Chris Osher

Investigative team-Chris Osher (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

After 156 women athletes came forward to say they were abused by Dr. Larry Nassar, Michigan Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis singled out for praise three people who started the reckoning with the disgraced doctor’s two decades of sexual abuse.

She didn’t credit the hundreds of people who work at USA Gymnastics or the United States Olympic Committee, which oversees USA Gymnastics. Nor prosecutors in the state of Michigan. Nor police. Nor the FBI, which was investigating the doctor at the time. Nor Michigan State University, where he was employed and presumably supervised.

No, she praised three investigative reporters at The Indianapolis Star.

“What finally started this reckoning and ended this decadeslong cycle of abuse was investigative reporting,” prosecutor Povilaitis said at the sentencing.

“Without that first Indianapolis Star story in August of 2016, without the story where (former gymnast) Rachael (Denhollander) came forward publicly shortly thereafter, he would still be practicing medicine, treating athletes and abusing kids,” Povilaitis said.

If it weren’t for investigative reporters, we also wouldn’t know about the horrible wait times at VA clinics a few years ago or the terrible conditions at veterans nursing homes. We wouldn’t know about Russian interference in U.S. elections or the sexual abuses that triggered the #MeToo movement, either.

In our own backyard, we wouldn’t have known that an increasing number of soldiers, including wounded combat veterans, were being kicked out of the service for misconduct, often with no benefits, as the Army downsized after a decade of war. The Gazette investigation into “other than honorable” discharges won a Pulitzer Prize.

And we wouldn’t know right now that our entire mental health care system is in a state of acute crisis in Colorado.

Investigative journalists are democracy’s detectives, as one author put it recently.

“Getting to the bottom of things takes hard work, dedication, digging, asking tough questions, a refusal to quit,” says investigative reporter Christopher Osher. “The work matters. It can be the difference between life and death for someone at times, the difference between freedom or imprisonment other times. It can mean the difference in millions of dollars paid in taxes going to waste or a more efficient, effective government.”

So we couldn’t be prouder that Osher is joining The Gazette to launch a statewide investigative reporting team to continue the work that matters.

The new three-person team, which will be based in Denver, will focus on investigative reporting projects across Colorado for The Gazette and Colorado Politics, with a strong emphasis on holding politicians and state agencies accountable for how they spend our tax dollars.

We’re launching this team because we see an unmet need in the state for deeply reported accountability journalism. While there are more and more sources of information out there, fewer and fewer of them are truly reliable. Yet, the need to dig through those mounds of data and find the facts is more important than ever.

Facebook may be fun in a scrapbook kind of way, and Twitter is titillating to be sure, but the Wimbledon of information is still newspapers, some of which, like The Gazette, have been doing this for nearly 125 years. (Coincidentally, Wimbledon is 125 years old, too.) And center court in that Wimbledon of information is investigative reporting.

“During my career,” Osher told me, “I’ve learned just how messed up systems can become and how accepted ways of doing things can have devastating consequences on people, families and children. It can take the force of good journalism — that unflinching, hard work — to uncover the truth and force change.”

Chris worked from 2005 through 2018 as a reporter at The Denver Post, with more than a decade of that time on the newspaper’s investigative reporting team. He has investigated issues ranging from the state’s troubled child protective system to problems in law enforcement, health care and parole operations. Since January, he has been a reporter for the online news platform The Colorado Sun, where he specialized in reporting on statewide educational issues. His work has garnered recognition in national, regional and local journalism awards contests. Before moving to Colorado, he worked for newspapers in Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Ohio, Iowa and Virginia. He also spent time reporting from war zones in Africa.

“One of my mentors was a professor at the University of Arkansas, Roy Reed, who had covered the civil rights crisis for The New York Times as a correspondent in the South,” Chris told me.

“From him, I learned that it took the unflinching coverage of the news media for the country to begin to come to terms with the scars that Jim Crow laws had left. I give a lot of credit to Mr. Reed and others, such as Bill Kovach, another journalist from the South who became national editor at The New York Times and then editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where I worked briefly as an intern. I learned from them that reporters have a sacred and awesome responsibility to unveil the truth wherever that might lead.

“I can tell from just my brief interactions with reporters at The Gazette and Colorado Politics that all of these values and ideals already exist at both publications and that there’s a strong foundation there already. I’m excited to contribute and help take things to new levels.”

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