Browse Reports

Photo of Spec. Jeremy Duncan in Walter Reed's Building 18.

"The Other Walter Reed" - Dana Priest and Anne Hull - Washington Post

The original Pulitzer-Prize-winning series by Washington Post reporters Anne Hull and Dana Priest about the poor conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Photo of someone who received care at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Referenced in Mark Benjamin's article, "Walter Reed Army Medical Center: Behind the Walls of Ward 54." Written for Salon.

Mark Benjamin's Walter Reed Exposé - Salon

A full two years before The Washington Post reported on Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Salon.com reporter Walter Benjamin published a series of articles on the hospital. While Washington Post reporters Anne Hull and Dana Priest won Pulitzers, Benjamin's work drew relatively little attention at the time.

"American Civilization Illustrated" - Mortimer Thomson, (Q.K. Philander Doesticks, P.B.) - New York Tribune

The popular humorist often used the undercover ruse in his work for The New York Tribune. In this instance, he posed as a client to visit a number of New York's purveyors of the "black arts" to expose their scams. The series preceded his pose as a slave buyer to cover the Butler auction in Savannah.
New York Tribune article titled, "John Brown's Invasion." Written by  Henry S. Olcott.

John Brown's Hanging - Henry S. Olcott - New York Tribune

Olcott volunteered to cover the hanging of John Brown for the New York Tribune when the newspaper's regular correspondent had to flee under threat of Southern ire at his dispatches. He posed as a member of the Petersburg Grays, one of the regiments sent to Charles Town to guard Brown's body.
Part one of James Redpath's "Facts of Slavery." Published in the New York Tribune.

"Facts of Slavery" - James Redpath - New York Tribune

Redpath inaugurated a "Facts of Slavery" column for the New York Tribune, curating slave sale information from the Southern press, and later went South to interview slaves so they could have a forum for relating their experiences in their own words. He later took jobs at Southern newspapers and surreptitiously sent reports back north in the guise of letters to relatives in Minnesota. They, in turn, under prior arrangement, forwarded the reports to editors.
A New York Tribune article written as part of the "The Witches of New-York" series by Mortimer Thomson.

"The Witches of New York" - Mortimer Thomson (Q.K. Philander Doesticks, P.B) - New York Tribune

The popular humorist and New York Tribune columnist used the undercover ruse often in his newspaper work. In this instance, he visited a number of New York purveyors of "the black arts" and exposed their cons.
New York Tribune article titled, "The Tahiti Carried No Slaves."

"Blackbirding" - The Slave System's Just-as-Evil Twin?

Journalists from the United States and Australia get inside the post-Civil War practice of recruiting Pacific Islanders to work the world's non-U.S. plantations on extended contracts of indenture.
The Leader article titled, "The Contributor: A Cruise in a Queensland Slaver." Written by George Morrison as part of his series.

"A Cruise in a Queensland Slaver" - George Morrison - The Age

George Morrison was a twenty-year-old Australian medical student looking for an adventurous diversion after failing his intermediate exam. He self-styled an assignment to see how the labor trade of Queensland worked in 1882, signing on to sail as an ordinary seaman aboard the Lavinia.Three months later, the ship returned from its "blackbirding" expedition with a new batch of recruits from the New Hebrides and Banks. Morrison wrote an eight-part travelogue for The Leader, and later, provided a more critical view for The Age. 
An article written as part of The Argus' series "The Kanaka Labour Traffic" by J.D. Melvin.

"The Kanaka Labor Traffic" - J.D. Melvin - The Argus

J.D. Melvin, at the behest of his editors at the Argus, gets a job as a supercargo aboard the Helena on a round-trip journey from Queensland to the Solomon Islands.  He observes and participates in the return of 60 workers at the completion of their work contracts, and the recruitment and transport of 90 new workers from the islands. 
Bly gets herself arrested to experience life for a woman in jail.

Jail Time Undercover

Reporters have worked as guards or gotten themselves arrested -- sometimes with the aid of authorities and sometimes without -- to investigate conditions inside prisons and jails.
Boston Globe article titled, "The First Day; Dignity Leaves and Fear Arrives." Written by Richard Stewart as part of his "Doing Time" series.

"Doing Time" - Richard H. Stewart - Boston Globe

Boston Globe reporter Richard H. Stewart spent six days in a Salem jail on a staged drunk driving conviction and wrote about his stay in a five-part-series called "Doing Time." In it, he describes everything from the conditions pf the facilities, the feeling of being confined to a cell for 13 hours a day and even the revealing and often emotional group alcohol counselling sessions he was required to attend as part of his sentence. The series ran almost as a cautionary tale during the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve.  
San Francisco Chronicle article titled, "Sex Fear Among the Cons." Written by Tim Findley as part of the "Behind Prison Bars" series.

"Behind Prison Bars" - Tim Findley & Charles Howe - San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco Chronicle prisons investigation involving undercover as a prisoner by Tim Findley and as a guard by Charles Howe.

"The Convicted" - R.H. Ring's and John S. Long - Arizona Daily Star

Arizona Daily Star reporter R.H. Ring spent 10 days posing as a maximum-security convict at Arizona's Florence State Penitentiary. Very few people in the prison system knew of his stay, not even Florence's warden.
First New York World Telegram and Sun article written as part of Michael Mok's series, "I Was A Mental Patient At Kings County."

"I Was a Mental Patient" - Michael Mok - New York World-Telegram & Sun

One of a number of high-impact undercover investigations undertaken by the New York World Telegram & Sun in the 1960s, including Woody Klein's worst tenement series, Dale Wright's migrant workers series, and George N. Allen's Undercover Teacher. Mok's series won the prestigious Albert Lasker Medical Journalism Award and the Heywood Broun Memorial Award.
San Francisco Examiner article titled, "A City's Disgrace." Written by Annie Laurie.

Hospitals and Clinics Undercover

Journalists have devised any number of ruses to get inside hospitals and clinics --  as patients or staff members.
Chicago Daily Times article titled, "Reporter's Experience at Kankakee." Written by Frank Smith as part of his series, "Seven Days in the Madhouse!"

