Howard Berkes

Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.

Since 2010, Berkes has focused mostly on investigative projects, beginning with the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster in West Virginia in which 29 workers died. Since then, Berkes has reported on coal mine and workplace safety, including the safety lapses at the Upper Big Branch mine, other failures in mine safety regulation, the resurgence of the deadly coal miners disease black lung and weak enforcement of grain bin safety as worker deaths reached a record high. Berkes was part of the team that collaborated with the Center for Public Integrity in 2011 resulting in Poisoned Places, a series exploring weaknesses in air pollution regulation by states and EPA.

Before moving into his current role, Berkes spent a decade serving as NPR's first rural affairs correspondent. His reporting focused on the politics, economics and culture of rural America.

Based in Salt Lake City, Berkes reported on the stories that are often unique to non-urban communities or provide a rural perspective on major issues and events. In 2005 and 2006, he was part of the NPR reporting team that covered Hurricane Katrina, emphasizing impacts in rural areas. His rural reporting also included the effects of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on military families and service men and women from rural America, including a disproportionate death rate from this community. During multiple presidential and congressional campaigns, Berkes has covered the impact of rural voters on those races.

Berkes has also covered eight summer and winter Olympic games, beginning with the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, through the 2012 games in London. His reporting in 1998 about Salt Lake City's Olympic bid helped transform a largely local story about suspicious payments to the relatives of members of the International Olympic Committee into an international ethics scandal that resulted in Federal and Congressional investigations.

Berkes' ongoing reporting of Olympic politics and the Olympic Games has made him a resource to other news organizations, including The PBS Newshour, MSNBC, A&E's Investigative Reports, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the French magazine L'Express, Al Jazeera America and others. When the Olympics finally arrived in Salt Lake City, Berkes' coverage included rides in a bobsled and on a luge sled in attempts to help listeners understand how those sports work. Berkes was part of the reporting team that earned NPR a 2009 Edward R. Murrow Award for Sports Reporting for coverage of the Beijing Olympics.

In 1981, Berkes pioneered NPR's coverage of the interior of the American West and public lands issues. He's traveled thousands of miles since then, to every corner of the region, driving ranch roads, city streets, desert washes, and mountain switchbacks, to capture the voices and sounds that give the region its unique identity.

Berkes' stories are heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition. His analysis of regional issues was featured on NPR's Talk of the Nation. Berkes has also been a substitute host of Morning Edition and Weekend All Things Considered.

An easterner by birth, Berkes moved west in 1976, and soon became a volunteer at NPR member station KLCC in Eugene, Oregon. His reports on the 1980 eruptions of Mt. St. Helens were regular features on NPR and prompted his hiring by the network. Berkes is sometimes best remembered for his story that provided the first detailed account of the attempt by Morton Thiokol engineers to stop the fatal 1986 launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Berkes teamed with NPR's Daniel Zwerdling for the report, which earned a number of major national journalism awards. In 1989, Berkes followed up with another award-winning report that examined NASA's efforts to redesign the Space Shuttle's rocket boosters.

Berkes has covered Native American issues, the militia movement, neo-nazi groups, nuclear waste, the Unabomber case, the Montana Freemen standoff, polygamy, the Mormon faith, western water issues, mass shootings and more. His work has been honored by many organizations, including the American Psychological Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, the Harvard Kennedy School and the National Association of Science Writers.

Berkes has also trained news reporters, consulted with radio news departments, and served as a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. In 1997, he was awarded a Nieman Foundation Journalism Fellowship at Harvard University.

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The Two-Way
5:52 am
Wed February 29, 2012

UPDATED: Ex-Mine Security Chief Sentenced To Three Years

Originally published on Wed February 29, 2012 12:59 pm

(The top of this post was updated at 1:45 p.m. ET with news of the prison sentence, and at 3 p.m. ET with the U.S. Attorney's reaction.)

A federal judge in West Virginia has sentenced Hughie Stover to three years in prison. Stover is the former security chief of the Upper Big Branch mine, where 29 miners died in a massive explosion in 2010.

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The Two-Way
12:30 pm
Thu February 23, 2012

West Virginia Report On Mine Disaster Points To State's Shortcomings

At an April 25, 2010, service in Beckley, W. Va., for the 29 miners killed in the Upper Big Branch explosion, helmets — placed on crosses — were lined up in their honor.
Jewel Samad AFP/Getty Images

West Virginia's Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training has issued what is now the fourth investigative report on the April, 2010, Upper Big Branch mine explosion. It largely agrees with the earlier reviews, but in language that's tepid in comparison.

