Reporter Who Exposed Welfare Fraud Now Risks Jail

Anna Wolfe, a Mississippi Today reporter awarded a 2023 Pulitzer for exposing a state welfare scandal, is now at risk of going to jail. Former Gov. Phil Bryant has sued the journalist and her editor, Adam Ganucheau, for defamation, saying he was wrongly accused of criminal conduct, per NBC News. When the prize was announced, the newspaper said its investigation revealed how “Bryant used his office to steer the spending of millions of federal welfare dollars … to benefit his family and friends” from 2016 to 2019. And in videotaped remarks in February 2023, newspaper CEO Mary Margaret stated that $77 million in welfare funds was “embezzled by a former governor and his bureaucratic cronies,” though she later apologized, saying the remark was “inappropriate.”

Bryant’s lawyer, Billy Quin, says the apology didn’t go far enough. “I didn’t sue them because they exposed $77 million worth of misspending,” says Quin, per NBC. “He applauds them for doing that. The suit is about defamation.” Mississippi Today uncovered text messages in which Bryant appeared to oblige NFL legend Brett Favre’s request to help secure millions of dollars for a drug company in which Favre owned stock and in which Bryant was allegedly offered a take. Bryant says he did nothing illegal, and he has not been charged with a crime. In an effort to determine whether Mississippi Today aired false information with “actual malice,” a judge ordered Wolfe and Ganucheau to turn over documents exposing the confidential sources behind Wolfe’s reporting. They refuse.

“Breaching the confidentiality of sources violates one of the most sacred trusts—and breaks one of the most vital tools—in investigative journalism,” argues Ganucheau. Mississippi Today is asking the state Supreme Court, with four of nine justices appointed by Bryant, to overturn the ruling. If the court refuses, Wolfe and Ganucheau could face jail time. “If one of us goes to jail, we will be the first person to go to jail in the Mississippi welfare scandal,” Wolfe tells NBC. Eight people have been indicted and seven have pleaded guilty, though none have yet been sentenced, per Mississippi Today. Quin claims John Davis, the former director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, who pleaded guilty to federal fraud and theft charges, directed where the money went, not Bryant. (More Mississippi stories.)

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