Long Island University Announces Winners of the 60th Annual George Polk Awards
Best-Selling Author and New Journalism Pioneer Gay Talese to Receive the George Polk Career Award
Peg Byron,Director of Public Relations
Long Island University
Long Island University has announced the winners of 14 George Polk Awards for 2008, including a reporter jailed for “committing journalism” in Zimbabwe and others whose investigations untangled the complexities of the mortgage crisis, exposed Pentagon manipulation of the news media and warned about the health risks of exposure to chemicals in the packaging, surfaces or contents of many commonly used products.
Now in their 60th year, the Awards were established by the University in 1949 to memorialize George Polk, a CBS reporter who was killed while covering the civil war in Greece. “Courage, diligence and skill were hallmarks of George Polk’s career, and we are proud to honor the journalists who carry on that tradition today,” said Dr. David J. Steinberg, president of Long Island University. “In these difficult times, when many newspapers and magazines face financial peril, we treasure these George Polk Award winners and the news media’s essential support for investigative reporting.”
The annual George Polk Seminar will take place on Wednesday, April 15, at the Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts on Long Island University's Brooklyn Campus. The George Polk Awards will be presented at a luncheon honoring the winners, listed below, at The Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan on Thursday, April 16, 2009.
The George Polk Career Award will be bestowed upon acclaimed journalist and author Gay Talese. The son of an Italian immigrant father, who was a tailor, and a mother who was a buyer for a Brooklyn department store, Mr. Talese was raised in Ocean City, N.J., and began his career as a copy boy for The New York Times. He worked as a reporter for The Times from 1956 to 1965 and has continued to write for the newspaper as well as for Esquire, The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine and a multitude of other national publications. The 77-year-old Talese has influenced a generation of writers with his deftly understated, reportorial style and an eye and ear for the unusual. His 1966 Esquire magazine essay, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” remains a classic example of what became known as “the new journalism” – an inventive form of nonfiction writing. In addition to works published in newspapers and magazines, Talese has authored numerous books including: “The Bridge,” which details the building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York City; “Thy Neighbor’s Wife,” a best seller about the 1970s sexual revolution; and “Honor Thy Father,” which became a 1973 television feature film about life in the Bonanno organized crime family.
Two New York Times correspondents will share the George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting. Husband-and-wife team Barry Bearak and Celia W. Dugger, both previous Polk Award winners and co-bureau chiefs in Johannesburg, South Africa, risked their freedom and their lives in Zimbabwe to expose the violence that shook that country in the wake of disputed elections as the corrupt government of President Robert Mugabe clung to power. Even after Bearak, who is also the winner of a Pulitzer Prize, spent five days in jail for “committing journalism,” the reporters continued to file dozens of stories that painted a vivid picture of the repression, disease and hunger that still torment the once-promising African nation.
Paul Salopek of the Chicago Tribune will receive the George Polk Award for International Reporting for uncovering the rarely publicized but more controversial aspects of America’s war on terror in the Horn of Africa, an expanse that includes Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea. In three reports from remote and lawless regions, he described the beleaguered efforts of the United States military to pre-empt an anticipated surge of radical Islamist activity. His accounts also depicted growing anti-American sentiment and accusations of secret rendition and prison programs in the region. A two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Salopek himself was beaten and imprisoned while covering the conflict in Sudan in 2006, enduring a nine-day hunger strike to protest prison conditions. He and two colleagues were freed following intervention by U.S. government officials including then-Senator Barack Obama, who advocated for Salopek from Chad when he was not granted a visa to enter Sudan.
Former Polk Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winner David Barstow of The New York Times will receive the George Polk Award for National Reporting. His two-part series, “Message Machine,” documented the way in which the Bush administration waged a covert campaign to transform retired military officers working as analysts for television and radio networks into defense-industry rainmakers who influenced the awarding of contracts for military equipment used in the Iraq War, while also influencing public opinion. Fighting legal red tape for almost two years, Barstow revealed that these ostensibly “independent analysts,” who appeared on TV continuously, not only repeated Administration talking points regardless of their own doubts, but also used their time on air as well as their special access to military leaders to advance undisclosed interests with defense contractors who were paying them sizeable fees to serve as consultants.
