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In this week's newsletter: How states keep public information secret, Wikipedia reacts to a Trump administration, revisiting child abuse in the Catholic Church and more.

Taking the 'public' out of public records

There’s a lot of conversation about secrecy within the federal government. But as the first two installments in our five-part investigation show, state and local officials often go to great lengths to withhold information from their constituents. In many cases, the impact of such opacity is forceful and immediate.

Take Maryland, where lawmakers in 2011 attempted to push an organic farmer off his land to make way for a private soccer club. When residents finally got ahold of records that explained the move, they found evidence of improper conduct. But that effort set them back $100,000 in legal costs.

When officials in Allentown, Pennsylvania, decided to cut costs by selling off the city’s water system in 2012, environmentalists started asking questions. They didn’t get answers until after the deal was done.

This dynamic plays out in towns across the U.S. And to make matters worse, many states don’t have an internal appeal system for residents to demand records. That means they often must take their concerns to court – usually a prohibitively expensive proposition.

Wikipedians revolt against Trump's inner circle

Secretary of State contender Rudy Giuliani was labeled “a totalitarian fascist.” Vice President-elect Mike Pence was called a “retard.” Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, had his height mocked.

Behind the scenes, users of the open-source information site Wikipedia have been squaring off over Donald Trump’s inner circle, peppering pages with personal attacks and fantastical falsehoods.

The changes, interspersed with more civil disagreements over policy positions and personal histories, are near-constant. They’re made visible through “WikiWash,” an online tool developed by Metro News Canada and The Working Group as part of a 2014 collaboration with Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. It allows journalists and members of the public to inspect changes to Wikipedia pages in real time.

Listeners share their au pair stories

As part of our Nov. 5 episode investigating problems in the au pair industry, we asked listeners to share their stories about au pairs – either working as one or employing one. Here’s what you said:

As an ex-Mormon I employ girls from my old town in Alberta who want to leave Mormonism and see something new. We pay for daily French classes, a transport card, a cellphone and she works between three and 20 hours a week. We pay her 100€ a month and take her on all our trips. She’s a part of the family.

– Annabelle, Paris

All my days I started with changing my hosts’ sheet which was often dirty with sperm, picking up their underwear from the floor and doing the laundry (It's the first time I speak up during the last six years as I've been ashamed I agreed to do all these things plus there was/is no point telling it anybody). … I couldn't even go to the shop to buy basic hygiene products like sanitary pads as I didn't have access to any transport.

– Aleksandra, Alexandria, Virginia

I worked as an au pair in Spain and I have to say you can find very similar mistreatment in Europe as well. Both my experiences as an au pair were negative for the most part. … It was clear from the start that the mother was extremely demanding and had to have everything done her way, no questions asked (I later found out she went to therapy weekly for her control issues). She wouldn't entertain any complaint about the children or their behavior. Everything was my fault.

– Catie, Spain

We've had a wonderful experience with our first au pair, and we’re going to match with another au pair as the first one's two-year visa is about to expire. It’s been a successful cultural exchange, and of course her care for and relationship with our child have been exceptional.

– Deanne, Mountain View, California

Glare of the spotlight

This week, we’re revisiting an episode from February that chronicles how the Boston Globe reporters portrayed in the Academy Award-winning film “Spotlight” exposed systematic child abuse within the Catholic church.

The show also examines how, in the aftermath of its public scandal, the church continued to shield abusers.


Dispatches and impact from the world of investigative reporting.
  • Tyler Shultz was drawn to Theranos’ vision for simple blood tests. Then he started working there. The Wall Street Journal
  • Thousands of state and local law enforcement agencies don’t report their hate crime stats to the federal government. ProPublica
  • After decades of declines, the number of traffic-related deaths is up significantly. The New York Times
  • Border Patrol agents’ use of force in four incidents – two of them deadly – was found to be justified. Reveal

Documents show: Forwarding this email to a friend will give them a "flash" of something unexpected.

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