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LIU Announces 2012 George Polk Awards in Journalism

Winners include reporter who broke the story about Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” video and journalists who exposed high-level corruption in China


Brian Harmon,Director of Public Relations
LIU Brooklyn, Long Island University

Brooklyn, N.Y. – The winners of the 64th annual George Polk Awards in Journalism were announced today by Long Island University.

Recognized for work completed in 2012, the recipients include Mother Jones’ Washington bureau chief David Corn, who last September published video of the “47 percent” remarks presidential hopeful Mitt Romney made during a private campaign fundraiser.

Other winners include New York Times and Bloomberg News reporters who uncovered high-level corruption in China. Journalists from a wide array of other news outlets —including California Watch, CBS News, Frontline, GlobalPost, the Maine Sunday Telegram, McClatchy Newspapers, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the New Yorker and the Washington Post — also earned 2012 George Polk Awards.

“Our winners were outstanding during a year filled with major news events,” said John Darnton, curator of the George Polk Awards. “A number of reporters and photographers took the risk of going into Libya and Syria to bring us stories on the ground.

“And in China, two news organizations -- Bloomberg News and The New York Times -- published groundbreaking reports on high-level corruption. At home, there were important articles on issues ranging from abuses in state clinics to student debt,” he added.

Darnton also noted that the more than 700 submissions for awards included an increasing number from online news outfits. Winners were selected in 14 categories.

The George Polk Awards in Journalism are conferred annually to honor special achievement in journalism. The awards, which place a premium on investigative and enterprise reporting, were established in 1949 by LIU to commemorate George Polk, a CBS correspondent murdered in 1948 while covering the Greek civil war.

The 2012 George Polk Awards will be presented at a luncheon at The Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan on Thursday, April 11, 2013. Christiane Amanpour of CNN and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Carl Bernstein will be the citation readers at the event. This year’s George Polk Seminar, “A Revolution Betrayed: Covering Corruption and Human Rights in China,” will take place the preceding evening, Wednesday, April 10, 2013, at LIU Brooklyn’s Kumble Theater for Performing Arts.

David Corn of Mother Jones will receive the George Polk Award for Political Reporting for a story that rocked the nation and perhaps cost Mitt Romney the Presidential election. Through persistent digging and careful negotiation with a source, Corn secured a full recording of Romney at a $50,000-a-plate Florida fundraiser declaring that 47 percent of Americans — those who back President Obama — are “victims” who are “dependent upon government” and “pay no income tax.” Corn worked for weeks to obtain the recording, but it was his years of high-impact journalism that helped lead him to the source of the recording. Furthermore, it was Corn’s extensive previous reporting on Romney that convinced the source to trust him with its release.
Mother Jones: 47% Story

The staff of Bloomberg News and David Barboza of The New York Times will both receive the George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting, for investigative reports that untangled the financial holdings of China’s political elite and uncovered corruption within the world’s most populous country.

Bloomberg News’ series of articles underscored the profound inequities and hypocrisies of the ruling class. When the Communist Party ousted Chongqing leader Bo Xilai, Bloomberg reporters sought the truth behind rumors of his vast wealth. Piecing together family trees and tracing assets using land registries, company filings and other public documents, the international team uncovered a web of assets from Beijing to the Caribbean worth at least $126 million. They also revealed the riches amassed by relatives of Vice President Xi Jinping.

Barboza’s explosive three-part series in The New York Times, “The Princelings,” probed into the far-reaching financial interests of officials and their extended families. The veteran Shanghai correspondent revealed that relatives of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao had accumulated a secret wealth of $2.7 billion. At personal risk, Barboza took novel approaches to discovering family connections — including examining gravestones in villages and circulating photos from government ID cards to confirm identities.

