LAT’s Ken Bensinger and Ralph Vartabedian Are Finalists for Michael Kelly Award for Toyota Scoop

LAT’s Ken Bensinger and Ralph Vartabedian were browbeaten by Toyota’s PR machine (also equipped with faulty breaks) while investigating the large number of accidents in certain models. Eventually the story became unstoppable and it was followed by a huge recall. But the life-saving fixes started with the investigative chops of Bensinger and Vartabedian.

Anyway, they are nominated for the the Michael Kelly award. We predict its the first of many. Congrats!

Release in full:



Los Angeles Times, ProPublica and New York Times Writers Lauded for Pursuit of Truth in Journalism

Washington, D.C. – Celebrating the fearless pursuit and expression of truth in journalism, the Atlantic Media Company announces four finalists for the 7th annual Michael Kelly Awards. The $25,000 award will be given at a ceremony at the company’s Washington, D.C. headquarters on April 18. The award was created in honor of Michael Kelly, who was the editor of two Atlantic Media publications, The Atlantic and National Journal and was killed while covering the war in Iraq in 2003.

Chosen from a field of 50 entries, the finalists for the 2010 Michael Kelly Award are:

Ken Bensinger and Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times

Based on five months of tenacious reporting, Ken Bensinger and Ralph Vartabedian of the Los Angeles Times chronicled the problem of unintended acceleration in Toyotas. The two reporters methodically compiled a body of work that challenged Toyota’s explanation that the acceleration problems were caused by a glitch involving floor mats. Although their work was repeatedly disparaged by Toyota, it consistently was proven to be on target and helped prod the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to take actions it had resisted for years. As Los Angeles Times Editor Russell W. Stanton wrote in his nomination letter, Bensinger and Vartabedian “challenged assumptions, developed their own evidence and built a compelling case of corporate malfeasance and regulatory indulgence.”

Sheri Fink, ProPublica

Who should be saved first when disaster strikes? That’s the question that doctors and nurses at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans faced in the harrowing days after Hurricane Katrina when scores of patients were trapped in a building without electricity or running water. In “The Deadly Choices at Memorial,” ProPublica writer and medical doctor Sheri Fink reconstructed the decisions that resulted in some patients being injected with lethal doses of morphine as others were boarded onto rescue helicopters. As a result of her two-year investigation, published in The New York Times Magazine, Fink informed the state and national debate over instituting medical guidelines on dealing with shortages of life-saving resources in the event of a disaster.

Jeffrey Gettleman, The New York Times

As the East Africa correspondent for The New York Times, Jeffrey Gettleman has tracked the spread of Islamic radicalism, interviewed pirate bosses in Somalia (one of whom laughed that their lunch together was like “the cat eating with the mice”) and described how mass rape of women and men has become a weapon of war in eastern Congo. He’s been shot at by insurgents and dealt with the constant risk that his reporting will put him in harm’s way. “The Gettleman method,” Jack Shafer wrote in Slate, “is to play it straight and direct, easy on the cynicism, and without a hint of any world weariness.”

David Rohde, The New York Times

In a riveting five=part series in The New York Times, David Rohde described how he and two Afghan colleagues were kidnapped by the Taliban outside Kabul and held for seven months before he and one of his colleagues escaped on foot to a Pakistani military base. Rohde was initially reluctant to write about his experience, telling his editors, “I don’t want to make myself look like a hero. I am not a hero.” But he bravely used his captivity to illuminate the world about the minds of terrorists who repeatedly threatened to behead him and to provide insights into what Rohde termed a “Taliban mini-state” in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Five judges comprised this year’s Michael Kelly Award selection panel:

Ken Armstrong, The Seattle Times

Siobhan Gorman, The Wall Street Journal

Charlie Green, National Journal

Kathy Kiely, USA Today

Cullen Murphy, Vanity Fair

For additional information, including full entries and past winners, please visit

Atlantic Media Company is a Washington, D.C.-based publishing company whose flagship properties include The Atlantic, National Journal, and Government Executive.

CORRECTION: Our first post said that Bensinger and Vartabedian won. They are in fact at this point nominated. Yes, we jumped the gun.