More awards for alum Brett Murphy’s (’16) landmark Supreme Court investigation

April 26, 2024

Closeup photo of a man with glasses and a light beard looking intently at the camera.

Brett Murphy

Following a string of high honors from the nation’s top investigative reporting competitions, alum Brett Murphy (’16), a reporter on ProPublica’s national desk, has won a 2023 George Polk Award as part of the team that revealed “secret, lavish and highly questionable gifts” that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has received for decades from wealthy benefactors.

Murphy’s reporting on the nation’s highest court also won the 2024 Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting for exposing “the most serious ethical scandal in the modern history of the U.S. Supreme Court,” won the 2023 Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) Award in the Print/Online – Division I category and the IRE Medal for remarkable impact and accomplishment. He is a finalist for excellence in national reporting in the 2024 Livingston Awards, which honor the best reporting and storytelling by young journalists and was a finalist for the 2024 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.

“Murphy is one of the strongest investigative journalists to come out of the school in recent years,” Geeta Anand, dean of Berkeley Journalism said. “Watching a former student take the formative training they received at Berkeley Journalism to conduct one of the most respected investigative reports of the year makes us deeply proud.”

Brett reached out to his alma mater to hire two IRP students Kathleen Quinn (’24) and Marissa Muller (’24) to do Bay Area-based research for the project.


Picture of four men wearing suits and ties next to an American flag in front of blue and white Harvard Kennedy School signage.

Brett Murphy and team at the 2024 Goldsmith Awards on April 3, 2024.

“It’s not why we do the job, but these awards and recognitions have been incredibly touching,” Murphy said. “Each one is a special honor, especially given the company of other journalists who have won them in the past. Josh (Kaplan), Justin (Elliott), Alex (Mierjeski) and I feel so lucky to be recognized by our peers like this.”

“I couldn’t be prouder of our stories’ impact,” Murphy said. “They sparked national conversation about ethics and judicial reform of the Supreme Court, a long-overdue step toward accountability. The court adopted a code of conduct for the first time in its 234-year history. Dozens of members of Congress have pressed for ethics reform, introducing multiple bills. The Senate held hearings on the subject, opened an investigation and authorized subpoenas. Justice Thomas amended his past financial disclosures to report some — but not all — of what we uncovered.”

It’s also an exceptional story that traveled off the news feed into a larger cultural conversation. “Our reporting broke out of the wonky world of Washington policy and reached tens of millions of Americans,” Murphy said. “We garnered mentions from Charles Barkley during an NBA broadcast and jokes from the announcers at the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. We even inspired a plotline on ‘General Hospital.’”

A body of award-winning work

Murphy has produced an exceptional body of award-winning work since graduating less than a decade ago. His investigation uncovering a new junk science in the justice system known as 911 call analysis won a George Polk Award, the Brechner Freedom of Information Award, and the Al Nakkula Award for Police Reporting among other honors in 2023. He won the International Livingston Award for his investigation into a U.S. military attack on its own security forces in Afghanistan, which killed dozens of civilians, including as many as 60 children. He and a team shared a Hillman Prize for their series on whistleblower retaliation inside police departments. His four-part series on widespread labor abuses in California’s port trucking industry was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize, won a Hillman Prize and spurred reforms. The series began as his master’s project.

Picture of four male journalists in suits and ties holding their Polk Award plaques bathed in blue light.

Brett Murphy and team at the George Polk Awards on April 12, 2024.

Before joining ProPublica from USA Today’s investigations desk, where he covered labor, criminal justice and the federal government, Murphy covered courts and hurricanes for the Naples Daily News and other Gannett newspapers. He has also taught reporting at George Washington University.

While at Berkeley Journalism, Murphy was awarded a Mark Felt Scholarship to pursue investigative stories while working under the Investigative Reporting Program’s faculty.

Murphy graduated Summa cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor’s Degree in nonfiction writing.


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