"Seven Days in the Madhouse!" - Frank Smith - Chicago Daily Times

Frank Smith's series, under the editorship of Louis Ruppel at the Chicago Daily Times, got national attention and was, according to Time, a real circulation-builder for the newspaper.
Nashville Tennessean article titled, "Reporter Finds KKK a Growing Danger." Written by Jerry Thompson as part of his series, "My Life With the Klan."

"My Life With the Klan" - Jerry Thompson - Nashville Tennessean

Thompson's assignment was to create a new identity for himself, join "the new Klan," and spend a few months observing it from the inside. (In the newsroom, the cover story was that Thompson had gone into rehab.) That time undercover stretched into a year and a half. His work complemented a major series on the new Klan. As his editor, John Seigenthaler, wrote in the preface to the book that followed: "To get behind their pious platitudes and expose what they really stood for, it was necessary for Thompson to misrepresent who he was. Had there been any other way to expose the Klan, Thompson's underground role would not have been necessary."

Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle"

Sinclair's novel on immigrant life in the US is most famous for its description of the meatpacking industry. The author interviewed workers extensively and blended in at the plants to do his research over the course of more than a month.

Jack London's "People of the Abyss"

Jack London's first-hand account of life in London's East End, sleeping on the street or in work houses some of the time.
New York Daily News article titled, "Medicaid Probe - A Cold? Take 3 Doctors Every Hour." Written by William Sherman as part of a medicaid fraud investigation series.

Medicaid Probe - William Sherman - New York Daily News

A Pulitzer Prize winning series on medicaid fraud in New York.
San Francisco Chronicle article titled, "County Jails Exposed -- Story of Cruelty, Filth." Written by Pierre Salinger.

California Jails Expose - Pierre Salinger - San Francisco Chronicle

Pierre Salinger goes undercover in two California jails (with pre-arranged faux arrests) to investigate conditions throughout the state penal system, as part of a major series for the San Francisco Chronicle. Salinger also did a follow-up series. 
Buffalo Evening News article titled, "Penetrating Look at Costs, Cases Yielded by News' 6-Month Study." Written by Ed May as part of the "Our Costly Dilemma" series.

"Our Costly Dilemma" - Edgar (Ed) May - Buffalo Evening News

The series examines welfare inefficiencies - and the ease with which some who are not needy can take advantage of the aid - based on six months of reporting, including Ed May's three-month undercover stint as a welfare case worker in Erie County, New York. 
New York World Telegram and Sun article titled, '''Don't Let 'Em See You're Afraid,' Writer Told by School Official." Written as part of George N. Allen's "Undercover Teacher" series.

"Undercover Teacher" - George N. Allen - New York World Telegram & Sun

In this 16-part series, New York World-Telegram and Sun reporter George Allen reports on the two months he spent working as an English teacher at Brooklyn's John Marshall Junior High School in an effort to "report on a crime-ridden school from the inside." He was credentialed a few months earlier as part of the assignment and took three education courses to prepare at Columbia Teachers' College, where he earned a substitute teacher's license with a falsified employment history.
Chicago Sun-Times article titled, "Making a Killing in Michigan Av. Clinics." Written by Pamela Zekman and Pamela Warrick as part of the "Abortion Profiteers" series.

"The Abortion Profiteers" - Pamela Zekman, Pamela Warrick - Chicago Sun-Times

A five-month investigation, led by Pamela Zekman, into the Michigan Avenue "abortion profiteers," and their dangerous and unsavory, unsanitary practices, including performing the procedure regularly on women who were not pregnant.
Albuquerque Tribune article titled, "High School Revisited." Written by Leslie Linthicum as part of her "Undercover Students" series.

"Undercover Student" - Leslie Linthicum - Albuquerque Tribune

As a companion series to the paper's undercover teacher series, Leslie Linthicum, a twenty-four year-old reporter, posed as a high school student to examine the role of cliques, drugs, bureaucracy and other hidden everyday realities of a local high school."classmates."  
New York World Telegram and Sun article titled, "Lack of Inspection Brings Squalor." Written by Woody Klein as part of his "I Lived in a Slum" series.

"I Lived in a Slum" - Woody Klein - New York World Telegram & Sun

Reporter Woody Klein spends a month living in a New York City slum for a New York World Telegram & Sun series in 1959.
Washington Post article titled, "Female Homosexuality Prevalent." Written by Ben Bagdikian as part of the Shame of the Prisons series.

"The Shame of the Prisons"- Ben Bagdikian - Washington Post

The result of three months of reporting and a week undercover in a Pennsylvania prison, this series examines the conditions, challenges, and systematic culture of the US prison system. Stories focus on California, Washington DC, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania.
New York World Telegram and Sun article titled, "I Saw Human Shame as a Migrant Worker." Written by Dale Wright as part of the Forgotten People series.

"The Forgotten People" - Dale Wright - New York World Telegram & Sun

Reporter Dale Wright spent six months working on and off as a migrant worker along the Atlantic Seaboard for this series, which examines the conditions, exploitation, and legislation (and its effectiveness) of migrant laborer life.  ("The Forgotten People..A Report on Migrant Labor" by Dale Wright. Reprinted with the permission of the Estate of Dale Wright, c/o K.E. Wright-King ©1961, New York World-Telegram and Sun.)
Chicago Tribune article titled, "Filth and neglect bared at von Solbrig Hospital." Written by an Unsigned author for the Von Solbrig Task Force Report.

Von Solbrig Hospital - Task Force - Chicago Tribune

After hearing from a source that janitors, without washing, were sometimes used to move patients from surgery rooms to their beds, a  reporter poses as a janitor at Von Solbrig Hospital. The series, a Task Force investigation, also examines the institution's encouragement of unnecessary procedures for welfare patients.
Chicago Tribune article titled,  "Men Of Mercy? Profit in Pain." Written by William Jones as part of the Private Ambulance Investigation.