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The Two-Way
7:15 am
Wed February 22, 2012

Massey Mine Boss Charged In Deadly Coal Mine Explosion

Originally published on Wed February 22, 2012 5:29 pm

(Scroll down for several updates and the document prosecutors filed today.)

Federal prosecutors in Charleston, W.Va., have filed the most serious criminal charges yet in the April, 2010, coal mine explosion that left 29 mine workers dead.

The conspiracy charges reach into the management ranks of Massey Energy and signal an effort to seek evidence against higher-level executives.

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The Two-Way
5:23 am
Tue February 14, 2012

Mormon Baptism Of Wiesenthal Kin Sparks Jewish Outrage

Originally published on Tue February 14, 2012 9:08 am

Two decades of anger, apologies and agreements have failed to keep the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from ending posthumous Mormon baptisms of prominent Jews and holocaust victims.

In the latest incident, the parents of the late Simon Wiesenthal, a survivor of a Nazi death camp and an advocate for holocaust victims, were baptized in a Mormon ceremony.

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The Two-Way
11:09 am
Mon February 13, 2012

Mine Disaster Investigators To Visit White House, But Not Obama

Super Bowl and World Series champions do it. Olympic athletes do it. War heroes do it. They all get to visit the White House and meet with an admiring President of the United States.

This Wednesday, the federal mine safety regulators who investigated the deadly 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia will travel to the White House and Capitol Hill. An email to the group lists morning tours of the White House and the Capitol and a "special White House event" at 2 p.m.

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The Two-Way
12:15 pm
Wed February 8, 2012

10 Years After '02 Winter Games, Salt Lake Considers Another Olympics

American figure skater Sarah Hughes won gold at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
Jacques DeMarthon AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed February 8, 2012 2:02 pm

Just hours before the symbolic rekindling of the Salt Lake Olympic cauldron, officials in Utah today sought to rekindle the 2002 Olympic spirit, announcing they're considering another Olympic bid.

The disclosure at the Utah Olympic speedskating oval in suburban Kearns, comes exactly 10 years after the 2002 Winter Games began.

"Ten years ago, Utah 'Lit the Fire Within,' and today that flame still burns bright," said Gov. Gary Herbert (R). In fact, as celebrations of the 2002 anniversary begin, some Utahns are wearing their official Olympic volunteer coats again.

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The Two-Way
4:44 pm
Mon February 6, 2012

Remembering Roger Boisjoly: He Tried To Stop Shuttle Challenger Launch

Engineer Roger Boisjoly examines a model of the O-Rings, used to bring the Space Shuttle into orbit, at a meeting of senior executives and academic representatives in Rye, New York in Sept. 1991.
AP

Roger Boisjoly was a booster rocket engineer at NASA contractor Morton Thiokol in Utah in January, 1986, when he and four colleagues became embroiled in the fatal decision to launch the Space Shuttle Challenger.

Boisjoly was also one of two confidential sources quoted by NPR three weeks later in the first detailed report about the Challenger launch decision, and the stiff resistance by Boisjoly and other Thiokol engineers.

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It's All Politics
1:42 pm
Thu January 26, 2012

Romney To Highlight Olympic 'Rescue' At 10th Anniversary Of Salt Lake Games

Mitt Romney, then the president of the 2002 Salt Lake Organizing Committee, greets attendees at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Utah.
Roberto Schmidt AFP/Getty Images

The Romney campaign has confirmed that the Republican presidential hopeful will attend an event in Salt Lake City next month commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 2002 Olympics.

The event gives the struggling campaign the chance to underscore one of Mitt Romney's signature accomplishments. "I worked at one company, Bain, for 25 years," Romney said in a debate and campaign ad. "And I left that to go off and help save the Olympic Games."

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The Two-Way
3:09 pm
Thu January 19, 2012

Ski Pioneer Sarah Burke Succumbs To Practice Injury

Sarah Burke of Canada is airborne as she competes in the women's halfpipe freestyle event at the World Cup finals in Valmalenco, Italy in 2008.
Giovanni Auletta AP

Originally published on Thu January 19, 2012 3:27 pm

Freestyle skiing pioneer Sarah Burke died this morning at the University of Utah Medical Center from injuries suffered nine days ago while practicing the sport she championed.

"Sarah passed away peacefully surrounded by those she loved," says a statement from the medical center. "In accordance with Sarah's wishes, her organs and tissues were donated to save the lives of others."

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NPR Story
3:08 pm
Fri January 13, 2012

A Look At Romney's Olympic Legacy

At the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Mitt Romney (left) stands with President George W. Bush (center) and International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge (right) in front of the American flag that flew at the World Trade Center before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
George Frey AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 9:07 am

Ten years after the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, there's still some debate about Mitt Romney's claim that he helped "save" the games — and about whether he used the Olympics to relaunch a fledgling political career.

