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Byron Harris, News 8 Investigates win duPont Award

The award was earned for outstanding local investigative reporting
WFAA senior investigative reporter Byron Harris and News 8 Investigates were awarded the duPont Columbia Silver Baton for outstanding local investigative reporting.

WFAA senior investigative reporter Byron Harris and his team received an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for a two-year-long investigation exposing hundreds of millions of dollars in questionable spending on Medicaid dental care.

Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism announced 14 silver baton awards Wednesday, with other honors also going to ESPN, The Center for Investigative Reporting, NBC and CBS news, among others. The duPont is considered the broadcast equivalent of print journalism's Pulitzer Prize, which is also awarded by Columbia University.

Here is what Columbia wrote about the series:

WFAA's reporting, Denticaid: Medicaid Dental Abuse in Texas, focused on rampant overbilling by dentists targeting children and families receiving Medicaid. One clinic, WFAA found, solicited minors off the streets of Dallas using cash and other incentives and performed extensive and often harmful dental work on them - all without their parents' permission.

Spurred by WFAA's reports, State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, introduced legislation aimed at curbing improper solicitation of dental patients. The legislation also added criminal investigators to the ranks of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission's Office of Inspector General. The bill passed the legislature this past session, and Gov. Rick Perry signed it into law.

The stories also prompted congressional hearings in Washington, D.C. on Medicaid dental abuses.

Harris received the award along with his colleagues Jason Trahan, producer; Billy Bryant; photographer and video editor; Carolyn Mungo, executive news director; and Mike Devlin, WFAA's president and general manager.'

'We are truly honored and humbled by this recognition,' Devlin said. 'Investigative reporting is a distinctive component of what we offer WFAA viewers, particularly in a day when many stations have abandoned practicing this kind of journalism altogether. We remain committed to it, and are grateful for this special award.'

This is Harris's sixth duPont, and the tenth overall for the station.

Harris first won a duPont in 1979 for covering the energy crisis and environmental issues. The next came in 1990, for his investigation into the savings and loan crisis. In 2008, he won another for his series investigating the television series "To Catch a Predator" in Murphy. The next year he won again, studying problems at the U.S. Export-Import Bank. In 2012 he was honored for exposing fraud in for-profit schools.

WFAA is the only local television news station in the nation to earn a duPont Gold Baton, the highest recognition in broadcast journalism. The station earned that honor in 2009 for a trio of investigative stories on fraudulent international government loans, academic cheating in high school sports, and faulty gas pipeline couplings.

E-mail jptrahan@wfaa.com

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