For his powerful series exposing how a team of elite combat Marines were wrongfully accused of war crimes and the truth buried for political expediency, Military Times senior editor Andrew deGrandpre has been awarded the prestigious Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation's Journalism Prize for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense.
"Task Force Violent: The unforgiven," a five-part series, details the ordeal endured by the special operations Marines of Fox Company who bravely fought to survive an enemy suicide attack and ambush only to be accused of recklessly gunning down innocent Afghan civilians — and then betrayed by their superiors and the service they loved.
The firefight drew immediate attention from local journalists stringing for major wire services. In the days ahead, the story that developed left little doubt the men of Fox Company — they called themselves Task Force Violent — were rogue cowboys whose own leaders banned them from the war zone and sought to see them imprisoned. They were branded war criminals well before the facts were established.
Photo Credit: Alan Lessig/Staff
As deGrandpre's reporting showed — he pored over hundreds of pages of previously classified reports and interviewed more than two dozen people — the Marine commandos exhibited valor and discipline on the battlefield. Though they ultimately were cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, the media had moved on and Marine Corps leadership did nothing to correct public understanding of the incident.
"The investigative stories by Mr. deGrandpre," the judges wrote, "explored the blurred lines between reality, perception, accusation, and missteps in the rush to judgment that characterize military operations today. … The issue of crimes against innocent civilians by U.S. military forces had become so politically charged that any accusation was given full credence before the facts were known. Mr. deGrandpre's dogged reporting offers a balanced account of the myriad factors contributing to the breakdown of the system and provides a vehicle to restore honor to the Marines of Task Force Violent. In the full reporting of this often tense subject, Military Times has documented and examined the complex paradoxes that define our own military times."
The Ford Foundation makes two annual awards for journalism, one for reporting on defense and one for reporting on the presidency. Reporter Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post was named the winner of the 2015 prize for coverage of the presidency.
A runner-up award for reporting on national defense was given to a team of journalists that included Mike Hixenbaugh of The Virginian-Pilot, Cynthia McFadden and Anna Schecter of NBC News, Jason Paladino of the U.C. Berkeley investigative reporting program.
The awards will be presented June 6 at the Ford Foundation's annual dinner in Grand Rapids, Michigan.