In 1999, Romney accepted the job as CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC), five years after he failed to oust Sen. Ted Kennedy from his Massachusetts Senate seat.

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The Two-Way
8:45 am
Tue January 10, 2012

Mine Disaster Settlement Talks Enter Fifth Day

The emotionally charged task of putting price tags on the lives of coal miners killed in the nation's deadliest mine disaster in 40 years continues for a fifth day in West Virginia.

Sources familiar with the mediation talks say the families of 13 Upper Big Branch mine explosion victims are still considering settlement of wrongful death claims with mine owner Alpha Natural Resources.

Six families settled yesterday in mediated negotiations that began Friday at a resort in Glade Springs, W. Va.

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The Two-Way
7:20 am
Thu January 5, 2012

Denver Reconsiders The Olympics Despite Dumping 1976 Games

February 1976: The Winter Olympics were moved to Innsbruck, Austria, after Denver decided it couldn't host them.
Hulton Archive Getty Images

Originally published on Thu January 5, 2012 12:37 pm

It may be the most insulting snub in Olympic history. After seeking and winning the right to host the 1976 Winter Olympics, the city of Denver backed out of the games. Colorado voters rejected public funding of the Olympics in 1972 and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was forced to turn to Innsbruck, Austria, the host city eight years earlier.

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U.S.
2:00 am
Fri December 9, 2011

Report: Federal Agency Shares Blame In Mine Blast

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration released its final report this week into last year's West Virginia mine explosion. That explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine killed 29 workers. The government has maintained that the company that owned the mine, Massey Energy, didn't do enough to prevent the accident. Now, documentation obtained by NPR indicates that the government didn't do enough, either.

The Two-Way
4:50 am
Wed December 7, 2011

Internal Probe, Criminal Charges Still Pending In W.Va. Mine Disaster

It's been a busy week for the 29 families of the coal miners who lost their lives last year in the explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.

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U.S.
3:43 am
Tue December 6, 2011

Settlement Reported In West Virginia Mine Disaster

Originally published on Tue January 17, 2012 1:32 pm

The owner of West Virginia's Upper Big Branch coal mine is reportedly ready to pay slightly more than $200 million to settle civil and criminal claims resulting from the explosion that killed 29 people last year.

The settlement was first reported by the Charleston Gazette, and some details were confirmed by NPR. A private briefing about the settlement is scheduled Tuesday morning for the families of the victims. A public announcement is set later in the morning.

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The Two-Way
11:32 am
Wed November 30, 2011

Despite Warnings From Inspector, One Iowa Town Still Battles Toxic Air

The Grain Processing Corp. plant in Muscatine, Iowa.
Chris Hamby Center for Public Integrity

Originally published on Wed November 30, 2011 11:35 am

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The Two-Way
8:30 am
Tue October 25, 2011

Union: W. Va. Mine Disaster Was 'Industrial Homicide'

The United Mine Workers report.

NPR

The United Mine Workers union (UMWA) is out with its own report this morning about last year's Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster in West Virginia in which 29 workers died.

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The Two-Way
1:08 pm
Fri September 23, 2011

10 Years Later, Remembering One Of The Nation's Worst Mine Disasters

Ten years ago today, as a horrified America struggled to respond to the September 11 attacks, 13 coal miners died in multiple explosions at the Jim Walter Resources coal mine in Brookwood, Alabama.

The overwhelming and justifiable attention to the thousands of deaths in New York, The Pentagon and Pennsylvania 12 days before kept the Jim Walter mine disaster in the shadows. It was the nation's worst mine disaster in nearly two decades and it involved a methane gas explosion, a familiar danger underground.

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The Two-Way
3:18 pm
Wed August 31, 2011

Feds Still Finding Problems At Old Massey Mines

Originally published on Wed August 31, 2011 4:04 pm

Federal mine safety regulators have discovered false reporting of accidents and injuries at two West Virginia coal mines once owned by Massey Energy, which also owned the mine hit by a deadly explosion last year.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) says the Randolph and Justice No. 1 mines in Boone County, W.Va., inaccurately reported or neglected to report 24 injuries last year that resulted in 1,125 lost days of work.

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The Two-Way
4:57 pm
Mon August 29, 2011

Polygamist Warren Jeffs In Critical Condition

Warren Jeffs arrives at the Tom Green County Courthouse in San Angelo, Texas, on July 29, 2011.
Tony Gutierrez AP

Three weeks after a conviction for child sexual abuse, polygamist leader Warren Jeffs remains in critical but stable condition in a Texas hospital.