The ramifications of these revelations came at a cost for both outlets. Bloomberg’s story was banned and remains blocked in China. The New York Times had started a Chinese-language Web site shortly before Barboza’s exposé, but within minutes of publication of the first article in the Times’ series, the Chinese government blocked the newspaper’s Chinese and English language websites.
The New York Times: “The Princelings”
Bloomberg News: “China Betrayed”

The George Polk Award for Television News Reporting will be given to CBS News’ correspondent Holly Williams and cameraman Andrew Portch for their insightful coverage of Chinese human rights campaigner, Chen Guangcheng, who escaped China after years of being under house arrest for exposing the forced abortions in China that are sometimes ordered to enforce the one-child per family policy. Intuitive reporting and a fluency in Mandarin led to interviews with Guangcheng and sparked a compelling report from the activist’s hometown in the weeks after his escape. Williams and Portch returned to Guangcheng’s hometown under the cover of night after men apparently working for the government physically kept them from entering the village during the day.
CBS News: Coverage of Chinese human rights campaigner (1)
CBS News: Coverage of Chinese human rights campaigner (2)

The George Polk Award for War Reporting recognizes the intrepid coverage of the civil war in Syria by a team of McClatchy Newspapers correspondents. In the series, “Inside Syria,” David Enders recorded several firsts: he was the first reporter to describe how the rebels carved out a safe haven in northern Syria; the first to report on tensions between anti-Assad rebels and Kurdish Syrians; and the first to write about a rebel battalion, the Farouk Brigade, and a group, Nusra Front, that the U.S. would label a branch of al Qaida in Iraq. Austin Tice is a freelancer whose work on McClatchy’s behalf included groundbreaking reports on the poor tactical performance of the Syrian military. He was among the first American correspondents to witness Syrian-rebel confrontations. Tice was last heard from on Aug. 13, apparently taken captive by regime-allied forces. Enders and Tice will share the award with the staff of McClatchy. McClatchy Newspapers: “Inside Syria”

Tracey Shelton of GlobalPost will receive the George Polk Award for Video Reporting for communicating the human tragedy of the conflict in Syria in a way that is impossible to ignore or forget. Through powerful video, viscerally engaging images and authoritative writing, she gave voice and face to those most affected by the civil war. In one piece, Shelton took readers inside a Syrian home to create an intimate portrait of one family displaced and traumatized by the terrors of war. In another, she showed the horrific aftermath of a helicopter bombing attack and the search to find survivors. The heart-wrenching conclusion: A 4-year-old boy survived unscathed in the blast that killed his parents, siblings and other relatives. In another instance, Shelton went on patrol with a group of rebel soldiers telling their story in the days before — and then at the very moment — they are killed by a tank blast.
GlobalPost: “Inside Syria”

The George Polk Award for National Reporting will be presented to John Hechinger and Janet Lorin of Bloomberg News for an extraordinary yearlong series that exposed abuses in higher education finance. Hechinger revealed how the government hired private debt-collection companies that racked up $1 billion in commissions while misleading borrowers about their options. He also uncovered how the government hired private law firms — paid on contingency — to squeeze payments out of decades-old loans. Lorin showed how financial firms charged interest rates as high as 10.24 percent for private student loans with misleading terms; and how colleges package confusing financial-aid award letters so that consumers believe loans are scholarships. Bloomberg’s reporting set the agenda for student-loan coverage, leading to new federal rules on debt collection, the introduction of several Congressional bills, and reforms by the colleges.
Bloomberg News: “Indentured Students”

The George Polk Award for Local Reporting will be bestowed upon investigative reporter Gina Barton of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for her courageous reporting on the death of a Milwaukee man who died in policy custody after telling Milwaukee Police officers repeatedly for 15 minutes after his arrest that he could not breathe. The death of Derek Williams in July 2011 was initially deemed a natural death by the medical examiner. An internal police investigation — in part based on the medical examiner’s report — had cleared the officers of any wrongdoing. Barton obtained written records of the case, but the police department denied her access to the squad car video, stating the case was being investigated and that Williams’ family would find the images disturbing. Barton obtained permission from the Williams’ family to have the video released, and after 10 months of delay, Barton submitted this new evidence to the attention of an assistant medical examiner. Soon after, the medical examiner's office revised its ruling from natural death to homicide, and the medical examiner resigned.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: A Death in Police Custody

