J. David McSwane (B.A., ’10)

J. David McSwane has been an investigative reporter for more than half his life. While attending Arvada West High School in 2005, he saw firsthand how far U.S. military recruiters were willing to bend the rules to enlist his classmates to fight President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism.

McSwane proposed writing about what happened when he showed up at a recruiting office undercover as a nowhere-near-ready-for-service stoner for Denver alternative weekly Westword.

“When he came in with the idea, I knew I had to let him try,” recalled Westword Editor Patricia Calhoun. “It was just so ballsy.”

The resulting story gained national attention, landed McSwane a reporting gig at a Denver TV station, and eventually resulted in major reforms to military recruitment in high schools.

J. David McSwane
PHOTO: Claudio Papapietro

Now a reporter for ProPublica in Washington, D.C., in April 2020 McSwane began following the money to uncover rampant profiteering and fraud in the federal government’s multibillion-dollar efforts to provide Americans personal protective equipment and financial relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.

His reporting was the basis for Pandemic, Inc.: Chasing the Capitalists and Thieves Who Got Rich While We Got Sick (One Signal Publishers/Atria, 2022), his first book.

The story unfolds like an immersive nonfiction thriller. McSwane gives first-person accounts of meeting laid-off workers making a few bucks repackaging substandard masks to sell as FDA-approved PPE and trips on a private jet with an entrepreneur who received a million-dollar federal contract but never delivered a single mask. The narrative is supported by reporting published in ProPublica and other outlets, thoroughly annotated, and brings to life a sprawling cast of characters working both sides of the insanity.

McSwane said that he wrote the book in part to “serve as a guide to future generations on what exactly they shouldn’t do if faced with such a crisis.”

CSU roots

Pandemic, Inc. includes a shoutout to McSwane’s alma mater as a place where he honed his skills as a reporter and editor of the Rocky Mountain Collegian, usually by turning his attention on the University administration.

Why CSU? On a campus tour with his older brother, he said he discovered the Collegian. “It was like a real newspaper. I knew I had to write for it; I didn’t even apply to any other schools.”

McSwane added that his college career might not have even happened without the support of the First Generation Award and longtime advocate Barb Musslewhite, now retired.

After graduation, McSwane covered Texas politics for the Austin American-Statesman and the Dallas Morning News before joining ProPublica in 2019. He has won numerous awards, including Harvard’s Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, the Worth Bingham Prize, a Scripps Howard Award, two Investigative Reporters and Editors Awards, and the Peabody.

“I vividly remember meeting Dave McSwane as an incoming first-year student – modest and unassuming, but driven to do what was right even if it meant challenging conventions and the actions of those in power,” said one of his journalism professors, Pam Jackson. “As a journalist, that’s exactly what he has done. He has stayed true to his values by exposing abuses of power that harm humanity. He has a brilliant mind and a good soul.”