanne, I wanted to go back to what you have been following for a very long time and has made a big impact on the whole scientific approach to whooping cough and vaccines. You revisited an investigation you started back in 2010. Take us back to 2010 and what was happening with the whooping cough. JOANNE FARYON: So California and San Diego we were experiencing the worst epidemic of will because in 20 years and just remind listeners, whooping cough is a disease is. Engages as an adult if you get this it's like a very bad cold you could have a cough that lasts a month. It makes you very sick. If you are a child, particularly if you are a baby it can be deadly and in fact in California in the year 10 babies died, two of them were from San Diego County. We had more than 1000 cases here in San Diego County but this is an illness that is preventable with a vaccine. Or so we thought. Back in the 1940s a lot of infants died from whooping cough eventually scientist developed a vaccine in the mid-1970s across the US there were maybe 1000 cases. Allison, this year across the US there have been 39,000 cases. So the big question is, why has whooping cough comeback with such a vengeance? In 2010 what we found in our data analysis is that most of the people getting sick had been immunized, they were up-to-date, so we raised questions how well does this vaccine work? We got a lot of pushback from the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control, a lot of pushback from scientists saying no it works this is between 85 and 94 and 95% effective but exactly scientists two years later the research there have been a number of articles published in scientific literature now saying this vaccine is not as effective as we thought. I want to play A couple of clips here now. Dr. James Jerry, he is a doctor, professor, scientist at UCLA, a world expert on whooping cough. We interviewed him in 2010 and we asked him about any nice people getting sick and I want to play this first clip. This is Dr. James clearing Jerry knew from UCLA back in 2010. NEW SPEAKER: There's absolutely no evidence that either of the two vaccines that are most common today, used in the US that there's increased vaccine failure with either of those vaccines. JOANNE FARYON: Now fast-forward two years later we paid and visited Dr. James Cherry and asked him about the new research and he's been involved with some of that and we asked him what he thinks today and we got a very different answer this is Dr. James Cherry just a number of months ago. NEW SPEAKER: In 2010 my first thought is well continued better observation plus better tests but then my friends at the California Department of Public health are saying vaccine failure is a much bigger part of this and I agree with them. ALLISON ST JOHN: So it sounds like your investigation weather, do you think actually made a difference or at least it was a part of the dialogue that must have been going on. JOANNE FARYON: We do know that it prompted study. Prompted investigations of the time at least publicly what the CDC, California Department of Health was telling us, there isn't anything wrong with the vaccine. We do know, though, that they started launching studies. It wasn't just because of our studies it was also because of the data that said look, why is this happening, California two is leading the way if you look now at a map of the US and dropping of California the cases are going down in fact in all San Diego this year so far there've been 138 cases. We've gone through this. Looks like we've weathered the storm but what's happening now in the rest of the country they are going through what California has been through. Just want to update you on a couple more things that have happened. ALLISON ST JOHN: There was a little kid that you profiled. JOANNE FARYON: In 2010 we met family three weeks old he got a whooping cough vaccine his family was a ministry, with them a few weeks ago he's a happy healthy little toddler running around, full recovery. ALLISON ST JOHN: Okay let's have a quick peek before we enter what you guys will be looking at the in next year, Amita, do you have a sense? AMITA SHARMA: I think you will have do more stories on tenant Afridi NICs especially the personal make a decision early next year in March about whether the will open unit two up to capacity I think you will see more stories on that and then we are going to be watching that you to San Diego and its coverage. And lots of political stories. ALLISON ST JOHN: Great and Joanne and how about you? JOANNE FARYON: Investigator resource Crown has been reporting on Belarus of the special taxonomy some property owners patient will tell you who pays and who doesn't and we will launch a special series on end-of-life care. We will look at dying, the cost of dying look at the lens of hospice care and so you will start seeing those stories in January. ALLISON ST JOHN: Excellent okay it's going to be a good year I'm sure. Thank you so much for coming in Joanne Faryon and Amita Sharma both reporters here at KPBS. JOANNE FARYON: Thank you. AMITA SHARMA: Thank you so much.

This year, the KPBS/I-Newsource Investigations Desk documented the long financial and political relationship between elected officials and U-T San Diego owner Doug Manchester and his CEO John Lynch. Their series explored Manchester and Lynch's attempts to flex political muscle with then-Port Commissioner Scott Peters and potentially one mayoral candidate.

Peters said Lynch threatened him with disbanding the Port, and a chain of emails between the two launched additional coverage both by KPBS/I-Newsource and other news outlets. The series also showed potential connections between Manchester and then-mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio and took a look at Mayor Bob Filner's calendar.


Also this year, new research confirmed the whooping cough vaccine is failing at a higher rate than expected, findings that KPBS and Investigative Newsource foreshadowed in an investigation in 2010.

After a leak shut down the San Onofre nuclear power plant, KPBS obtained internal records outlining concerns that fire safety rules at the nuclear power plant were not followed this year.

The California Public Utilities Commission also discussed whether customers should continue to pay for the annual $1 billion cost of running the troubled San Onofre nuclear plant.