Private Ambulance Firms Exposé - Task Force - Chicago Tribune

A six-part series with extensive follow-up reports and investigations into Chicago's private ambulance companies.  The firms named in this series all transported welfare and elderly patients, many profiting through the system. 
Washington Post article titled, "Drug Smuggling and Hot Goods: A Ride on Prison Visitors’ Buses." Written by Athelia Knight as part of the Lorton series.

"The Avenue to Lorton" - Athelia Knight - Washington Post

Althelia Knight visited Lorton Reformatory repeatedly to document the ease with which drugs were smuggled into the institution. The trip, about 1/2 hour, was usually undertaken in a van run by a private driver, usually operating without a permit. 

"Invisible Man: Undercover at a Greenwich Country Club" - Lawrence Otis Graham - New York Magazine

A Lawrence Otis Graham, an Ivy league-educated lawyer went undercover as a bus boy at a Greenwich country club, curious about why the club doesn't seem to have any African American members.
Washington Post article titled, "Exploring the World of the Urban Derelict." Written by Neil Henry in 1980.

"Down & Out" - Neil Henry - Washington Post

Washington Post reporter Neil Henry lived for two months as a bum in Baltimore then Washington D.C.. The series, titled "Down & Out," is written in the first person and consists of profiles of the people and places he encountered and accounts of the daily routines of the homeless.

"Enrique's Journey" - Sonia Nazario - Los Angeles Times

The six-part series follows the journey of a teenage boy, Enrique, from Honduras, through Mexico, and across the border into the United States to reunite with his mother. 
Chicago Tribune article titled, "Vote Machine Waste Told." Written by William Currie as part of the Task Force Vote Fraud Investigation.

Vote Fraud investigation - Task Force - Chicago Tribune

Tribune Investigative Task Force member William Mullen uncovered evidence of widespread election fraud in the March 21 presidential primaries in Chicago while working undercover as a clerk in the Chicago Board of Election Commissioner's City Hall office.

ACORN Investigation - James O'Keefe, Hannah Giles - Project Veritas

James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles posed as a pimp and a prostitute for an undercover camera investigation. Some low-level employees of the organization provided earnest answers to the pair's questions about avoiding detection and tax evasion, among other things.  Fox News and Andrew Breitbart's Biggovernment.com (which was launched with these videos) helped to push the story beyond conservative media outlets and draw attention to the pair's findings.  As a result, and after considerable media attention, ACORN was defunded by Congress.

Young Conservatives Investigate

The work of groups such as James O'Keefe's Project Veritas and Lila Rose's LiveAction and their undercover operations.

NPR Sting - James O'Keefe - Project Veritas

O'Keefe secretly recorded a conversation between NPR's Ron Schiller and two of O'Keefe's partners, posing as representatives of the "Muslim Education Action Center."  The video, which was later revealed to be heavily edited, contained a number of instances of Schiller allegedly calling the Tea Party racist and Islamophobic.  

Planned Parenthood Sting - Lila Rose and James O'Keefe

Lila Rose, with the help of James O'Keefe, has targeted Planned Parenthood for undercover video investigations multiple times, alleging that her work proves the organization's support of black genocide, tolerance of the sex slave trade, and other criminal and civil offenses. 

"Their Men in Washington" - Ken Silverstein - Harper's

In 2007, Ken Silverstein posed as a representative of a firm with stakes in improving the public image of Turkmenistan, and its dictatorial regime. Under this guise, with considerable deception, he met with D.C. lobbying firms who vied for his business. The results were a story that revealed a thread of depravity in everyday D.C. business.

"The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon" - W. T. Stead - Pall Mall Gazette

W.T. Stead's sensational undercover series on "white slavery," child prostitution in and exported from London, featured the work of two women posing undercover as prostitutes and the purchase, by Stead himself, of a 13-year-old girl.

"I Was a Negro in the South for 30 Days" - Ray Sprigle - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Ray Sprigle, a white reporter from Pittsburgh, goes undercover as a light-skinned black man in the deep south. 
NBC Dateline article titled, "To Catch a Predator: Dangers children face online." Worked on by Chris Hansen.

"To Catch A Predator" - Chris Hansen - NBC Dateline

Dateline NBC ran a controversial, popular series of hidden camera stings across the country exposing (and, eventually, facilitating the arrest of) adult men who solicit sex with minors online. NBC paid an advocate group called Perverted Justice to set up "decoy" meetings with men who initiated sexual conversations with people posing as underage girls and boys. The men would show up at a house filled with NBC cameras, host Chris Hansen, and, as the series progressed, decoy actresses and police waiting outside. Hansen would confront the man with the transcripts of chat conversations leading up to the meeting. Once the police began to collaborate with the Perverted Justice stings, the men would walk outside only to be immediately arrested.
Fritz Kuhn addressing an audience on the Fourth of July that included reporters William Mueller and John Metcalfe.

Home-Grown Nazis- John C. Metcalfe and James J. Metcalfe - Chicago Daily Times

The Times published two simultaneous reports of time spent undercover with US Nazi groups in 1937, before World War II. The reporters, brothers John C. and James J. Metcalfe, gained the trust of their "leaders," gaining information deliberately kept out of the public sphere by the group. The reports are accompanied by stories about events in Germany, nazi action in the US, and results of the Times reports themselves. Everything's published here in the original page layout, with multiple stories per entry.
Logo for the American Mercury magazine.

John Roy Carlson's "Undercover with Our Fascist Enemies Within"

John Ray Carlson is the pen name for Avedis Boghos Derounian.  His book, "Under Cover," and the American Mercury article "Our Fascist Enemies Within" were based on extensive research, a lot of it under cover, with a number of nazi sympathetic groups in the U.S.

Crusaders and Zealots: Undercover Among Clandestine Groups

A collection of undercover reportages focused on ideological and religious groups generally hidden from the public eye. 
Part 1 of W.H. Brommage's expose titled, "The Blackbird Cruise." Published in the San Francisco Chronicle.

