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    Pulitzer Prize Winner Scott Higham Visits Stony Brook

    “If your lucky enough, you can be a witness to history,” said Scott Higham, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, to a crowded room of eager journalists. The room overflowed to the hallways as students wedged between one another and found makeshift seats on the floor.

    Higham, a reporter on the Washington Post’s investigative staff and a graduate of Stony Brook University, was the last speaker for the School of Journalism’s “My Life As?” lecture series. His lecture, entitled “My Life as an Investigative Reporter,” chronicles his life as a young, poor journalist scrapping for money to an award winning investigative reporter.

    He started off with part-time work at the New York Times. “I couldn’t make ends meet,” Higham recalled of his earlier experience. “Living at my parent’s house?I was having a hard time finding full-time work,” he said.

    “Howie saved my life,” Higham continued, referring to Dean Howard Schneider, who was his journalism professor at the time. At Newsday, Higham experienced the closeness of the newsroom culture. He fondly mentioned his time there as being part of a family of “misfits.”

    From the beginning, Higham wanted to “make an impact,” and this led him to his future career as an investigative journalist.

    Before working at the Washington post, Higham worked at several different newspapers including the Baltimore Sun, the Miami Herald and the Allentown Morning Call. Each newspaper provided a different experience for him that cumulated in a stronger dedication to investigative reporting.

    While at the Baltimore Sun Higham covered a story steeped with corruption and intrigue. Large sums of money, police corruption, prostitution and the red light district are just a few of the elements that Higham encountered while covering this story; he went to parties, strip joints and bars. Higham’s work with another reporter, Walter F. Roche Jr., led to the expulsion of a state senator from the Maryland General Assembly – the first expulsion in 200 years.

    It was “one of the greatest moments in [my] career,” Higham said, referring to a governor’s press conference denouncing his work.

    Higham is also widely known for his investigation of the negligence of Washington D.C.’s officials that resulted in the deaths of over 40 children in the span of ten years. With two other reporters from the Washington Post, Sari Horwitz and Sarah Cohen, Higham wrote a series of articles chronicling the negligence of social workers, police officers, doctors, judges and other members associated with D.C. child protection. They were “arrogant mistakes,” he said.

    His articles led to a national outcry that resulted in a transformation of the D.C. child protection services. Dozens of workers involved in the deaths were fired and the system was revamped. This series also led him to the 2002 Pulitzer Prize and the 2002 Robert F. Kennedy grand prize for reporting on the disadvantaged.

    In 2005, Higham was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize with a series of articles on the treatment of detainees held at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He recalled the process of accessing the documents involved in the case as similar to the work of a salesman. He would “always be calling.” When Higham finally gained access to the necessary documents, it was, as he described, “nauseating.”

    He continued by saying he uncovered some “really disgusting photographs” where national guardsman “smeared feces on faces, put panties on heads, and were masturbating over detainees.”

    Higham’s expose on Abu Ghraib led to a litany of threats where he received “some of the most disgusting emails in my life,” threatening bodily harm such as being beaten up, beheaded and hanged. He was accused of betraying his country. However, he also remembered the emails that thanked him and called his articles “a public service.”

    Near the end of the lecture during the Q ‘ A session, one student asked about the emotional ramifications of being an investigative journalist covering such intense subjects. Higham responded with, “You can’t help it. [There is] a certain resonance.” He continued, “the impact of the emotional stuff comes after.” Higham remembered his investigation of the DC child negligence and how during the reporting, the impact of his work on behalf of the public kept his mind away from the horrors of the situation. “After is when it hits you,” Higham said as he remembered Brianna Blackmond, the 23-month-old foster child who died from severe blows to the head. Higham’s own child at the time was about the same age as Brianna.

    “People need to be held accountable,” he said.

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