Explore Harvard's Nieman network Nieman Fellowships Nieman Lab Nieman Reports Nieman Storyboard

Investigative reporter A.C. Thompson wins the 2011 I.F. Stone Medal

SHOWCASE | June 14, 2011

Thompson, a full-time journalist for only 13 years, has had major impact through his work. In San Francisco his stories led to the exoneration of two men convicted of murder; in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina he helped uncover a string of hate crimes and links between police and the killing of unarmed civilians. He now is on the staff of ProPublica, reporting on poverty, human rights and criminal justice.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—A.C. Thompson, a staff reporter for ProPublica whose work frequently exposes social injustice and the abuse of power, is winner of the 2011 I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence. The Nieman Foundation will present the award at Boston University on October 4, 2011, at a ceremony co-hosted by BU’s College of Communication.

Nieman curator Bob Giles said, “Thompson stands out as a leader of the new generation of dedicated, creative and highly principled investigative journalists who now walk in I.F Stone’s footsteps. He goes where others fear to tread and the public is better for it. He shines a spotlight on inequities and transgressions that otherwise would not be exposed in the press. We congratulate him on his valuable work.”

In recommending Thompson for the award, his nominator described him as “intelligent, measured, courageous and resourceful, displaying a skepticism of authority and a non-sentimental concern for the underdog and a readiness to dig deeply into public records and interviews to uncover instances of injustice – in short, a perfect candidate for an I.F. Stone Medal.”

At ProPublica, Thompson focuses on poverty, human rights and criminal justice. His reporting on events in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina helped to uncover a string of alleged hate crimes against African Americans and the link between police and the killings of unarmed civilians in New Orleans. In the wake of the stories, federal prosecutors opened multiple investigations, eventually charging a private citizen for an allegedly racially motivated shooting, and five active or ex-officers in connection with the killing of local resident Henry Glover.

Describing his reporting, Thompson said, “I consider my work to be a form of archaeology. I seek to excavate facts that others have buried. Fundamentally, the stories I do are about justice, about those with power harming the less-powerful and getting away with it.”

Thompson has worked as a full-time journalist since 1998. He was an investigative reporter for SF Weekly in 2006-2007 and for The San Francisco Bay Guardian for eight years prior to that. His stories led to the exoneration of two San Francisco men wrongly convicted of murder. Thompson’s work also has appeared in a number of national magazines and he is co-author of the book, Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA’s Rendition Flights.

Before joining ProPublica, Thompson co-founded The Chauncey Bailey Project, a collaborative effort by Web, radio, TV and print reporters to examine the 2007 killing of Chauncey Bailey, a news editor in Oakland, California.

Thompson has received a number of awards for his reporting, including two George Polk Awards, three Investigative Reporters and Editors Awards, the James K. Batten Medal from ASNE and the Molly Ivins Award, among others.

Thompson credits two mentors for his success, saying: “I was schooled in journalism by Sandy Close, executive director at New America Media, and Tim Redmond executive editor at the Bay Guardian. Sandy taught me to look at stories from the street level, to seek out unheard voices. Tim taught me that journalism is really civics — if you figure how government works you'll discover the nodes of information that will help you put together a probative report. He trained me to be an investigative reporter.”

Before working in journalism, Thompson taught writing to juvenile offenders in locked detention facilities in San Francisco and Alameda counties in Northern California, an experience he says greatly influenced his career as a reporter.

Established in 2008, the I.F. Stone Medal rewards journalistic independence and honors the life of investigative journalist I.F. Stone. The award is administered by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard and its Nieman Watchdog Project and is presented annually to a journalist whose work captures the spirit of independence, integrity and courage that characterized I.F. Stone’s Weekly, published 1953-1971.

The 2011 I.F. Stone Medal Selection Committee was chaired by journalist and author John R. (Rick) MacArthur, president and publisher of Harper’s Magazine. The committee also included Robert Kaiser, associate editor for The Washington Post, and Patricia O’Brien, a journalist and author who was a 1974 Nieman Fellow. The group made the selection from recommendations presented by prominent journalists who, by design, remain anonymous and serve for just one year.

The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard administers the oldest midcareer fellowship program for journalists in the world. Grants are awarded to accomplished professionals who come to Harvard for a year of study, seminars and other special events. More than 1,300 journalists from 91 countries have received Nieman Fellowships. The foundation’s other initiatives include Nieman Reports, an influential quarterly magazine and website that explores contemporary challenges and opportunities in journalism; Nieman Watchdog, a project that encourages journalists to monitor and hold accountable those who exert power in public life; Nieman Journalism Lab, a collaborative effort by journalists and media commentators to identify emerging business models and best practices in journalism in the digital age; and Nieman Storyboard, a website that showcases exceptional narrative journalism in every medium and explores the future of nonfiction storytelling.