"A Sale of Souls" - W.H. Brommage - San Francisco Chronicle (Blackbirding)

Brommage spent nearly six months aboard the Montserrat, documenting the voyage of a blackbirder leaving from San Francisco to recruit workers from the Gilbert Islands to work plantations in Guatemala on long-term contracts of indenture. The cover story for the journey was a shipment of coal picked up in British Columbia.  Unlike Melvin's series in the Argus, Brommage's account was full of nasty characters, shady to illegal business practices, abuse and danger. 
Photo of Merle Linda Wolin working undercover in the garment industry.

"Sweatshop" - Merle Linda Wolin - Los Angeles Herald-Examiner

Merle Linda Wolin, then the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner's first and only reporter covering Los Angeles's Hispanic community, went undercover as an undocumented sweatshop worker from Portuguese-speaking Brazil, under the name Merlina de Novais.  Over five weeks, she worked three different jobs, even though she had minimal sewing skills.  She spent the better part of a year reporting the story, including the court proceedings over a suit she brought against one of the employers who refused to pay her. 
The freight train Ted Conover rode for his piece, "A Morning with Pops."

Ted Conover's "Rolling Nowhere"

Conover spent four months living as a tramp, riding the rails, which ultimately became his first book, Rolling Nowhere. Research for the project began for his senior thesis, while still an undergrad at Amherst College, which has awarded him an honorary degree.
Huffington Post article titled, "The Fool on the Hill." Written by Craig Unger.

Tim LaHaye, George Bush, and the Religious Right: Craig Unger's undercover assignment for Vanity Fair

Unger, undercover on a tour group led by Tim LaHaye (co-author, the Left Behind series), travels the Holy Land with some of LaHaye's followers.  His reporting examines the connections George W. Bush, then in office, had to Religious Right leaders, and their influence on policy.  The pieces also look at the everyday experience of believers - because Unger did not reveal that he was a reporter on assignment (though he did say he was a writer from New York), he was, he believes, spoken too more freely than he would have been with full disclosure.
Heading of New York Compass article titled, "I Was a Part of the Bronx Slave Market." Written by Marvel Cooke.

"I Was Part of the Bronx Slave Market" - Marvel Cooke - New York Compass

In January 1950, Marvel Cooke, the first black and only woman reporter on the staff of The New York Compass, did a reprise of a series she had done for The Crisis in 1935 with Ella Baker -- the first time this method of employing women emerged. Cooke, alone this time, posed as a domestic worker seeking employment by the hour or for a day on a Bronx street corner, where women gathered to find some kind of employment to find out what working through the "slave mart" system meant for those forced into it.
Tony Horwitz posing as a worker in a poultry processing plant for his article,"9 to Nowhere -- These Six Growth Jobs Are Dull, Dead-End, Sometimes Dangerous."

"9 to Nowhere" - Tony Horwitz - Wall Street Journal

As part of an extensive Wall Street Journal report on dead-end jobs, Tony Horwitz posed as a worker in two poultry processing plants, in many ways the epitome of the "often-unseen harshness of low-wage work." The other two pieces in the Journal series, both available on the Pulitzer Prize site, do not involve undercover poses. Horwitz, however, has used the technique in previous efforts, both to investigate what was happening in the massage parlors of Fort Wayne, as a cub reporter in Indiana, here included, and to get around military restrictions during the Gulf War. He also has dressed to fit in while cultivating sources as he reported on Confederate re-enactment for his later books).
Image of Gloria Steinem going undercover as a Playboy bunny for her article "A Bunny's Tale."

"A Bunny's Tale" - Gloria Steinem - Show Magazine

Gloria Steinem's two-part series chronicling the eleven days she spent undercover as a Bunny in Hugh Hefner's New York Playboy Club in 1963.

"Working with the Working Woman" - Cornelia Stratton Parker - Harper's

Cornelia Stratton Parker engaged with low-wage earning women in six different jobs so she could "see the world through their eyes" and for the time being, close her own. Her six-part series appeared in Harper's Magazine between June and December of 1921 and as a book, published by Harper Brothers, the following year.
March 1903 cover of Everybody's Magazine. Featuring, "Toilers of the Home: A College Woman's Experience as a Domestic Servant," by Lillian Pettengill.

"Toilers of the Home" - Lillian Pettengill - Everybody's

After graduation from Mount Holyoke, Lillian Pettengill took jobs as a domestic servant to write about her experience in a four-part series for Everybody's Magazine, republished soon after as a book for Doubleday.

Anas Aremeyaw Anas: Ghana Undercover

Anas Aremeyaw Anas is Ghana's most globally recognized investigative reporter. His work, often in disguise, focuses on exposing corruption.
Image of Marie van Vorst posing undercover for the exposing series, "The Woman That Toils."

"The Woman Who Toils" - Bessie and Marie van Vorst - Everybody's

The sisters-in-law van Vorst made the circuit as ostensible factory girls from the pickle factories of Pittsburgh to the shoe factories of Lynn, Massachuetts and on to the cotton mills of North Carolina. Originally published in a series in Everybody's Magazine in 1902, it became a book, published by Doubleday, the following year. Their starting point was an unapologetic sense of superiority over the wage earners they spent months impersonating, living and working among. Reviewers were quick to point to this approach as both a plus and a minus. As for revelations, they reported on the surprising number of young women whose only reason for working in the factories was near folly -- to earn pocket money for clothes and leisure -- and how that had depressed wages and opportunity for women who needed the jobs to support themselves or their families.
Image accompanying William Hard's article "The Woman's Invasion." Written for Everybody's Magazine.

"The Woman's Invasion - Rheta Childe Dorr, William Hard - Everybody's Magazine

Dorr spent the better part of 1906 and 1907 under contract to Everybody's Magazine to witness and experience the feminization of the trades. She went undercover to work in the accounts division of a department store and as a commercial laundress and then in a number of factories across the country, including manufacturers of shirts, cakes and biscuits, and spun yarn. She struggled with writing for publication and was assigned a collaborator who overtook her command of the project. When the magazine advertised his byline alone for an upcoming series heralded as "The Woman's Invasion," Dorr threatened legal action and her byline was restored. "In the truest sense," she later said, "the articles were not mine."
Chicago Sun-Times article titled, -Our Bar Uncovers Payoffs, Tax Gyps." Written by Pamela Zekman and Zay N. Smith as part of the Mirage tavern sting series.

