Shades of Mercy
Dafna Linzer & Jennifer LaFleur
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ProPublica’s in-depth investigation of racial disparities in America’s presidential pardon system
Over the past decade, presidential pardons have been four times more likely to favor whites, regardless of the type and severity of the crime committed. Applicants with connections to the United States Congress are also more likely to receive a pardon, despite 2001 reforms designed to minimize the impact of political influence on awards of clemency. In this yearlong investigation, ProPublica reporters Dafna Linzer and Jennifer LaFleur drew from hundreds of interviews with former White House counsels and pardon attorneys from the past five administrations, as well as from official documents including pardon applications and internal Justice Department memos. These sources, along with tables, graphs, and other exhibits, reveal a disturbing pattern in how and why pardons have—and have not—been awarded.
This reporting has already been honored as a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for investigative reporting from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.ProPublica won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting in 2010 and for National Reporting in 2011. ProPublica reporters have also won George Polk, Overseas Press Club, Online Journalism, Investigative Editors & Reporters, Edward R. Murrow, and Dart Center awards.
Dafna Linzer is a senior reporter at ProPublica. ProPublica’s coverage of the Guantánamo Bay detention center during the Obama presidency won her the 2010 Overseas Press Club award for General Excellence and received honorable mention for the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel award. She was a national security reporter for the Washington Post, covering intelligence and nonproliferation, from 2004 to 2008. Her coverage of the Iranian nuclear issue won the United Nations 2005 Gold Medal for international reporting. Before joining the Post, she spent ten years as a foreign correspondent for Associated Press. Based in Jerusalem, New York, and the United Nations, she reported from more than a dozen countries covering terrorism, nonproliferation, and conflict. Jennifer LaFleur is ProPublica’s director of computer-assisted reporting (CAR). She was CAR editor starting in 2003 for the Dallas Morning News, where she worked on the investigative team. She has directed CAR at the San Jose Mercury News and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and was Investigative Reporters & Editors’ first training director. She has won awards for her coverage of disability, legal, and open government issues. LaFleur is the co-author of IRE’s Mapping for Stories: A Computer-Assisted Reporting Guide.