Duff Wilson is an investigative reporter with Reuters in New York and previously with The New York Times and The Seattle Times
Wilson is the first two-time winner of the Harvard University Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting. He has also been honored with two George Polk Awards, for medical and local reporting, and a Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism, among more than 30 national and regional journalism awards. He was three times a Pulitzer finalist, for Breaking News Reporting, Investigative Reporting and Public Service. Wilson has also received public-service awards from both the Associated Press Managing Editors and The Newspaper Guild.
Wilson is teaching investigative journalism skills as an adjunct professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.
Wilson's nonfiction book, Fateful Harvest: The True Story of a Small Town, a Global Industry, and a Toxic Secret (HarperCollins, Sept. 4, 2001), won book-of-the-year honors from the national group Investigative Reporters and Editors. Fateful Harvest
He has also contributed to three journalism books, including the second-most-used university text, News Writing and Reporting for Today's Media (McGraw-Hill).
Wilson’s 2015 investigation with John Shiffman into the preventable deaths of 110 drug-affected newborns, “Helpless & Hooked,” resulted in new federal legislation to help the babies and their families. President Obama signed the new law in July 2016 as part of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, although the Administration complained that Congress needed to appropriate more money, too. The series prompted a House inquiry. A GAO report is pending on Reuters’ finding that most states were ignoring a federal mandate to protect the newborns and help their families. Helpless & Hooked: The most vulnerable victims of America’s opioid epidemic
Wilson teamed with Ryan McNeill and Deborah Nelson in a 2014 investigation, “Water’s Edge: The crisis of rising sea levels”, exposing what is actually happening, rather than debatable projections, and the government’s flailing, sometimes counterproductive, response. It was honored with awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, Society of Business Editors and Writers, and National Academies of Sciences. Water’s Edge
Wilson's first project for Reuters, "Special Report: How Washington went soft on childhood obesity" and video report (April 27, 2012), with Janet Roberts, showed how the food and beverage industries have never lost a significant political battle in the United States despite mounting evidence of the role of unhealthy food and children's marketing in obesity. The investigation led to Wilson’s appearances in the award-winning documentary film “Fed Up”.
Wilson joined the new Reuters global enterprise team in January 2012. Previously, he covered the pharmaceutical and tobacco industries for the business news department of The New York Times from 2008 to 2012. The beat allowed a variety of news, enterprise and investigative reporting. Wilson covered health care reform and landmark tobacco legislation in Congress. Among many stories, he reported pharmaceutical companies raised prices the most in decades shortly before congressional action to rein in medical costs. He disclosed that low-income children are four times as likely as privately insured children to be put on antipsychotic medicines. "Child's Ordeal Shows Risks of Psychosis Drugs" and accompanying video profiled a boy who was wrongly put on them at 18 months of age. "Harvard Medical School in Ethics Quandry" revealed conflicts of interest at the venerable institution. "Cigarette Companies in Global Fight on Tougher Rules" explored overseas marketing by tobacco companies and their tactics to fight countries that seek to regulate them.
Wilson joined The New York Times in June 2004 to investigate sports issues. He has reported extensively on steroid scandals, including those involving Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Maurice Greene, Marion Jones and Trevor Graham. A 2008 investigation revealed a major steroid distributor's interaction with 12 athletes who won a combined 26 Olympic medals, including Maurice Greene. Wilson also exposed, with Pete Thamel, a system of high school diploma mills, resulting in NCAA reforms and State of Florida actions; uncovered false statements in biographical statements and a resume given Congress by the medical advisor to Major League Baseball; wrote, with John Eligon, about fraudulent medical examinations of boxers; disclosed ethics charges against the doctor leading a global "anti-aging" organization; and covered in depth the disproved sexual offense case against Duke University lacrosse players.
Wilson had worked as an investigative projects reporter for The Seattle Times since 1989 and, before that, worked for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Associated Press. He is a 1982 graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.
Susan Kelleher and Wilson wrote a series "Suddenly Sick" showing how pharmaceutical companies placed favored doctors in key position to influence the very definition of disease, resulting in millions more Americans considering themselves sick and being sold expensive drugs they may not need. The series won the 2005 national reporting award from the Association of Health Care Journalists. Suddenly Sick
Wilson collaborated with Seattle Times art critic Sheila Farr and intern Brian Joseph on the investigative series, "The Art of Deception", exposing a prominent gallery and website for selling fake Chinese antiques with false laboratory certifications. The gallery and website were secretly owned by a famous Chinese economist. The Sunday the story was published, the gallery closed permanently; the next day, the Federal Trade Commission and state attorney general launched investigations. This work earned the 2003 George Polk Award for Local Reporting. The Art of Deception
He was a lead reporter in 2002 staff coverage of the Washington, D.C., sniper suspects, recognized as among the best spot news reporting in the nation.
