April 2014 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

April 2014

Sidney's Picks: Opera, Sweatshops, and Tom Lehrer

The Best of the Week’s News

  • Labor foment at the Metropolitan.


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Miami Herald Wins April Sidney for "Innocents Lost"

Carol Marbin Miller and Audra D.S. Burch of the Miami Herald win the April Sidney Award for “Innocents Lost”, an investigative multi-media package profiling some 477 Florida children who died after the state’s child protection authorities investigated their families for abuse or neglect but failed to take them into care.

Marbin Miller and Burch collected the death reports on each child who died of confirmed abuse or neglect within five years of Florida’s Department of Children and Families finding maltreatment in the home during a prior investigation, from 2008 onwards. They found that deaths had skyrockedted since the state implemented slashed funding for child protection in the name of “family preservation.” The reporters also found that DCF was low-balling the number of child deaths with priors they reported to the state legislature by as many as 39 cases a year.  

Get the Backstory.

#Sidney's Picks: Twilight of the Vulture Funds?, IRE Awards, and More

  • Hobby Lobby claims to have a sincere religious belief that IUDs and emergency contraception are wrong, but the company’s retirement plan invests in the makers of those products.
  • 13 people die because of faulty G.M. parts, and G.M. gives the cold shoulder to their families.


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Judge Dismisses Murder Charge in Stillbirth Case

A judge dismissed a “depraved heart” murder charge against a Mississippi woman who delivered a stillborn baby and positive for a metabolite of cocaine. Rennie Gibbs was 16 years old when she delivered her stillborn child in 2006. There was never any evidence that drugs caused the demise of the fetus, which was born with the cord wrapped around its neck. 

The judge dismissed the case on a legal technicality:

[Lowndes County Circuit Court Judge Jim] Kitchens dismissed the charge against Gibbs Wednesday. Citing Mississippi Supreme Court case Buckhalter v. State, he said the law was unclear on the appropriate charge for Gibbs.

“Gibbs was indicted prior to Buckhalter and the law was unclear in Mississippi as to the appropriate charge, if any, to be levied when a pregnant woman allegedly consumed illegal drugs and allegedly caused the death of her unborn child,” Kitchens ruling stated.

He added, “Accordingly, pursuant to the Mississippi Supreme Court’s ruling this case for depraved heart murder is dismissed without prejudice.” [CD]

Nina Martin of ProPublica and the other reporters who kept this case in the spotlight probably had a lot to do with justice finally being served, at least for the time being. 

The prosecutor has pledged to send the case back to a grand jury in August. 

Hobby Lobby Invested in the Manufacturers of Contraceptives it Claims to Oppose

A great scoop from Molly Reden of Mother Jones:

When Obamacare compelled businesses to include emergency contraception in employee health care plans, Hobby Lobby, a national chain of craft stores, fought the law all the way to the Supreme Court. The Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, the company’s owners argued, forced them to violate their religious beliefs. But while it was suing the government, Hobby Lobby spent millions of dollars on an employee retirement plan that invested in the manufacturers of the same contraceptive products the firm’s owners cite in their lawsuit.

Documents filed with the Department of Labor and dated December 2012—three months after the company’s owners filed their lawsuit—show that the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions. Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to this company-sponsored 401(k).

So much for Hobby Lobby’s sincerely held religious belief that IUDs and emergency contraception are forms of abortion and therefore contrary to its religion. 


[Image Credit: “Copper IUD, Mechanisms of Action,” MIT Open Courseware, Creative Commons.]