Winner 1999

Singled Out


Singled Out is proof that local investigative reporting can have national impact. WAGA-TV’s investigation uncovered irrefutable evidence to substantiate claims that U.S. Customs inspectors at one of the nation’s largest airports were unfairly targeting minorities for unwarranted and invasive searches. Over a six-month period, reporter Dale Russell, executive producer Michael Carlin, producer Mindy Larcom, photographer Travis Shields and editor Robert Carr revealed that the clear majority of passengers singled out by inspectors for pat-downs, strip searches or x-rays were African Americans, and virtually all of them were innocent. In a dramatic illustration of the nature of racial profiling, WAGA-TV compared the behaviors of drug-sniffing dogs to that of U.S. Customs inspectors. Absent racial prejudice, the dogs simply “followed their noses” and had much higher success in identifying alleged drug smugglers than did the officers. The reports caught the attention of Congressman John Lewis, who initiated congressional hearings. Changes were made to U.S. Customs Service policies and criteria for inspections, including requirements for probable cause, the use of new technology to allow for non-invasive body searches, the necessity for supervisory oversight in the case of invasive searches and the right of airline passengers to make a telephone call when detained by customs officials. For intrepid and resourceful investigative reporting that was a catalyst for change, a Peabody Award goes to WAGA-TV, Atlanta.