Austin readers investigate the Molly Awards for the Texas Observer

We live in a golden age of investigative journalism.

Not just the renaissance of political reporting at the federal level. But in-depth articles and investigative packages cascading from newspapers such as the American-Statesman, as well as other local, regional and national media.

Jack Keyes and Syeda Hasan at the Molly Awards for the Texas Observer. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

THE LATEST: Texas day care operator’s lies exposed in child death trial.

The Molly Awards celebrate the some of the best work in this renewed civic era. At the same time, the semi-dressy affair at the Four Seasons Hotel Austin raises money for the nonprofit Texas Observer. Much of the attention every year goes to late namesake Molly Ivins, who edited the Observer before moving on to wider prominence at the New York TimesDallas Times Herald, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, syndicated columns and brainy, brawling books on politics.

The fact that an unabashedly liberal publication gives out these awards obscures the fact that the winning stories show no clear partisan or ideological favoritism. Abuse of power is abuse of power.

The top prize, for instance, went to Michael Grabell and Howard Berkes (ProPublica/NPR/The New Yorker) for reporting on the exploitation and abuse of undocumented workers in the chicken industry.

Honorable mentions were accorded Seth Freed Wessler (The Investigative Fund, The New York Times Magazine) for exposing a “floating Guantánamos” system of extrajudicial detention of fishermen by the U.S. Coast Guard way outside the usual patrol zones; and Nina Martin, Renee Montagne, Adriana Gallardo, Annie Waldman and Katherine Ellison (ProPublica/NPR) for their “Lost Mothers” series on the death rates of pregnant women in the U.S.

Now, once ceremonial beer steins are distributed, it’s time for red meat. This year’s frank, funny and at times outrageous speaker was Joan Walsh, national affairs correspondent for The Nation and a political contributor on CNN. She pulled no punches going after President Donald Trump and crew.

A nattily dressed young man in the elevator afterwards: “Oh, that was soooo nonpartisan!”

Me: “Agreed. But the awards really are. Corruption is corruption, no matter who commits it. Right?”