Wilson wrote "Uninformed Consent: What patients at 'The Hutch' weren't told about the experiments in which they died" with Times staff reporter David Heath in 2001. This 25,000-word series led to additional national debate on patient rights, in-depth study and adoption of reforms including the toughest conflict-of-interest rules in the nation, passed by the Board of Trustees at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and lawsuits against the Hutch by survivors of 13 patients who died. The survivors lost the suits in King County (Wash.) Superior Court. Uninformed Consent
Wilson's 1997 articles, "Fear in the Fields: How hazardous wastes become fertilizer," exposed a growing, nationwide practice of recycling hazardous wastes into fertilizer. It was perfectly legal, and saved industries millions of dollars in disposal costs, yet few farmers or consumers knew about it. The articles detailed the dangerous lack of standards, testing or disclosure of toxic metals and dioxins in fertilizer in this country. Several states, the EPA, a national regulators group and industry responded with further testing or legislation. Fear in the Fields
Wilson's reporting in 1996 on a record number of children dying under the care of state Child Protective Services led to reforms that will help prevent future child deaths. Both houses of the legislature unanimously passed a law to make more information public when a child dies in state care. The governor set aside $1 million for a statewide system of child death reviews. Other newspapers have followed Wilson's blueprint in this reporting.
In 1995, Wilson and Times staff reporter Eric Nalder investigated the Seattle Fire Department, chronicling 24 mistakes in responding to a warehouse fire that resulted in four firefighter deaths. The newspaper's findings were reinforced by two professional reviews that followed, and city officials bought new equipment, boosted safety procedures, and settled lawsuits out-of-court.
In 1994, Wilson disclosed the deaths of four babies over six years in a single Seattle foster home, all attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The odds of four such unexplained deaths by unrelated children in one home were astronomical. The work led to the firing of a foster-care chief, reprimanding a caseworker, writing new performance standards, and proposing $19 million in new spending to make foster care safer for children. The foster parents lost their license, but due to lack of evidence, were not charged with a crime.
Wilson uncovered business conflicts of interest affecting decisions by the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, which controls the nation's largest fishery, off the coast of Alaska. That 1990 work led to changes in Congress including more openness and non-industry members on the group.
Wilson broke the 1989 story about then-U.S. Senator Brock Adam's sexual assault on an aide in Congress, one of the first of what became a genre. Adams eventually dropped out of a re-election campaign because of the aide's and other allegations of sexual assault, for which he was never prosecuted.
A King County Superior Court judge committed suicide on the eve of a 1988 story detailing his pedophilia as a teacher and judge. Wilson's investigative articles sparked a subpoena showdown between the legislative and judicial branches of state government, a state constitutional amendment by the legislature and voters to open up the process of disciplining judges, and self-examination by the media that had failed to report the story earlier.
Wilson's series of articles on Seattle Municipal Court, "A Court in Crisis," led the Seattle City Council to increasing the numbers of judges and prosecutors. His series "Trust Betrayed" with Nancy Montgomery and Elizabeth Rhodes raised the profile of domestic violence issues. His articles on FAA inspectors awarding each other credentials to fly bigger and bigger jets caused three of them to be fired by a major airline. His computer-assisted articles on school bus drivers without driving licenses led to one firing, three suspensions, and improved screening for bus drivers.
Wilson speaks often to professional and university groups. He has written public records guides for two newspapers. He was profiled in the May/June 2001 Columbia Journalism Review. He is a member of the board of directors, executive committee and conference committee of the nonprofit group Investigative Reporters and Editors and volunteer webmaster of the Reporter's Desktop at http://www.reporter.org/desktop. That web page features “Who is John Doe – and where to get the paper on him” at http://www.reporter.org/desktop/tips/johndoe.htm.
Wilson is a 1976 graduate of Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., and a 1982 graduate of the Columbia University master's program. His brother, Scott, publishes a weekly newspaper in Washington State, as did their parents, Bruce and Merilynn Wilson. Duff lives in New York City, where his daughter, Lana, a documentary film maker, Performa arts curator and Wesleyan University graduate in film and dance, works. His son, Grant, recently graduated from Lewis and Clark College School of Law in Portland, Oregon, consistently rated among the best environmental law programs in the United States, specializing in international environmental law.
National journalism awards:
- 2015 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine award, Online (with Deborah Nelson, Ryan McNeill, Bill Tarrant and Alister Doyle)
- 2014 Sigma Delta Chi/Society of Professional Journalists Non-Deadline Reporting Award (with colleagues)
- 2014 Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW), Best-in Business, News Agencies Explanatory Award (with colleagues)
- 2012 (May) Sidney Hillman Foundation Award (with Janet Roberts)