For bringing unprecedented attention to law enforcement’s unregulated use of young confidential informants in the war on drugs, Sarah Stillman of The New Yorker will receive the George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting. Stillman’s “The Throwaways” uncovered shocking, systemic abuses at the local, state and regional levels that have led to the deaths of dozens of teens across the United States. Stillman’s piece, which was the product of an eight-month investigation, spurred calls for political reform in each of the four states highlighted in her reporting — Washington, Michigan, Kentucky and Florida. Stillman’s piece included the story of the brutal murder of a transgender Detroit teen, whose body was dismembered and set ablaze after police coerced her into informant work to escape arrest for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana.
The New Yorker: “The Throwaways”

The George Polk Award for Justice Reporting will go to Sam Dolnick of The New York Times for a disturbing account of rape and murder inside New Jersey’s privatized halfway houses. The privatization of the halfway houses had been hailed as innovative before Dolnick’s “Unlocked” series showed widespread drug abuse, gang activity and rampant mismanagement. Dolnick’s reporting — the result of a 10-month investigation — ensnared Gov. Chris Christie, who has close ties to Community Education Centers, the company that runs these halfway houses, in one of the biggest controversies of his tenure. “Unlocked” documented how the halfway houses had become a parallel correctional system with precious little oversight. Security was so lax that there were 5,100 escapes between 2005 and 2012, yet the state had not punished the operators. Dolnick’s stories led the state government to act, with the governor ordering an inspection of a system that cost taxpayers more than $100 million a year to run. Officials levied huge fines against the operators and legislators introduced 14 reform bills.
The New York Times: “Unlocked”

The George Polk Award for State Reporting will go to Ryan Gabrielson of California Watch for his dogged persistence in exposing how California’s Office of Protective Services does an abysmal job of curbing abuse at state clinics. In his “Broken Shield” series, Gabrielson detailed how investigators were slow to begin investigations, failed to collect evidence and ignored key witnesses – leading to an alarming inability to solve crimes inflicted upon some of society’s most vulnerable citizens. In one egregious physical abuse case, a caregiver was suspected of using a Taser to inflict burns on a dozen patients, yet the internal police force waited at least nine days before interviewing the caregiver, who was never arrested or charged with abuse. Gabrielson’s series prompted far-reaching change, including a criminal investigation, staff retraining and new laws – all intended to bring greater safeguards and accountability.
California Watch: “Broken Shield”

Peter Whoriskey of The Washington Post will receive the George Polk Award for Medical Reporting for “Biased Research, Big Profits,” a series that detailed reprehensible practices of the pharmaceutical industry that are warping the practice of medicine and endangering patients. Whoriskey revealed the huge financial incentives given to doctors to prescribe large doses of an anemia drug that caused tens of thousands of heart attacks. He also reported that makers of the painkiller Oxycontin funded studies that convinced the Food and Drug Administration and prominent journals that the addiction risk was small. The campaign fueled painkiller addiction addiction. Reacting to Whoriskey’s articles, lawmakers called for an investigation of Medicare for funding a drug featured in one of his stories. Several months after Whoriskey’s article on Amgen appeared, the pharmaceutical company pleaded guilty to improper marketing practices, paying $762 million to settle civil and criminal charges.
The Washington Post: “Biased Research, Big Profits”

An assiduous investigation and report showing how Walmart fueled its overseas growth through bribes has earned David Barstow of The New York Times and Mexican reporter Alejandra Xanic von Bertrab the George Polk Award for Business Reporting. In 2004, Wal-Mart began building a supermarket in an alfafa field near the ancient pyramids of Teotihuacan in Mexico. It became a project that provoked furious protests, with leaders charging bribery—allegations that Walmart executives ignored. In “Wal-Mart Abroad,” Barstow pieced together a hidden corporate drama of corruption. Traveling across Mexico with Mexican reporter Alejandra Xanic von Bertrab, Barstow tunneled into databases and filing cabinets of local bureaucracies that govern construction permits and zoning issues. He discovered how Walmart had paid bribes in city after city to win approvals that the law did not allow. Barstow’s muckraking spurred investigations by the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Mexican authorities into the wrongdoing and led Wal-Mart to examine its violations of the anti-bribery laws in several countries.
The New York Times: “Wal-Mart Abroad”