The George Polk Award for Military Reporting will be bestowed upon the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s chief investigative reporter Eric Nalder for his two-part series, “Demoted to Private: America’s Military Housing Disaster.” Nalder, also a Pulitzer Prize winner, revealed that the Defense Department, after conducting little or no due diligence, awarded a billion dollars in contracts to a politically connected consortium as part of an effort to privatize military housing construction. The result was the loss of millions of taxpayer dollars after a then-Dallas-based company in the consortium failed to construct housing it was slated to complete in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri and Washington.
The George Polk Award for Local Reporting will go to Jim Schaefer and M.L. Elrick of the Detroit Free Press for investigative reporting that led to the resignation and jailing of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. The two unearthed graphic text messages and other evidence revealing that the mayor, while testifying in a police whistle-blower case, lied under oath about a sexual relationship he had with his chief of staff. To break the case open, the reporters filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that was heard by the Michigan Supreme Court. The investigation eventually led to the discovery of a secret deal struck by the mayor in which $8.4 million in taxpayer money was used to settle the whistler-blower case in exchange for destroying the incriminating messages. Kilpatrick, who must repay $1 million, spent 99 days in prison after pleading guilty to two felonies and no contest to a third. His aide also pleaded guilty and was jailed on two felony counts.
Paul Pringle of the Los Angeles Times will receive the George Polk Award for Labor Reporting. His work revealed potential corruption within the nation’s fastest-growing labor union. Pringle exposed the fact that hundreds of thousands of dollars were flowing from the 160,000 mostly low-wage members of the Los Angeles chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and a related charity to firms owned by family members of the local’s president. The coverage triggered the firing of the Union official and the launch of federal investigations, which remain underway. In addition, Pringle’s work fueled legal inquiries that spread across the state and into Michigan, where the president of another SEIU chapter also was ousted.
The George Polk Award for Justice Reporting will go to Ryan Gabrielson and Paul Giblin for their five-part series, “Reasonable Doubt,” published in Mesa, Arizona’s East Valley Tribune. Gabrielson, still a reporter at the Tribune, and Giblin, who now reports for The Arizona Guardian, scrutinized Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s campaign against illegal immigrants in Phoenix and other parts of the state’s Maricopa County. They reported blatant violations of federal regulations intended to prevent racial profiling, and they exposed slow responses to emergencies, lax criminal enforcement and suspiciously high rates of overtime by the police department. While Arpaio continues to appear on the Fox Reality Channel’s “Smile...You’re Under Arrest!” the Tribune report is being used by the Arizona state legislature to review anti-immigrant policies.
The George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting will be presented to investigative reporter Richard Behar for his article, “China Storms Africa,” published in Fast Company, the innovative business magazine. Behar, who won a Polk Award in 1995, detailed the size and the scope of China's drive to invest in sub-Saharan Africa, which encompasses 49 countries and represents one-fifth of the earth’s landmass, in order to acquire the raw materials it needs for manufacturing. He equated China’s aggressiveness in the attainment of these resources to a parasite that “invades and depletes its host” and characterized it as “one of the most bare-knuckled resource grabs the world has ever seen.”
Winning the George Polk Award for Environmental Reporting are Susanne Rust and Meg Kissinger of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Their six-part series, “Chemical Fallout: A Journal Sentinel Watchdog Report,” castigated the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for failing to monitor, regulate and ultimately ban potential toxins found in everyday materials, from “microwave safe” plastics to baby bottles. Their reports about chemicals such as bisphenol A, or BPA, which causes neurological and developmental damage in laboratory animals, reverberated from the halls of Congress to homes and schools across America.
