The gold medal winner of the Public Service award, the most prestigious in American journalism, was the Associated Press, which was honored for Seafood from Slaves, an expose that uncovered the use of slave labor in the seafood industry in Asia. The Tampa Bay Times was a second finalist named in the category.
The ICN series describes how Exxon conducted cutting-edge climate research decades ago and later pivoted to the forefront of climate denial, manufacturing doubt about the scientific consensus that its own scientists had confirmed.
The stories were written by a team of ICN reporters—Neela Banerjee, John H. Cushman Jr., David Hasemyer and Lisa Song—after an eight-month investigation which included reviewing hundreds of documents, many from Exxon's own files.
The work had already won five prestigious journalism awards: The National Press Foundation's Stokes Award for energy reporting; finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Journalism; the Izzy Award for Excellence by Independent Media; the Scripps Howard Award for Environmental Reporting; and a Society for American Business Editors and Writers award for best investigation by a digital news site.
ICN, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization, previously won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 2013 for The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You've Never Heard Of.
ICN's work prompted a significant response, including the announcement of a probe of Exxon launched by Eric Schneiderman, New York's attorney general, under the state's regulatory disclosure and consumer protection laws. He has subsequently joined a group of 17 attorneys general to press for climate action on multiple legal fronts.
In addition, Reps. Mark DeSaulnier and Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) have called on the Department of Justice to investigate Exxon under the federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act—the same law used to investigate tobacco companies in the 1990s.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D.-R.I.) and three other congressmen wrote to the Securities and Exchange Commission asking it to investigate ExxonMobil's past federal filings to see if the company violated securities laws by failing to adequately disclose material risks to its business posed by climate change.
Environmental leaders delivered a petition with 350,000 signatures to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, urging a federal probe of whether ExxonMobil misled the public on global warming. Some 50 heads of national environmental and justice organizations have endorsed the call.
ICN continues to report on the issue, with its latest story detailing how the oil industry has been aware of the global warming risks posed by carbon dioxide as far back as the 1960s.