Legion distributes 2017 Fourth Estate awards

A television station and two daily newspapers received The American Legion’s Fourth Estate Award during the 99th National Convention in Reno, Nev., on Aug. 24.

The Fourth Estate Award has been presented annually by the Legion since 1958 for outstanding achievement in the field of journalism. Nominations in 2017 were considered in three categories: broadcast, print and new media (Internet).

Taking top honor in the broadcast category was San Francisco Fox affiliate KTVU. In an investigative series titled "Mental Hospital Hell," the station revealed horrific conditions inside the John George Psychiatric Hospital in Alameda County, Calif. The report aired hidden video footage of patients sleeping and eating on the floor, with some of them moaning and crying for help in the overcrowded facility.  The stories triggered major policy and staffing changes at the hospital, including the hiring of more doctors and nurses and the resignation of the hospital’s director.

The Arizona Republic was recognized in the print category for its six-month project that examined health-care reforms and improvements for America’s veterans more than two years after it broke the initial story exposing a crisis of care, access and accountability at the VA Medical Center in Phoenix. The 2016 series included profiles of VA medical facilities across the nation.  Scores of patients, VA employees, veterans advocates, administrators, policymakers and politicians were interviewed.

For its series "Gone," the (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger was recognized as best in the new media category. Reporter Jerry Mitchell helped bring suspected serial killer Felix Vail to justice thanks to his dogged reporting and exhaustive investigation. Mitchell’s narrative was displayed on a compelling website developed by Shawn Sullivan and helped launch an online documentary by Steve Elfers, which revealed evidence that Vail had murdered his first wife in 1962. His August 2016 murder trial marked the oldest conviction of a suspected serial killer in U.S. history.