The George Polk Award for Education Reporting will go to Colin Woodard of the Maine Sunday Telegram for a report that shed light on how the nation’s largest for-profit online education companies are steering development of Maine’s digital education policies. Woodard’s analysis of over 1,000 pages of administration correspondence and documents and his interviews with sources across the country generated a series of stories that showed how the state’s education commissioner allowed outside interests to ghost write much of his digital education agenda, including draft laws, digital education goals and even the text of a key executive order issued by the governor of Maine.
Maine Sunday Telegram: “The Profit Motive”

The The George Polk Award for Documentary Television Reporting will be presented to FRONTLINE correspondent Martin Smith and producer Michael Kirk for “Money, Power and Wall Street.” The comprehensive four-part investigation was done with the assistance of producers Marcela Gaviria, Mike Wiser and Jim Gilmore. It provided a thorough examination of the epic global financial crisis, from its origins to the present day. The team drew on more than 140 in-depth interviews, conducted around the world, with people tangentially or directly responsible for the crisis. In blunt, first-hand accounts, viewers were given an unprecedented look inside key decisions that affected the lives of ordinary people around the country and a play-by-play road map of what ultimately would shatter the global economy. The series also dissected and distilled down the complicated subject of the modern credit derivative market and provided a sober look inside the struggle to rescue and repair this country’s battered economy. David Fanning is the executive producer of FRONTLINE.
Frontline: “Money, Power and Wall Street”

On Wednesday, April 10, the annual George Polk Seminar, which is free and open to the public, will take place at Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts at LIU Brooklyn, located at the intersection of DeKalb and Flatbush avenues in downtown Brooklyn. A 5:30 p.m. reception will precede a 6:30 p.m. panel discussion. The seminar, entitled “A Revolution Betrayed: Covering Corruption and Human Rights in China,” will include David Barboza of The New York Times and Holly Williams of CBS News. On Thursday, April 11, LIU will host the George Polk Awards Luncheon at noon 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 2012 Polk Award winners will commence at 11 a.m. 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 LIU’s Office of Special Events at (516) 299-3298 or e-mail


George Polk Awards
Ranked among America's most coveted journalism honors, the George Polk Awards have been administered by Long Island University since 1949.They memorialize CBS correspondent George W. Polk, who was slain covering the civil war in Greece in 1948. A committee of jurors made up of University faculty members and alumni selects the winners from entries submitted by journalists and news organizations as well as nominations made by a panel of journalists and editors, including a number of former winners.

About LIU
In its ninth decade of providing access to the American dream through excellence in higher education, LIU is a multicampus, diverse, doctoral institution of higher learning. One of the largest and most comprehensive private universities in the country, the University offers nearly 500 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degree programs and certificates, and educates over 24,000* students in degree-credit and continuing education programs in Brooklyn, Brookville (LIU Post), Brentwood, Riverhead, and Rockland and Westchester (LIU Hudson). Other academic units include LIU Pharmacy (the Arnold & Marie Schwartz College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences), which prepares students for successful careers in the fields of pharmacy and health care; LIU Global, which provides a wide range of study abroad options at overseas centers in China, Costa Rica and India, and through programs in Australia, Ecuador, Peru, Taiwan, Thailand and Turkey; and LIU Online, which harnesses the latest technology to offer online and blended programs.

LIU’s 622 full-time faculty members provide outstanding instruction, which is supplemented by internships and cooperative education opportunities. The accomplishments of more than 191,000 living alumni are a testament to the success of its mission – providing the highest level of education to people from all walks of life. The institution also provides enrichment for students and the community through the world-class arts programming at LIU Tilles Center, NCAA Division I and II athletic teams and the nationally renowned George Polk Awards in journalism.

*This number includes high school students enrolled in one or more degree-credit courses.

LIU Brooklyn is distinguished by...
dynamic curricula reflecting the great urban community it serves. Distinctive programs encompass the arts and media, the natural sciences, business, social policy, urban education, the health professions and pharmacy, and include the Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, the Ph.D. in Pharmaceutics, the D.P.T. in Physical Therapy and the Pharm.D. in Pharmacy. A vibrant urban oasis in downtown Brooklyn, this diverse and thriving campus offers academic excellence, personalized attention, small class size and flexible course schedules. In 2006, a $45-million Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center was opened to serve the Campus and the surrounding community. In 2007, the Cyber Café was launched, providing a high-tech hot spot for students and faculty members to meet and eat.

Posted 02/17/2013

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