LA Times rehires David Willman in Washington *

Since the L.A. Times regained control of the Tribune Washington bureau, the place has been beefed up a bit and gotten a new bureau chief in David Lauter. In a newsroom memo on Sunday, he announced the rehiring of David Willman, the author of the recent "The Mirage Man," which makes the case that the FBI was right to say that Bruce Ivins, a microbiologist at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases who committed suicide in 2008, was behind anthrax attacks in 2001 that killed five. Before Willman left the Times a few years to write the book, he won a Pulitzer Prize for investigating the FDA, and widespread plaudits for uncovering the dangers of the drug Rezulin. Before going to Washington he had uncovered unsafe practices in the construction of subway tunnels under Los Angeles.

Read Lauter's memo after the jump.

* Noted: Willman's book gets a so-so review in today's LAT. Reviewer Wendy Smith writes that "though Willman's reporting is solid, the text reads like a series of newspaper articles stitched together, supplemented by poorly incorporated additional research. The impact of compelling pieces of evidence is muffled by repetition." It's also gotten great reviews, including this one, and former LAT editor John Carroll blurbs on the book jacket: "Unlike most mysteries, this one is literally true, carefully documented and skillfully told by one of America’s finest investigative journalists.”

Updated post

From: Lauter, David
Sent: Sunday, June 12, 2011 05:36 PM
To: yyeditall
Subject: David Willman to Washington Bureau

I'm very happy to announce that David Willman, an investigative reporter of exceptional talent who has produced groundbreaking work across two decades, will be joining our Washington bureau.

David's byline will be a familiar one; his hiring is a reunion for many of us. He came to the Los Angeles Times in 1990 after working at the San Jose Mercury News. At the Times, he started out covering courts in Orange County, but soon moved into investigative work, with a series of stories in 1993 and 1994 that uncovered dangerous practices in the construction of the city's then-new subway tunnels. A few years later he moved to the Washington bureau where, in 1998, he began to write about the Food and Drug Administration's fast-tracking of a drug for diabetes called Rezulin. As Willman told the public, the drug's side effects had caused at least 33 deaths from liver failure, and several key people in the FDA's policy-making apparatus had ties to the drug's manufacturer. By the time the agency withdrew the drug from the market, the known death toll had reached 63.

Willman went on to look at other drugs, discovering that FDA policies designed to speed new remedies to the market had loosened safety standards, leading to more than 1,000 deaths of patients. For that work, he won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism, one of several major awards he has garnered. From there, Willman went on to examine conflicts of interest at the National Institutes of Health, work which led to substantial changes in government policies.

For the last couple of years, Willman has reported and written a book, "The Mirage Man," uncovering the story behind the 2001 anthrax attacks. The book has just been published and is already garnering excellent reviews. After a couple of months of book tour, Willman will join us in August.

In-depth, path-breaking investigative reporting, work that uncovers new facts on matters of important public interest, has long been a central element of what this bureau does. Willman's hiring is a significant step toward strengthening and expanding that capability. Please join me in welcoming him aboard.


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