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
2:19 pm
Mon February 4, 2013

Report: W.Va. Fails To Enforce New Regs Designed To Prevent Mine Explosions

Originally published on Tue February 5, 2013 7:53 am

Ken Ward at The Charleston Gazette has a story worth reading about West Virginia's failure to enforce new coal mine dust standards prompted by the deadly explosion three years ago at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine.

Ward used the state's Freedom of Information Act to obtain and review mine safety inspections conducted by the Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training.

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The Two-Way
1:28 pm
Thu January 17, 2013

Massey Mine Boss Sentenced; Feds Toughen Mine Safety Rule

Mine helmets and painted crosses were placed at the entrance to Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine as a memorial to the 29 miners killed there.
Jeff Gentner AP

Nearly three years after a deadly mine explosion in West Virginia, a former Massey Energy mine superintendent has been sentenced to prison and federal regulators have toughened a regulation that could have helped prevent the disaster.

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The Two-Way
2:08 pm
Mon December 3, 2012

Salt Lake City Says It's 'Ready, Willing And Able' To Host Another Olympics

Among the stars of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City was Team USA's Apolo Anton Ohno. The city and Utah want another chance to host the games.
Jacques DeMarthon AFP/Getty Images

Ten years after jumpstarting Mitt Romney's political career with a widely-praised Winter Olympics, officials in Utah say they're ready to do it all over again.

But there's no word on whether the unemployed Romney is interested in reprising his role as Salt Lake City Olympics chief. He would be 78, after all, when the 2026 games roll around. That's the earliest opportunity for a Winter Olympics in the United States.

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The Two-Way
9:11 am
Wed November 28, 2012

Mine Disaster Probe Leads To Conspiracy Charges Against Former Executive

Mine helmets and painted crosses at the entrance to Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine, as a memorial to the 29 miners killed there.
Jeff Gentner AP

Originally published on Wed November 28, 2012 11:36 am

Federal prosecutors in West Virginia stepped higher up the corporate ladder at Massey Energy Wednesday with new criminal charges stemming from the investigation of the 2010 coal mine explosion that killed 29 workers.

David C. Hughart was president of Massey's Green Valley Resource Group, a major coal mining subsidiary based in Leivasy, W. Va., from 2000 to 2010.

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It's All Politics
3:23 pm
Wed November 7, 2012

After Romney's Loss, Mormons Lament What Might Have Been

Mormons line up outside the historic Salt Lake Temple for an annual conference in April 2010.
George Frey Getty Images

Originally published on Thu November 8, 2012 9:43 am

Poor Chris Stewart. The former Air Force pilot had just won a landslide victory in his first bid for Congress in Utah, but the crowd of Republicans listening to his acceptance speech at a Salt Lake City hotel kept pointing to the massive television screen behind him.

"Do you want me to stop?" Stewart asked. "You would rather listen to Gov. Romney than to me, wouldn't you?"

Some in the crowd shouted "Yes!" and the sound of Romney's concession speech filled the room.

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Election 2012
11:37 pm
Mon October 15, 2012

Poll: Romney Has Large Lead In Rural Swing Counties

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns in Gilbert, S.C., earlier this year.
Charles Dharapak AP

Originally published on Fri March 21, 2014 3:16 pm

As Mitt Romney and President Obama get ready for their second debate, a new bipartisan survey shows a surge for Romney in a key voter group following their first debate Oct. 3.

The random cellphone and land line poll of 600 likely rural voters in nine battleground states Oct. 9-11 has Romney at 59 percent among the survey's respondents. Obama's support is now down to 37 percent among rural battleground voters, a plunge of 10 points from the actual rural vote in those states four years ago.

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The Two-Way
4:18 pm
Fri October 12, 2012

Embattled U.S. Speedskating Coach Responds To Resignation And Suspension

Originally published on Fri October 12, 2012 5:56 pm

A day after resigning under pressure from U.S. Speedskating, former head coach Jae Su Chun says he didn't report a tampering incident at an international meet last year to protect skater Simon Cho, who confessed to sabotaging a Canadian athlete's skate blade.

"I know I chose Simon over my own principles," Chun says in a written statement translated from Korean by a spokesman.

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The Two-Way
2:12 pm
Fri October 12, 2012

New Regulations Aimed At Black Lung Disease Appear To Be Stalled

Originally published on Sat October 13, 2012 11:37 am

Reporting by the Charleston Gazette this week suggests that the Obama administration's efforts to impose tough new limits on miners' exposure to coal dust have stalled.

The United Mine Workers Union suggests election year politics may be the reason.

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Sports
4:03 am
Fri October 5, 2012

U.S. Speedskater Admits To Sabotaging Rival's Skates

Simon Cho competes in the men's 500-meter finals at the 2011 ISU World Cup short track speedskating final in Dresden, Germany. He won the event.
Robert Michael AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri March 21, 2014 3:19 pm

American speedskater Simon Cho says what he did was "wrong" when he yielded to what he claims was persistent pressure from a coach to tamper with another skater's blades at the World Short Track Team Championships in Poland last year.

"Tampering with someone's skates is inexcusable," Cho told NPR in his first interview about the incident. "And I'm coming out now and admitting that I did this and acknowledging that what I did was wrong." The Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune also spoke with Cho earlier this week after the NPR interview.

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The Two-Way
4:32 pm
Thu September 27, 2012

Skaters Detail Abuse And Sabotage Allegations As Racing Season Begins

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

Originally published on Thu October 4, 2012 4:18 pm

More than the ice is frosty at the Olympic Oval outside Salt Lake City this week, as short track speedskaters begin the 2012-2013 season.

U.S. skaters are split over allegations of abuse leveled against two coaches and a claim that one coach ordered the sabotage of a Canadian competitor's skates at an international competition last year.

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Presidential Race
10:36 pm
Sun September 23, 2012

Romney Rules Rural As Obama's Support Wanes

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney autographs a coal miner's hat during a campaign event Aug. 14 at American Energy Corp. in Beallsville, Ohio.
Mary Altaffer AP

Originally published on Tue September 25, 2012 8:08 am

The nation's smallest and most remote places are providing Mitt Romney's biggest margins in battleground states as the 2012 presidential race enters its final weeks.

In fact, rural counties are keeping Romney competitive in the states that are now up for grabs. That's what a new bipartisan survey indicates. The poll also finds that President Obama's rural support has plunged since 2008.

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The Two-Way
3:08 pm
Thu September 20, 2012

U.S. Speedskater Accused Of Sabotaging Rival

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

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

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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The Two-Way
1:05 pm
Wed September 19, 2012

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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The Two-Way
9:05 am
Mon September 17, 2012

Short Track Speedskating Coach Put On Leave Amid Abuse Allegations

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

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

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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The Torch
3:11 pm
Tue August 7, 2012

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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The Torch
8:48 am
Sun August 5, 2012

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

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

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

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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Sports
6:34 am
Sun August 5, 2012

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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Sports
4:30 am
Fri August 3, 2012

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.

The Torch
9:57 am
Tue July 31, 2012

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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The Torch
4:46 pm
Mon July 30, 2012

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

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

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

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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The Torch
2:16 pm
Sun July 29, 2012

Olympic Flame Missed From London Skyline

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

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

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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Sports
6:38 am
Sun July 29, 2012

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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The Torch
3:01 pm
Fri July 27, 2012

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

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

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

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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The Torch
12:15 pm
Wed July 25, 2012

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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The Torch
4:11 pm
Mon July 23, 2012

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

Originally published on Mon July 23, 2012 4:13 pm

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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