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© 2018, Andy Birkey

Impact Journalism

  • Skills: Investigative Reporting, Data Gathering and Analysis

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Investigative journalism is a force for change. In these series of reports, my reporting helped highlight wrongdoing, expose inequities, and inform the public about urgent issues. In each case, significant change in public policy came about due to investigative reporting.

The story.

The impact.

"Dozens of Christian schools win Title IX waivers to ban LGBT students," December 2015, The Column

Award: Best News Writing by the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association

Using data from a Freedom of Information Act request, this article highlighted dozens of Christian schools who had applied for — and received — a waiver from Title IX from the U.S. Department of Education. Those waivers spelled out the schools’ intention to discriminate against LGBT students while also taking federal funding. This report led to protests around the country at these college campuses and led to a successful effort by Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat from Minnesota, to get the Department of Education to publicly list the schools that applied for waivers.

An evangelical group spent years going undercover in Minneapolis’ LGBTQ community preparing for an “outreach event” intended to convert them to conservative Christianity. I caught wind of the plan and found dozens of documents online outlining the group’s proposed activities. My reporting spurred LGBTQ groups to action, and support teams were deployed throughout Twin Cities Pride in 2014 to help educate the community about the evangelical groups tactics and to help deescalate confrontations. This series of reports won third place in the 2015 NLGJA Awards.

Boy Scouts Get Big Money From Corporations Despite Anti-Gay Policy,” February 2012, The Huffington Post

This report was instrumental in persuading the Boy Scouts of America to allow openly gay members. The discrepancy between corporate anti-discrimination policies and the Boy Scouts ban on LGBT scouts and leaders led many corporations to halt funding. A year later, in 2013, the Scouts lifted the ban on gay and bisexual scouts, and in 2015, the scouts lifted the ban on LGBT leaders.

In 2010, a series of articles exposed the close connections between a religious right group, You Can Run But You Cannot Hide, and Republican elected officials. YCRBYCH, fronted by Bradlee Dean, had close ties to former Rep. Michele Bachmann, several state lawmakers, and gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. Disclose of a donation to the group by the Emmer campaign launched bipartisan outrage, led to protests, and eventually an unsuccessful $50 million lawsuit by Dean against myself and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.

"Republicans propose repeal of fair pay laws for women," February 2011, Minnesota Independent

This report broke the story about the inclusion of a repeal of the Pay Equity Act, a measure ensuring fair pay for women in government jobs, in a broader bill repealing mandates. In response to the report, the bill’s author, former Rep. John Carlson, apologized for the inclusion of the repeal and struck the language from the bill. The report was picked up by a wide variety of newspapers editorialized on the bill, including the Bemidji Pioneer, the St. Cloud Times, the Berkshire (Mass.) Eagle and the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

For more than a year, I followed the spike in suicides in Minnesota’s largest school district and the contentious issues surrounding the Anoka-Hennepin district’s “neutrality policy,” which prohibited teachers from talking about sexual orientation. A federal investigation was been opened into problems at the district, and a pair of national groups filed suit against the school over the policy, a lawsuit which included multiple facts first reported in this series of articles.

Discrimination against LGBT jurors remains legal,” May 2012, American Independent

Using data from court cases around the country, I uncovered a pattern of prosecutors not only dismissing LGBT potential jurors, but often-times engaging in stigmatizing, homophobic, and transphobic language. This report spurred members of Congress to introduce legislation to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected categories for jury service. In addition, a half-dozen states passed laws barring such discrimination.

This report, based on a search of state and federal vendor databases, revealed that the Christian counseling clinic run by former Rep. Michele Bachmann and her husband, Marcus, has been receiving state and federal funding — despite Bachmann’s own convictions about spending of taxpayer funds. The report also noted the possibility of the clinic attempting to counsel gay people to become straight. A petition by CREDO Action gained 182,000 signatures calling for the taxpayer funding to be rescinded, and over the next few years, undercover reports, protests, and flashmobs of the clinic ensured over its use of therapy to turn gay people straight.

"Michele Bachmann Speech at Church Could Cause Tax Troubles," 2006, Minnesota Monitor
"Second IRS Violation Filed Against Living Word Christian Center and Pastor Mac Hammond," 2007, Minnesota Monitor
"CREW Alleges Living Word Paid for Pastor’s Stunt Plane," 2007, Minnesota Monitor
"Mac Hammond: “I would almost welcome an IRS audit”," 2007, Minnesota Monitor

A series of articles about prosperity gospel preacher Mac Hammond endorsing Rep. Michele Bachmann from the pulpit at his Living Word Christian Center led to an anonymous package from a whistleblower containing a series of documents revealing a sweetheart deal between church and pastor. The documents appeared to show that Hammond’s church bought him a jet which he then leased back to the church at a profit. The reporting led to two IRS complaints being filed against the church. The lawsuit would go on to expose faulty systems at the IRS in its investigations of churches accused of violating tax exemption laws. Ten years later, the IRS still has not fixed its systems and does not investigate churches for violating prohibitions on electioneering, a fact the religious right exploits every year.