Jeffs, 55, was rushed from prison Sunday night to a hospital in Tyler, Tx. Officials there refuse to discuss Jeffs' condition but a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) says Jeffs was hospitalized after a three-day fast.

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The Two-Way
1:58 pm
Mon August 22, 2011

United States Says No To 2020 Olympic Bid

American fans of the Olympics will have to travel abroad for at least another decade if they want to cheer from the stands at one of the world's biggest sporting events. The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) announced today that there will be no American bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Actually, the news was Tweeted by USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky. "I can confirm the US will not be bidding for 2020 Olympic Games," Sandusky wrote to his Twitter followers.

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The Two-Way
8:25 am
Fri August 19, 2011

Schism, New Indictments Follow Polygamist Leader's Conviction

A letter sent by email and snail mail urges the followers of polygamist leader and convicted pedophile Warren Jeffs to "come clean ... or you are going down with the wicked and the damned."

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The Two-Way
6:47 am
Wed August 17, 2011

White House Overstates Rural Role In Military

There they sat with the President of the United States at the Old Market Deli in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, five veterans of our two most recent wars. With a turkey sandwich on his plate, Mr. Obama acknowledged their service, and the disproportionate sacrifice small towns and rural counties have made in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the military in general.

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The Two-Way
12:09 pm
Tue August 9, 2011

D.B. Cooper Update: FBI Says No DNA Match With New Suspect

Our colleagues at public radio's Northwest News Network (N3) first reported a DNA mismatch between the new suspect in the 1971 D.B. Cooper skyjacking and evidence from the hijacked plane.

The failed DNA test was disclosed Friday by Marla Cooper, the woman who claims that her late uncle, Lynn Doyle (L.D.) Cooper, was the famous skyjacker.

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The Two-Way
9:33 am
Fri August 5, 2011

Polygamists Condemn Warren Jeffs' Sexual Abuse

As a Texas jury considers a possible life sentence for polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, a coalition of polygamist groups is condemning the sexual abuse that led to Jeffs' conviction.

"We are alarmed that such depravity could have been perpetrated by anyone," says a written statement from the Principle Rights Coalition, a group representing five polygamist groups in Arizona and Utah, as well as "numerous other independent Fundamentalist Mormons."

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The Two-Way
12:43 pm
Thu August 4, 2011

FBI Cryptic, Family More Vocal About D.B. Cooper 'Suspect'

Lynn D. Cooper's grave site in Pine Butte Cemetery in Bend, Oregon, about 22 miles from Sisters, Oregon.
David Nogueras Oregon Public Broadcasting

The Oklahoma woman who sparked renewed interest in the 1971 D.B. Cooper skyjacking continues to provide new details about the uncle she identifies as the famous hijacker.

Marla Cooper also revealed plans to write and publish a book for release in November in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the skyjacking.

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The Two-Way
7:08 am
Wed August 3, 2011

ABC News: New D.B. Cooper Clues Come From 'Niece'

ABC News has a report out this morning that claims to name the source of the new information in the D.B. Cooper skyjacking. ABC says unnamed and unspecified sources have confirmed that a woman named Marla Cooper provided the FBI with a guitar strap for fingerprint testing.

NPR is trying to independently confirm ABC's claim. The FBI has yet to respond to a request for comment.

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The Two-Way
7:49 am
Tue August 2, 2011

FBI Reveals More About New Possible Skyjack Suspect

An undated FBI sketch of D.B. Cooper.
AFP/Getty Images

As we reported yesterday, the FBI jump-started D.B. Cooper mania with its revelation it has a new suspect in the unsolved skyjacking that occurred 40 years ago this November.

New details continue to trickle out with each interview with FBI Special Agent Fred Gutt. Among the new bits of information about the man who may or may not prove to be D.B. Cooper:

-- The "suspect" died more than 10 years ago of natural causes

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The Two-Way
8:37 am
Mon August 1, 2011

FBI Says It Has 'A New Suspect' In D.B. Cooper Skyjacking Case

A 1971 artist's sketch released by the FBI shows the skyjacker known as 'Dan Cooper' and 'D.B. Cooper'. The sketch was made from the recollections of passengers and crew of a Northwest Orient Airlines jet he hijacked between Portland and Seattle.
Anonymous AP

Originally published on Tue August 2, 2011 10:41 am

Forty years after parachuting into folklore, the mysterious skyjacker identified as D.B. Cooper may soon be identified.

"We do actually have a new suspect we're looking at," says FBI spokeswoman Ayn Sandolo Dietrich in a story in the British newspaper, The Telegraph. "And it comes from a credible lead who came to our attention recently via a law enforcement colleague."

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