"The Mirage" - Pamela Zekman, Zay N. Smith - Chicago Sun Times

From the book jacket: "A tale of cold beer and hot graft, in which a team of investigative reporters ran a Chicago tavern to probe corruption-- and pulled off the greatest sting in the city's history." Mirage was the name of the pub and the focus of a 25-part series in the Chicago Sun-Times that, during the Pulitzer Prize deliberations of 1979, put undercover reporting under cloud.
Cover of the Nashville Tennessean featuring an image accompanying Nat Caldwell's expose titled, "Reporter's Inside Story: Nursing Homes Crowded, Dirty."

"The Abandoned Generation" - Nat Caldwell - Nashville Tennessean

For the Nashville Tennessean in 1968, Nat Caldwell investigated Nashville's privately owned nursing homes in part by reporting above board and in part by posing as an elderly patient to spend a week at three of them.
Nellie Bly's article "Inside the Madhouse," written for The New York World in 1887.

Nellie Bly and Other Stunt Girls (and Boys) of the Late 1880s-Early 1900s

Bly was one of the most visible and attention-getting exponents of undercover reporting -- "stunt" or "detective" reporting, as this precursor of full-scale investigative work was known in her day -- though by no means the first or the only.
Part 1 of Emmeline Pendennis's article series "Where Can a Girl Alone in New York Find Assistance?" Written for the New York World in 1905.

"Where Can a Girl Alone in New York Find Assistance?" - Emmeline Pendennis - New York Evening World

Emmeline Pendennis, under the editorship of Charles Chapin at the New York Evening World, presented herself as Helen King, a young woman who had lost her bags and purse, to produce a series that explored what someone without means in New York City could do to get help.

"Crackdown on Quackery" - Life Magazine

Life Magazine outed a number of medical quacks in this expose, including Antone Dietemann, with a degree in sanitary engineering, was making on-the-spot diagnoses of illnesses "with a magic wand and an array of containers that hold various body tissues." A patient he diagnosed, Jackie Metcalfe, was actually an undercover agent for the state of California. Outside in a car, Life correspondent Joseph Bride made notes, hearing everything that transpired through a radio transmitter hidden in the agent's purse. Inside, Billy Ray, a photographer for the magazine, posed as the agent's husband to document the encounter. Life collaborated with officials in exchange for the right to publish the photographs.
Chicago Tribune article titled, "Abuses in Nursing Homes." Written as part of the nursing home exposé.

Nursing Home Exposé - Task Force - Chicago Tribune

Reporters, hired to work with phony references in nursing homes for the poor, uncover filthy conditions, unqualified employees (as evidenced by their own hiring), and undignified care of the elderly, often in the name of profit.
Heading of the FIRST Chicago Daily Times article Nell Nelson wrote as part of her series, "City Slave Girls."

"City Slave Girls" - Nell Nelson - Chicago Times [aka "White Slave Girls" - New York World]

Charles Chapin, editor of The Chicago Times, hired Nell Cusak to investigate female working conditions in Chicago's factories.  This 21-part series (published under the byline Nell Nelson) was based on the author's experience working undercover in several Chicago factories.  Nelson named specific factories and managers she encountered, detailing the working conditions after spending only a brief time in each factory. 
Ward referenced in Frank Sutherland's article, "Personal Experience: Central State Conditions Found Poor."

Central State Psychiatric Hospital Exposé - Frank Sutherland - Nashville Tennessean

Frank Sutherland spends a month at Central State Psychiatric Hospital in Nashville, exposing its inadequate condition. The newspaper first determined there was an empty bed before having him admitted, so as not to take up a needed place, and Sutherland left without notice, but the newspaper alerted authorities on his departure, so no police time would be spent searching for him.
'The World' newspaper article with graphic of crowded tenements.

Journalistic Acts of Race, Class, Ethnic and Gender Impersonation

Journalism that required costuming or even physical transformation by reporters reporting on racial, ethnic, gender or social groups not their own.
Journalist goes undercover to exploit the poor.

Homelessness, Down-and-Out, Broke

Among the most common of poses: journalists who elect to live as tramps, the homeless, or the abject poor.
New York Tribune article titled, "American Civilization Illustrated." Written by Q.K Philander Doesticks.

Antebellum Undercover

Redpath, Olcott, Richardson and Thomson all went South for the New York Tribune and produced reporting undercover in the run-up to the Civil War.

Experiments in Misery and Luxury - Stephen Crane - New York Press

Stephen Crane's "experiments" in luxury and misery for the New York Press. The poet John Berryman later described Crane's "misery" piece as one of his very finest.

"Dirty Work" - George Getschow - Wall Street Journal

Getschow lived and worked as an oil industry day laborer to expose conditions in the temporary "slave labor camps" throughout the Southwest.
This piece is provided for comparison purposes.

Other People's Work

Reporters encounter or inhabit the lives of very hard-laboring others.

Working with Migrants; Shadowing the Undocumented

Reporters have worked as migrant laborers and shadowed undocumented workers crossing the border into the United States.
Fort Wayne News-Sentinel article titled, "At Massage Parlors, Image Fits." Written by Tony Horwitz and Ellen Bugher.

Watchdogs in the Public Interest

Waste, fraud, graft, laxity, dilapidated conditions, corruption: Reporters have often used undercover tactics to investigate.

Infiltrating the Far Extremes

Journalists who infiltrated U.S.-based Nazi bunds, the Ku Klux Klan, the Gomorrah, and other secret societies and closed groups.

Education Undercover

Reporters have presented as teachers or students to get an inside view of what goes on in schools and colleges.
Photo of a slaughterhouse referenced in Charlie LeDuff's article titled, "At a Slaughterhouse, Some Things Never Die."