For more information about I.F. Stone, visit www.ifstone.org.

Stone was on the KGB payroll
Posted by Mike H
06/14/2011, 02:43 PM

A medal whose namesake was a covert Soviet agent .... Impressive.

Posted by Paul Harris
06/15/2011, 09:13 AM

What a true hero A.C. Thompson is. Can you imagine a world where integrity, objectivity, and good hard work were so commonplace in mainstream journalism. Keep up the great work and please spread the word more about this award.

Paul Harris
Author, "Diary From the Dome, Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina"

Editor & Publisher, SISL
Posted by John Stafford, J.D.
06/15/2011, 08:58 PM

I knew I.F. Stone personally & visited his home in DC almost 40 years ago for an entire afternoon. He was a neighbor just a few blocks from my boyhood home in Chevy Chase DC (& which was also not far from Pat Buchanan's boyhood home. Adm. Hyman Rickover lived near there too, whom I met out walking 1 day & we talked at length. Those were interesting days in a very interesting 'hood!) Like my own living quarters, my being also a journalist for now 55 years, his tables were covered with many publications & tear sheets from other ones! He was very gracious to me & he DID do a lot of good work. I even saw that film about him maybe 40+ years ago in Seattle in the "U" District at that small & Leftist 2nd story "art" theatre on the Ave. But I also knew the late Robert Novak very well, from my Mom's beloved Chicago, since 1976 when we had seats near each other at Cole Field House for Maryland B-ball & in the Diamondback Club. I attended there with Steny Hoyer in the early 1960's & we were in the SGA together, etc., etc. Bob of course "outed" Stone as a Soviet agent, as Mike H. points out, above. Very interesting! Or as "Brother Dave" Gardner always said, "It's the DUALITY of life, dear hearts!"

Editor & Publisher, SISL
Posted by John Stafford, J.D.
06/15/2011, 09:59 PM

I appreciate the work I have seen of A.C. Thompson. Besides my writing, I was an attorney for decades & also the Chief AL Judge at the US DOI over 42 other Judges, & was a top Staffer & Special Counsel to the Chairman for 3 Members of Congress, etc. In my days as a U.S. Marine lawyer Captain during Nam, I was assigned THE "hottest" cases, especially the most politically-charged ones, at NAVARA, as an Appellate Defense Counsel, my 1st one being the very 1st atrocity, torture, & mass murder case from Nam, U.S. vs. Denzil R. Allen, which I told Jack Valenti years later at the MPA SHOULD have a movie made about it. And also U.S. vs. John Phillip Wass, in which I raised the issue of whether or not this actually WAS a war, seeing as how the Congress, for which I had worked before going on active duty, had not declared it, as the Constitution so clearly REQUIRES, & as my good friend since 1976, Cong. Ron Paul, also keeps pointing out. Justice Wm. O. Douglas, who swore me into the Bar in 1967 & introduced me to his fellow Justices in 1969 when I became a member of that Bar, & whose 1966 Plymouth I used to drive back & forth from DC to Yakima, really wanted to take that case at the USSCt & to declare that deadly conflict un-Constitutional, another "never-told" story of that war. I also was a prosecutor, military & County, with a 98% conviction rate, & was with the Maryland Marine Police, so I hate evil & harm against innocent persons. But I love justice as well, which is why I was a friend of RFK & worked on his 1968 Presidential with his top staff & 2 cousins. So I especially appreciate A.C, who cares about cases of injustice, even if & especially when it is committed by people who are supposed to uphold it. PS I lived in Metarie, LA in 1992-3, & went through a hurricane there then, feeding info to a Seattle TV station from the tallest building. Katrina should never have been so deadly, & it was due mostly to bad public officials at ALL levels who were incompetent, uncaring & derelict in their duties. The NO police have always been racist & corrupt, at least since 1963 when my cousin David & I encountered 1 on our trip across the South & where we were then shot at as in "Easy Rider", but being both US Marines, & even Drill Instructors, & armed to the teeth with 6 weapons in my Dad's little French Simca, we fired back, & were able to escape at 3 AM in the bayous between NO & Baton Rouge. The gas station guy near BR said the State Patrol "never" catches them, sadly.

The NiemanWatchdog.org website is no longer being updated. Watchdog stories have a new home in Nieman Reports.