DAA 2017: Kathleen M. Johnston, BA’82

For 30 years, Kathleen Johnston’s investigative reporting has exposed corruption and waste, and effected change in government and business practices. She finds investigative angles in chaotic situations, providing in-depth reports from major national breaking news stories, including 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Boston Marathon and the Virginia Tech shooting. She is also a trusted news source on national security issues.

After graduating from IU with a degree in journalism and political science in 1982, Johnston spent two and a half years at the Birmingham Post-Herald in Alabama, before returning to Indiana to work as a reporter at The Indianapolis News.

At the News, she exposed the City-County council’s use of secret caucus meetings to decide issues ahead of its public sessions. The News sued for access to those meetings and won. The case changed Indiana’s open records laws, and the reporting team won the Scripps Howard Foundation’s Service to the First Amendment Award.

She also specialized in politics and sports finance, serving as lead reporter covering major stadium developments for the Indiana Pacers and the Indianapolis Colts and as lead reporter for the 1987 Pan American Games in Indianapolis. She traveled to Cuba to write about logistical issues involving Cuban athletes.

After 12 years, Johnston moved into broadcast, taking a job as investigative producer at WTHR-TV in Indianapolis. During her five years at WTHR, she co-managed a five-member team that won more than 40 national, state and local awards, including the station’s first DuPont-Columbia Silver Baton for its coverage of mismanagement of the fortune of Lilly pharmaceutical heiress Ruth Lilly.

At WTHR, Johnston also uncovered a local trend of drunk driving case dismissals due to police officers’ failure to appear in court to testify, a story that won honors from Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also traveled to New York to cover 9/11.

Johnston joined CNN in 2004. As a senior investigative producer, she won numerous national and regional awards, including Emmys, Peabodys and Murrow awards.

At CNN, she broke the news that medical workers may have euthanized patients at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. She uncovered Medicare fraud in the medical devices business and wasted tax dollars along the Canadian border, resulting in the cancellation of a $32 million Department of Homeland Security contract. She conducted an exclusive interview with the trooper in the Sarah Palin “Trooper gate” scandal, and she reported on Congress’ refusal to disclose its spending earmarks. After her team’s year-long coverage, Congress began publishing its earmarks. Her team won the National Press Foundation’s Everett McKinley Dirksen Award and a national Emmy for its coverage.

A series of stories by Johnston’s team on ordinary citizens who had been added to the Transportation Security Administration’s watch list resulted in Congressional hearings and reformed watch list practices.

She produced several documentaries, including the acclaimed Footnotes of 9/11, which was released for the event’s 10-year anniversary. Other documentaries uncovered the unsafe infrastructure of cruise ships and the dangerous world of professional wrestling.

In 2015, Johnston became the sole investigative producer at CBS News in Washington. Her role included a special emphasis on homeland security issues, including the Paris and San Bernadino attacks.

She left CBS News in 2016. She now lives in Indianapolis again and freelances.

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