Undercover Along the Food Chain

Reporters have taken the undercover route from slaughterhouses and chicken- and pork-processing plants to fast-food chains and supermarkets to understand the system.

Ted Conover

Ted Conover's work revolves around immersion forays into a variety of subject areas, including America's hoboes, illegal immigration, prisons, Aspen, Colorado, and on the world's iconic roads.

"Food Lion" - Diane Sawyer - ABC/Prime Time Live

The broad outlines of what happened are well known: To verify reports from seventy different sources of unsanitary practices at Food Lion supermarkets, producers for the ABC newsmagazine Prime Time Live took jobs as supermarket workers and went to work with tiny concealed cameras turned on. The resulting broadcast aired November 5, 1992, replete with gross but powerful footage of employees in such questionable acts as redating expired meats and poultry, trimming pork with spoiled edges to repackage for longer sale, marinating chicken in water and liquid that hadn’t been changed for days, and slicing slimy turkey and coating it in barbecue sauce to resell as a gourmet special.  

Deep Encounters with Religious Groups

In efforts to get inside the fold, reporters have fellow-traveled with religious groups, posing as members or prospective recruits.

Edward R. Murrow's "Harvest of Shame" - CBS

Original "Harvest of Shame" documentary (not undercover but highly influential in subsequent efforts that involved the 'worked as' technique) and a follow-up fifty years later, both by CBS News.
Introduction to the Atlanta Constitution's six-part series on Georgia's lowest wage earners. The facsimiles come from a reprint of the series.

"The Underpaid and Under-Protected" - Chester Goolrick and Paul Lieberman - Atlanta Constitution

A six-part series involving reporters going undercover to work in the turpentine woods and as a motel maid as part of a deep examination of the underpaid worker in Georgia.
see excerpt

"The Accident Swindlers" - Pamela Zekman, Gene Mustain - Chicago Sun-Times and WLS-TV

The series was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and won a local Emmy award for WLS-TV. "Cashing in on crashes. "Thousands collect each year. They fake injuries and turn minor bump-and-bruise automobile accidents into an estimated $3 billion annual bonanza. "That is the accident swindle. It is masterminded by unscrupulous lawyers and ambulance chasers. They tell their clients how to fake pain. They are aided by crooked clinics and doctors eager to play along for profit. "During an eight-month investigation, reporters from the Sun-Times and WLS-TV (Channel 7) infiltrated the swindle and learned how it works. "With the cooperation of the Chicago Police Department and Allstate Insurance, reporters posed as victims of minor automobile accidents that never occurred. . . ." Editor Ralph Otwell described the project as having "documented the fraudulent legal and medical practices which add one-third higher premiums to every driver's insurance bill. "

Retirement Home Investigation - Dale Brazao, Moira Welsh - Toronto Star

Dale Brazao went undercover for the Toronto Star to investigate revolting, intolerable conditions at a local retirement home.

"Infanticide" - Unsigned - Chicago Daily Times

A 25-part Chicago Daily Times series about the abortion trade in Chicago in 1888 for which two reporters posed as a couple in search of these services.
Nellie Bly's article "What Becomes of Babies?" written for The New York World in 1887.

Exposing Predators

Across the world, journalists have used undercover techniques to expose individual predators and as well as major sex crime rings.
Headline and highlights of Nellie Bly's article "Behind Asylum Bars," written for The New York World in 1887.

"Behind Asylum Bars" and "Inside the Madhouse" - Nellie Bly - New York World

One of the best-remembered undercover investigations of all time. Nellie Bly feigns insanity to get herself committed to the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's (now Roosevelt) Island.
Rare, major CBS News "Sixty Minutes" investigation of stem cell hucksters abroad who claim to help those with illnesses for which there is no known cure. The program used hidden cameras and telecom to investigate.

Quacks, Thieves, Scam Artists and Hucksters

These are stings to expose scam artists, quacks and hucksters who prey on the needs or naivete of their customers, clients, or patients.

"Life as a Negro: Journey Into Shame" - John Howard Griffin - Sepia Magazine and "Black Like Me"

This 1960 series in the small circulation magazine, Sepia, became John Howard Griffin's best-selling book, Black Like Me.
The first chapter in the original serial that became Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle."

"The Jungle: A Story of Chicago" - Upton Sinclair - Appeal to Reason

Upton Sinclair's original serial version of "The Jungle," published in 1905 by the socialist newspaper, Appeal to Reason, edited and republished the following year by Doubleday after McMillan reneged. The newspaper serialized Sinclair's novel nearly week by week between February 25 and December 16, 1905 and offered the completion of the series in a special supplement that readers had to request separately. PDFs of the articles provided courtesy of Special Collections Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kansas.
Document titles; First-Hand Look at a San Fransisco High School

"Undercover Student" - Shann Nix - San Francisco Chronicle

In 1992, as part of The San Francisco Chronicle's reporting on the growing crisis in the public schools and the crippling effect of California state budget cuts on education, the newspaper decided "that readers needed to understand just how dramatically the budget crisis affects the kids."But it would be difficult. Classroom visitors would be greeted by proud teachers putting on their best stiff-upper-lip performances, shy students and administrators complaining loudly. "Either way, I would never be sure I was seeing the unvarnished truth and readers would not get the accurate picture they needed to see. George Washington High School Principal Al Vidal agreed . . . "
ABC Nightline sends an 82-year-old grandmother undercover to expose Medicare fraud in McAllen, Texas.

Medicare and Medicaid Fraud

Medicare and Medicaid fraud have been perennial reporting topics since the 1960s, often requiring undercover techniques to amass specific details.
Curtain-raiser and explanation for the undercover investigation of the Bloomingdale Lunatic Asylum by reporter Julius Chambers, to be published August 31, 1872.

Bloomingdale Asylum Exposé - Julius Chambers - The New York Tribune

As a reporter for the New York Tribune, Julius Chambers went undercover as a patient to investigate conditions at the Bloomingdale Asylum following reports of abuse at the institution.

