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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3:08pm

Thu September 20, 2012
The Two-Way

U.S. Speedskater Accused Of Sabotaging Rival

Originally published on Fri September 21, 2012 5:53 pm

Simon Cho of the U.S. celebrates during the 500 meter men's final race at the Short Track Speed Skating World Cup in Dresden in 2011.
Jens Meyer AP

The allegations of physical and verbal abuse at U.S. Speedskating have a new twist: A coach allegedly directed a skater to tamper with the skates of a Canadian competitor at an international competition last year — and the skater complied.

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1:05pm

Wed September 19, 2012
The Two-Way

Speedskaters Step Up Abuse Allegations Against Coach

Originally published on Wed September 19, 2012 2:19 pm

The abuse allegations against U.S. Olympic short track speedskating coach Jae Su Chun have escalated with a demand for arbitration and an "open and ongoing investigation" by police.

But while a large group of skaters charge Chun with abuse, another set has issued a statement in support of the coach.

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9:05am

Mon September 17, 2012
The Two-Way

Short Track Speedskating Coach Put On Leave Amid Abuse Allegations

Originally published on Mon September 17, 2012 5:19 pm

Short track speedskating coach Jae Su Chun was a guest at a State Dinner at the White House in May 2010.
Alexis C. Glenn UPI /Landov

U.S. Speedskating has placed head short track coach Jae Su Chun on administrative leave in response to complaints of physical, verbal and psychological abuse.

Nineteen current and former skaters, including five Olympic medalists, signed complaints filed with U.S. Speedskating and the U.S. Olympic Committee. An attorney for the skaters says two of the athletes are also completing police reports in Utah, where U.S. Speedskating is based and where the athletes train.

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3:11pm

Tue August 7, 2012
The Torch

U.S. Women's Water Polo Team Wins In Overtime To Reach Gold Medal Game

U.S. water polo players on the bench react during their semifinal match between Australia and the United States at the Water Polo Arena in London. The Americans will play for gold on Thursday.
Adam Pretty Getty Images

The American women's water polo team will again chase an elusive gold medal, this time at the London Olympics. The team qualified for the gold medal match by defeating longtime Olympic rival Australia.

Tied after regular time expired, the Americans scored two goals in overtime to beat the Australian water polo women, 11-9. Now the U.S. team moves on to the gold medal match Thursday.

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8:48am

Sun August 5, 2012
The Torch

Even A 'No' Is An Olympic Moment When It's Said By Michael Phelps

Originally published on Sun August 5, 2012 10:38 am

Michael Phelps and the special award he received Saturday night to mark his Olympic achievements.
Al Bello Getty Images

An only-at-the-Olympics tale:

As Michael Phelps left a news conference at the Olympic Aquatic Center on Saturday, a photographer rushed up and asked, "Can I get one more photo?"

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6:34am

Sun August 5, 2012
Sports

Runner With Artificial Legs Sprints Past Barrier

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

And if there weren't enough excitement at the Olympics, another kind of record was made yesterday at the Olympic Stadium. A double amputee with artificial legs raced for the first time ever in the Olympics. South African Oscar Pistorious qualified for the semifinals tonight in the 400-meter sprint.

NPR's Howard Berkes reports from London.

HOWARD BERKES, BYLINE: The first heat of the Olympic 400 sounded like any other race.

(SOUNDBITE OF STARTING GUN)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: From the inside...

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4:30am

Fri August 3, 2012
Sports

U.S. Swims Deeper Into The Record Books

Michael Phelps won his 20th Olympic medal, the gold, in his last race with Ryan Lochte, who took the silver. Rebecca Soni won a gold, as well. All in all, it was a good day for American swimmers. NPR's Howard Berkes reports from London.

9:57am

Tue July 31, 2012
The Torch

Missy Franklin On Winning Gold: 'Someone Needs To Pinch Me'

Missy Franklin stands on the podium with her gold medal, after winning the 100m backstroke at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Of that moment, she says, "I was trying to sing, but I was like, crying, at the same time."
Adam Pretty Getty Images

Missy Franklin couldn't contain herself — in the pool, on the medals stand and at her first gold medal news conference — after a dramatic finish in the 100 meter Olympic backstroke Monday night in London.

It wasn't an easy race. Out front and pulling hard with her graceful but powerful strokes, Emily Seebohm of Australia led in the last 50 meters, with the American Franklin a few strokes back.

