Mississippi Today reporter Anna Wolfe won the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting for her remarkable investigation “The Backchannel,” which exposed former Gov. Phil Bryant’s role in the state’s welfare scandal.

Wolfe’s investigation was the culmination of more than five years of reporting on the Mississippi welfare agency, which is tasked with helping the poorest residents of America’s poorest state. When she found in 2017 that only a fraction of Mississippians who applied for direct cash assistance were receiving it, she wondered how, instead, the state was spending hundreds of millions in federal grants designed to help those people.

READ MORE: Mississippi Today’s complete “The Backchannel” investigation

Through dozens of records requests and hundreds of interviews over the past several years, Wolfe uncovered misspending of those federal funds. And, after a tipster leaked thousands of private, never-before-seen text messages between Bryant and key players in the scandal, Wolfe was able to piece together the former governor’s role.

Among the findings of “The Backchannel” investigation:

  • Bryant was set, just days after leaving office, to receive stock in a Favre-affiliated drug company that had received state welfare dollars.
  • Favre pressed Mississippi welfare officials to steer taxpayer funds to his pet projects — one of which he planned to profit from. 
  • Bryant helped Favre secure welfare funding for USM volleyball stadium.
  • Bryant wielded great control over how his appointed welfare director distributed federal funds, even turning to that welfare director to seek help for his troubled nephew.

Click the links below to read the entire “The Backchannel” investigation.

Part 1: Phil Bryant had his sights on a payout as welfare funds flowed to Brett Favre

Part 1A: ‘You stuck your neck out for me’: Brett Favre used fame and favors to pull welfare dollars

Part 2: ‘My Governor is counting on me’: Disgraced welfare director bowed to Phil Bryant’s wishes

Part 3: Governing by text: Phil Bryant’s hidden hand picked welfare winners

Part 4: Phil Bryant’s star-powered selfies and slick brochures didn’t Save the Children

Part 5: Family first: Gov. Phil Bryant turned to welfare officials to rescue troubled nephew

Part 6: Gov. Tate Reeves inspired welfare payment targeted in civil suit, texts show

Part 7: Former Gov. Phil Bryant helped Brett Favre secure welfare funding for USM volleyball stadium, texts reveal

Part 8: SuperTalk radio was a powerful mouthpiece for welfare fraudsters — while raking in welfare funds itself

Before national news covered the welfare scandal, Mississippi Today exposed it first.

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