Undercover Journalism Debated

Undercover journalism has been the subject of heated discussions, especially since the late 1970s, and whenever an undercover sting causes a stir.
The Hartford Courant's ombudsman takes issue with the newspaper's highly effective real estate discrimination investigation because of its use of deceptive tactics.

Real Estate Discrimination Investigation - Lyn Bixby, et. al. - Hartford Courant

The Hartford Courant's investigation of discriminatory real estate practices in Connecticut, involving reporters posed as prospective buyers in various neighborhoods. The investigation prompted a rebuttal from the newspaper's own ombudsman, Henry McNulty.

Lapses

These are examples of undercover reportage that were considered to have crossed ethical lines or that caused major legal wrangles.

Hidden Cameras at the Crossroads of Journalism, Ethics and the Law

A collection of essays discussing the use of hidden microphones and hidden cameras from a legal, ethical and journalistic perspective.
Kathleen "Kit" Coleman traveled overseas in 1892 to go undercover as a male to report for The Toronto Mail to discover what it was like to live in London's East End.

Kathleen "Kit" Black Coleman

Kit Coleman's series for the Toronto Daily Mail, cross-dressed as a tramp, reported from London's East End in 1892.
Albert Richardson's daily column "From Louisiana" in the New York Tribune.

"Pro-Slavery Rebellion: From Louisiana" - Albert D. Richardson - New York Tribune

Richardson went south for the Tribune in the last days before the Civil War and reported from Louisiana under an assumed identity and coding his reports (and relaying them through other offices) to get them safely back north.

Unique Exploits of Women Writers - New York World - March 16, 1890

The New York World featured four women writers in their Sunday, March 16, 1980 paper.

"Maid for a Month" - Jan Wong - Toronto Globe and Mail

Journalist Jan Wong changed her life for a month to see what it would be like to live with a minimum wage income. She left her husband for a month posing as a single mother and maid with two children living in a rented basement apartment.
Negative commentary on Nellie Bly's stint in the Asylum for Women on Blackwell's Island.

Nellie Bly of The New York World

A gathering of the undercover and experiential reporting of Elizabeth Cochrane, later Seaman, who wrote under the pen name of Nellie Bly.

Undercover in U.S. Political Campaigns

Going undercover as volunteers or invited guests has gotten reporters an inside look at some U.S. political campaigns. So has shadowing the candidates in their off-hours. 
Examination of the meaning behind Lewis Hine's photographs.

Photographers John L. Spivak and Lewis Hine

Photographers John L. Spivak and Lewis Hine captured some of the greatest moments in undercover exposes of child labor during the early 1900's.

The Jim West Investigation - Spokane Spokesman-Review

This is the Spokane Spokesman-Review's entire archive of articles related to its office misuse investigation of Mayor Jim West in 2005, dating from the initial revelations on May 5, 2005 through his historic ouster as mayor to the Department of Justice's investigation and decision not to press charges in February 17,2006.
Staff writer Betty Wells was a voluntarily committed patient for eight days at Larned State Hospital. No one at the hospital knew she was there to find out what life in a mental institution is like. This is the fifth of the six articles

"Trip Into Darkness" - Betty Wells - Wichita Eagle and Wichita Beacon

Wells had herself admitted to Larned State Hospital in Larned, Kansas, for an investigation of the Kansas mental health system. She stayed eight days and produced this February 1974 series for the Wichita Eagle and the Wichita Beacon.(Special thanks to Prof. Dan Close at Wichita State University for helping to unearth and then retrieve these pieces from the Eagle microfilm.)
First installment of Sachar's eight-part series on her year as an eighth-grade math teacher in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

"My Year as a Teacher" - Emily Sachar - Newsday and New York Newsday

Emily Sachar, an education reporter for New York Newsday, quit her job as a reporter and applied for and became a full-time teacher in the New York City school system for a year, after which she wrote a series of articles about the experience and then a book.
Part One in the Milwaukee Journal Sunday Magazine of Vivian S. Toy's multipart series, reporting on her time posing as a student in Milwaukee public schools.

"Scenes of Senior High" - Vivian S. Toy - Milwaukee Journal

The young reporter Vivian S. Toy's infiltration of a Milwaukee high school in her guise as a student resulted in this multipart series in 1986.

Investigating John Edwards' Affair

The National Enquirer conducted a submersion investigation revealing senator John Edwards' affair in 2008.
Garrett's description of how he experienced life on an actual budget of a nickel a day. His series ran in the Evening World in tandem with Catherine King's report on trying to get a job at a living wage in the city.

Living Poor - Charles Garrett and Catherine King - New York World

A New York Evening World series by Charles Garrett and Catherine King as they lived in total penury, looking for work, in New York City.
Wired's series on Evan Ratliff's attempt to vanish in the digital age, leaving his real identity behind and assuming a new one as a coast-to-coast search by readers ensues.

Vanishing in the Digital Age: Finding Evan Ratliff - Wired

A digital entry for the undercover annals.
Grace Halsell spends time in Ecuador to experience life with the viejos.

Grace Halsell

Grace Halsell went undercover to report under a number of ethnic and racial guises.
Dick Reavis poses as a carnival worker to expose—as he says—the truth about carnivals.

Dick J. Reavis

A collection of Dick J. Reavis' works pertaining to undercover journalism.
The Tribune reports on the experiences of a group of staffers who among them sponsor a total of 12 children through "four of the largest and best-known child sponsorship organizations - Save the Children, The Christian children's Fund, Children International and Childreach."

"The Miracle Merchants" - Graeme Zielinski, David Jackson, Lisa Anderson, Mike Dorning - Chicago Tribune

The Tribune reports on the experiences of a group of staffers who among them sponsor a total of 12 children through "four of the largest and best-known child sponsorship organizations - Save the Children, The Christian children's Fund, Children International and Childreach."

September 11, 2001 and Its Aftermath

September 11 spawned some special journalistic responses, including a volunteer pose as a garbage hauler.