The George Polk Award for Sports Reporting will go to Ken Armstrong, who previously won a Polk Award in 1999, and Nick Perry, both of The Seattle Times, for “Victory and Ruins.” Their four-part series focused on the tainted triumph of the University of Washington's 2001 Rose Bowl football team and revealed that at least two dozen team members were allowed to continue to play despite having been arrested – some for violent felonies – while enrolled at the school. Exposing the exceptions that were made and the crimes that were ignored, Armstrong and Perry provided an incisive look into the often, permissive culture of college football.
The George Polk Award for Television Reporting will be presented to CBS News “60 Minutes” correspondent and Emmy Award-winner Scott Pelley, producer Solly Granatstein and co-producer Nicole Young for “The Wasteland.” In this segment, the trio divulged how some American companies that are paid to recycle electronic waste have instead dumped it in China, which has led to environmental despoliation and severe health risks. After the “60 Minutes” crew tracked a Denver recycling company’s shipment to southern China, the firm lost its contract and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began investigating dozens of other suspect recycling businesses.
The George Polk Award for Documentary Reporting will be given to Stefan Forbes, the independent producer and director of “Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story,” a riveting, comic, disturbing and insightful portrait of the Republican operative from South Carolina who also was a passionate musician. Packed full of archival footage, as well as blunt and often shocking commentary by Washington political heavyweights and media personalities who knew him well, the piece illustrates how the “master of media spin” helped to win some of the most important elections in this country’s history and why, nearly two decades after his death at the age of 40 from a brain tumor, the Atwood playbook continues to influence American politics through the work of two of his most highly recognizable and successful protégés, Karl Rove and former President George W. Bush.
The George Polk Award for Radio Reporting will honor the work of Alex Blumberg of “This American Life,” which is produced by Chicago Public Radio and distributed by Public Radio International, and Adam Davidson of National Public Radio for their collaborative report titled, “The Giant Pool of Money.” Their piece distilled down the highly complex chain of events that led to the subprime mortgage crisis. Through the stories of mortgage brokers and packagers, as well as those who have lost their homes, the pair illuminated the impact of no-interest, no-asset (NINA) mortgages and connected the dots between the people on Wall Street who made the deals and the people on Main Street whose lives will never be the same.
Winners of the George Polk Awards are selected by a jury of Long Island University faculty members and alumni from entries submitted by journalists and news organizations and by a panel of journalism teachers, editors and reporters, including some former Polk Award recipients. Visit the George Polk Awards Web site for additional information.
On Wednesday, April 15, the annual George Polk Seminar, which is free and open to the public, will take place at the Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts on Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus, located at the intersection of DeKalb Avenue and Flatbush Avenue Extension in downtown Brooklyn. A 5:30 p.m. reception will precede the panel discussion that will begin at 6:30 p.m. The Seminar will explore the topic: “Missing the Story? Press Coverage of Politics and Finance,” moderated by Alex Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University. Panelists will include David Barstow of The New York Times, who is to be honored with the 2008 Polk Award for National Reporting; Adam Davidson of National Public Radio, who has been named recipient of the 2008 Polk Award for Radio Reporting; Stefan Forbes, producer and director of “Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story,” who is to receive the 2008 Polk Award for Documentary Reporting; and Paul Salopek of the Chicago Tribune, who is to receive the George Polk Award for International Reporting.
On Thursday, April 16, Long Island University will host the George Polk Awards Luncheon at The Roosevelt Hotel, located in Manhattan at 45 East 45th Street (at the corner of Madison Avenue). A poster exhibit displaying work by the Award winners will commence at 11 a.m., and the Luncheon and Awards presentations will begin at noon. A limited number of tickets are available.
For reservations to attend the George Polk Seminar and for tickets to the George Polk Awards Luncheon, please contact Long Island University’s Office of Special Events at (516) 299-3298 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Long Island University Public Radio Network will broadcast the George Polk Awards Seminar and Awards Luncheon live on 88.3 WLIU FM and 88.1 WCWP FM and on the Internet at www.wliu.org.
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