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Investigators speak their minds loud and clear at the Molly Awards in Austin

Michael Barnes

If you want to catch up with Austin’s leading progressives, a prime place to meet them once a year is at the annual Molly Awards, a benefit for the Texas Observer, a left-leaning statewide magazine. Before, during and after the affair, Texas activists, elected officials and the journalists who cover them converge on each other as if at a small-town box social.

This week, the high-spirited emcee at the Four Seasons Austin Hotel was John Nichols from The Nation magazine. Winners of the Bernard and Audre Rapaport Award, named after two of the Observer’s late major backers, were Suzanne and Marc Winkelman, who gave a touching speech about his wife, as well as his friend an sometime mentor, B. Rapaport, an outspoken supporter of a free press.

The three investigative projects that won awards named after the late firebrand Molly Ivins, dealt with mistreatment of prisoners with mental health problems as reported by a longtime prisoner (John J. Lennon/The Marshall Project), junk science used to convict the innocent (Pamela Colloff and Leora Smith/ProPublica), and a botched crackdown on the MS-13 gang (Hannah Dreier/ProPublica).

The keynote speaker was Rebecca Traister of New York Magazine, who urged the audience, especially women and the marginalized, to speak out and speak loudly.

Because of the crowd, many a partisan political remark were heartily cheered, including the still-as-yet-unconfirmed announcement by Winkelman from the stage that former State Sen. Wendy Davis was set to run against U.S. Rep. Chip Roy. (She hasn’t decided.)

No matter one’s political persuasion, not a soul in the room could deny the clear civic consequence of the three winning projects and of investigative journalism in general.