Gary Hart and "the Monkey Business" - Jim McGee, Tom Fielder, James Savage - Miami Herald

The Miami Herald used surveillance journalism to reveal presidential candidate Gary Hart's affair with Donna Rice.
A new sheriff takes the place of John M. Short, who is suspended due to fraud.

Inside the Pasco County Sheriff's Department: A Special Report - St. Petersburg Times

In their Pulitzer Prize winning series, St. Petersburg Times writers Lucy Morgan and Jack Reed reveal the corruption within the Pasco County Sheriff's Department, starting with John M. Short.
An undercover Tribune reporter training to be an employee at a bill collection company sees the horrible way they treat people who owe money.

Bill Collectors - Task Force - Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Tribune's Task Force lead a six-week investigation working in eight debt collection agencies to compile this chronicle of the abuse debt collectors impose.
First of Task Force series on financial waste in county government.

Financial Waste in County Government - Task Force - Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Tribune's Task Force, composed of director George Bliss and reporters Philip Caputo, William Currie, William Jones, and Pamela Zekman, investigate the waste of money in county government in this eleven part series.

"Gateway to Gridlock" - Louise Kiernan, Andrew Zajac, Robert Manor, Evan Osnos, Andrew Martin, Laurie Cohen - Chicago Tribune

In this Pulitzer Prize winning series, Chicago Tribune Staff Writers reveal the issues behind the scenes at O'Hare International Airport and "why airport travel had gotten so bad." Although there is no explicit indication of the use of any subterfuge, which the Tribune no longer supports, informed readers had the sense that some of the information had to have been obtained without the professional affiliation of the reporters being known to staff.
BBC News explains how reporter Russell Sharp went undercover in the military.

Undercover in the British Army - Russell Sharp - BBC News (UK)

BBC reporter Russell Sharp went undercover in the British Army to investigate allegations of bullying by training instructors. He used a hidden camera to record his findings. A TV film, The Undercover Soldier, was made as a result.

"Exposé of Willowbrook State School" - Geraldo Rivera - WABC-TV

 The Willowbrook State school was a state funded institution for children with intellectual disabilities in Staten Island, New York from 1930 until 1983. The school was known to have poor conditions and questionable intentions. In 1972, Geraldo Rivera brought cameras into the school and exposed the conditions. 

Undercover Reporting and Journalism Ethics in the Literature

 Books (and more) that consider journalism ethics and also include significant discussion of undercover reporting.

Nursing Homes Undercover

From 1968 to present day, reporters have gone undercover to expose the corruption and mistreatment that occurs within nursing homes.
Headline and highlights of Nellie Bly's article "Behind Asylum Bars," written for The New York World in 1887.

Asylums Undercover

Since the 1870s, journalists have been posing as patients or attendants to expose horrid conditions and treatment inside mental hospitals. Nellie Bly, incidentally, was not the first. 
From the precede: "In order to find out at first hand the exact conditions under which girls work in the New York retail stores which serve a cheap class of trade, Miss Lauren Gilfillan, a recent graduate of Smith College, secured employment in two five-and-ten-cent stores. Here is the unembellished account of her experience. The Editor of THE FORUM believes that this is an important document because it faithfully portrays a situation which was all too common before the advent of the mystic symbol, NRA.

Lauren W. Gilfillan Among the Shop Girls and the Miners

 Lauren Gilfillan graduated from Smith College, found nothing when she went to New York in search of work as a writer and headed instead to the coal fields of Pittsburgh, during a strike and passed as the child of a miner. She wrote about it for Forum and Century and then turned her stories into a book, published by Viking.
Investigative reporters, Cameron McWhirter and Mike Gallagher expose Chiquita Brand in a series stemmed from voice mail messages from the brand.

The Chiquita Banana Exposé - The Cincinnati Enquirer

On May 3, 1998 The Cincinnati Enquirer released a series of illegitmate accusations regarding the rightfulness of the Chiquita Banana Brand. The allegations were apparently heard from voice mails from a Chiquita employee, and were used to exploit the company.

Depression-Era Undercover

 Experiencing life among the poverty-stricken and the down-and-out was a recurrent Depression-era theme, one Marvel Cooke reprised in the 1950. 
This CBS News documentary was originally shown November 30, 1961 and rebroadcast in 1963 and was an early use of the hidden camera in television documentary.

Slum-Dwelling

Undercover reporters experience and write about what it's like to live in a slum and adapt to the lifestyle for a period of time.
William Gaines discusses his experiences as an undercover reporter for the Chicago Tribune.

IRE Journal

"Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. is a grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of investigative reporting. IRE was formed in 1975 to create a forum in which journalists throughout the world could help each other by sharing story ideas, newsgathering techniques and news sources."

The Ivory Trade

Reporters go undercover in attempts to expose the harsh reality of the Ivory Trade.

Undercover in North Korea

Reporters go undercover in North Korea where journalism is a terrifying task.
Article titled: The Lobby King Returns

Uncloaking the Lobbyists

 Reporter efforts to get inside the world of lobbyists, both on Capitol Hill and in the statehouses.
Nellie Bly's article "Nellie Bly as a Mesmerist," written for The New York World in 1888. Complete with multiple visuals.

Other People's Work: Factories

Reporters going undercover as factory workers in order to expose awful working conditions from 1888 to present.

National Geographic's "Inside: Secret America"

"Investigative journalists Mariana van Zeller and Darren Foster take you inside the nation’s underground networks and to the heart of the most controversial issues. Using a combination of hidden camera techniques and exclusive access, they penetrate worlds rarely captured before." 

Among the Plutocrats

Infiltrations into the worlds of the wealthy and privileged.

Shane Bauer

Shane Bauer is known for his daring undercover exposes, including his four-month turn as a private prison guard. The story, for Mother Jones,  won the reporting category in the National Magazine Awards of 2017.
Female undercover reporter at business event.

The Presidents Club Scandal and Other Such Undercover Exposes

 An undercover investigation by the Financial Times of behavior toward hostesses at The Presidents Club's annual men-only charity event in London and reaction to the story.