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4:46pm

Mon July 30, 2012
The Torch

Studying Oscar Pistorius: Does The 'Blade Runner' Have An Advantage? [Video]

Originally published on Mon July 30, 2012 8:04 pm

Oscar Pistorius of South Africa runs in the men's 200-meter event at the Paralympic World Cup in May. Some observers have suggested Pistorius receives an unfair advantage from his carbon-fiber "blade" legs.
Michael Steele Getty Images

The technology that makes walking possible for amputees is also making running possible at the Olympics. On Saturday in London, South African Oscar Pistorius will run on artificial limbs in the 400-meter sprint. Pistorius is a double amputee who runs world-class times on his carbon-fiber legs.

At last month's Prefontaine Track and Field Classic in Eugene, Ore., Pistorius ran in the inside lane of the 400-meter race. He leaned forward on his knees and fingers, and slipped his feet into the starting blocks — well, they're not actually feet.

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2:16pm

Sun July 29, 2012
The Torch

Olympic Flame Missed From London Skyline

Originally published on Sun July 29, 2012 2:51 pm

London's flame stands inside Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on Friday.
Leon Neal AFP/Getty Images

Enduring symbols of the Olympics are everywhere in London, and I'm not just talking about ATMs for Visa, a ubiquitous Olympic sponsor.

The five Olympic rings grace every wall, walk, sign, banner and building in and around the Olympic Park and other venues.

But the Olympic flame, the other most recognizable symbol of the Olympics, is invisible to all but a relative few.

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6:38am

Sun July 29, 2012
Sports

Is Swimming Superstar Passing The Torch?

Originally published on Sun July 29, 2012 10:58 am

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Day One of the London Olympics may have signaled a passing of the torch from one generation of swimming superstars to another. Expectations were sky-high for Michael Phelps, who already had the biggest gold medal haul in Olympic history. But a much-anticipated showdown with swimming teammate Ryan Lochte, turned out to be not much of a showdown at all.

Here's NPR's Howard Berkes.

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3:01pm

Fri July 27, 2012
The Torch

London Opens Up, In Danny Boyle's 'Warm-Up Act' For The Summer Olympics

Originally published on Fri July 27, 2012 5:33 pm

Animals and actors enter the stadium for the British meadow scene prior the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on Friday.
Franck Fife AFP/Getty Images

Every recent opening ceremony of the Olympics went for glitter and glamour, in an escalating war of excess. Ceremony fanatics consider the Beijing opening ceremony the gaudiest of all — and Oscar-winner Danny Boyle (the director of Slumdog Millionaire) had $42 million to try to outdo the Chinese organizers.

Instead, Boyle says, "You can't get bigger than Beijing. So that, in a way, kind of liberated us. We thought, 'Great. Oh good. We'll try and do something different, then.' "

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12:15pm

Wed July 25, 2012
The Torch

Olympic Athletes' Names: Endurance (Track), Moist (Swimming), And A Leeper

Nathan Leeper of the United States jumps during the IAAF World Championships in this photo from 2001. A high jumper, Leeper is one of several athletes whose name suited their sport.
Andy Lyons Allsport/Getty

"What's in a name?" a British writer named Shakespeare once asked in Romeo and Juliet, long before the Olympics ever came to London.

Well, it turns out that some Olympic names herald the greatness athletes seek, and the events they enter, while some bear monikers better suited for others.

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4:13pm

Mon July 23, 2012
The Torch

Spotting An 'American Idol' Moment At The Olympics

International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams points to a reporter at a London news conference Saturday. The Olympic event may have been the first to have product placement.
Ed Hula III Around the Rings

Olympic reporting veterans like myself (London is Games No. 8) noticed something extraordinary this weekend at the first London 2012 news conference called by International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge.

The "something" sat there on the podium, directly in front of Rogge: an aquamarine bottle of Powerade, a Coca-Cola product. And next to Rogge, in front of IOC spokesman Mark Adams, was a carefully positioned bottle of caramel-colored Coke. Dozens of photographers and TV cameras were capturing the event; it seemed impossible to miss the OIympic sponsor's products.

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10:48am

Tue July 17, 2012
The Two-Way

Republican Lawmakers Seek To Block Funding On Black Lung Regulation

Originally published on Tue July 17, 2012 5:33 pm

Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee have inserted into a broad appropriations bill language that would block funding for a Labor Department effort to reduce the occurrence of black lung, the disease that afflicts coal miners exposed to excessive mine dust.

The bill covers appropriations for Fiscal Year 2013 for the Departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services. Tucked away deep inside the measure is this language:

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