Long Island University Announces Winners of 1998 George Polk Awards
50th Anniversary of Awards to Be Celebrated April 14
Peg Byron,Director of Public Relations
Long Island University
Brooklyn, NY -- Duplicitous operators compromising the health of thousands of coal miners each year. An oil producer's complicity in the murder of two Nigerian environmental activists. "Made in the U.S.A." labels affixed to garments manufactured in sweatshop conditions by oppressed Chinese workers on Saipan. Corporations that milk millions of dollars more in tax breaks from local governments than they ever repay in jobs and economic expansion.
Reporters who broke these stories of reckless business practices were four of 13 winners of the George Polk Awards for excellence in journalism in 1998, announced today by Long Island University. Reports on corruption in politics, health care and the judicial system also received Polk awards, as did an in-depth exami- nation of the human consequences of the Asian financial collapse, and intrepid reporting of torture and destruction in African and European war zones. Columnist Juan Gonzalez of the New York Daily News won an award for commentary. And, in continuance of a Polk tradition of recognizing lifelong, exceptional journalistic achievement, satirist Russell Baker was honored with a career award.
The winners will be feted at a luncheon that also will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the George Polk Awards, which were established by the university in 1949 to honor the memory of a CBS reporter who lost his life in Greece while covering the civil war there.
Gardiner Harris and R.G. Dunlop of The Louisville Courier-Journal won the Polk Award for environmental reporting for publishing their findings that 1,500 coal miners continue to die each year of black lung disease. Their year-long investigation, involving interviews with more than 250 working and retired miners and analyses of over seven million government records, revealed that mine operators routinely ignore mandated safety rules and fake air-quality tests.
"Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria's Oil Dictatorship," a documentary produced by Amy Goodman and Jeremy Scahill for Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now program, won the Polk Award for radio reporting. Traveling through the remote communities of the Niger Delta by canoe and speedboat, they interviewed oil workers, residents, contractors and oil company employees to document Chevron's role in the killing of two Nigerian environmental activists who were part of a protest demanding that the company contribute more to developing their impoverished communities and cleanup pollution. Oil companies provide about 80 percent of Nigeria's revenue.
Brian Ross and Rhonda Schwartz are repeat winners of the Polk Award for television reporting for a scathing report on the practices of American clothing manufacturers in Saipan, a U.S. territory. "Made in America?"-shown on the ABC News television magazine 20/20-revealed that clothing labeled "Made in the U.S.A." by Ralph Lauren, the Gap and many other companies is manufactured under sweatshop conditions by oppressed Chinese workers housed in crowded, rat-infested barracks. In response to the broadcast's revelations, changes were demanded-and have been made-in work conditions and garment labeling.
The Polk Award for national reporting went to Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele for a trenchant four-part series in Time magazine on taxpayer giveaways to corporations. After an 18-month investigation covering 24 states, they demonstrated that economic concessions and rewards given to entice companies to remain in or move to an area rarely pay for themselves, spurring little job growth or economic activity. This is the fifth Polk Award for Barlett and Steele, who won in 1971, 1973, 1988 and 1991 for stories that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, thus breaking their tie with The New York Times' Seymour M. Hersh and broadcaster Brian Ross, the only other four-time Polk winners.
New York Times reporter Clifford J. Levy, winner of the Polk Award for local reporting, sensed larger news in the fact that some New York office-holders had raised unprecedented campaign war chests. His meticulous examination of contribution lists unearthed clear examples of conflicts of interest, sparking federal criminal investigations of the campaigns of two top New York State officials.
Robert Whitaker and Dolores Kong tracked down patients involved in two decades worth of psychiatric research to produce the carefully documented Boston Globe series, "Doing Harm: Research on the Mentally Ill," which won the Polk Award for medical reporting. They found that patients were being lured into federally funded and drug company-supported experiments run by unscrupulous doctors, thus exacerbating their illnesses. The articles played a major role in the drafting of legislation to create an independent review board to enforce mental-health research standards.
Alix M. Freedman of The Wall Street Journal won the Polk Award for international reporting for "Population Bomb," an explosive front-page investigative report about the sterilization of more than 100,000 women in Third- World nations-often without their knowledge or against their will-with quinacrine, a suspected carcinogen. The story revealed that the two American population-control advocates behind its distribution received funding from anti-immigration interests in the U.S. Her article led to the discontinuation of production of the drug in Switzerland and to the banning of quinacrine sterilizations in Chile and India. Freedman is the daughter of one Polk winner (Emanuel R. Freedman of The New York Times in 1956) and the spouse of another (Scot J. Paltrow of The Los Angeles Times in 1993; he's now with The Wall Street Journal).
Joe Stephens of The Kansas City Star won the Polk Award for legal reporting for "On Their Honor," a report exposing widespread conflicts of interest among federal judges. Months of research through thousands of financial disclosure forms revealed that many judges had a personal stake in the cases of litigants. Within weeks of The Star's story, members of Congress scheduled hearings and within months, the nation's top judges, meeting at the Supreme Court, approved a range of reforms. It is Stephens' second Polk award in five years.
Mary Jordan, Keith Richburg and Kevin Sullivan of The Washington Post won the Polk Award for economic reporting for "Shattered Lives," an eight-part series that translated the Asian economic crisis into human terms. They described how the collapse of currencies and financial markets in South Korea, Indonesia, Japan and Thailand led to lost jobs, broken homes, hunger and even death in what had been a growing Asian middle class. One indelible portrait chronicled the suffering of a scapegoated Chinese community in Indonesia.
Dispatches from the Balkan province of Kosovo earned Tracy Wilkinson the Polk Award for foreign reporting for giving Los Angeles Times readers early insight into the political and human struggles between ethnic Albanian separatists and Serb nationalists. Her profiles of five people seeking ethnic harmony in Bosnia brought a fragile note of optimism to the bleak landscape of postwar stagnation so well depicted in her other reports.
The Polk book award went to Philip Gourevitch, for his harrowing account of genocide in We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). In addition to examining how and why 800,000 predominantly Tutsi Rwandans were murdered by erstwhile Hutu friends and neighbors, Gourevitch's book depicts a chilling tale of cowardice and moral equivocation by an international community that refused to intervene. In six visits to Africa over 30 months, he interviewed hundreds of survivors of the widest-scale mass killing since World War II. Much of the material in the book first appeared in The New Yorker magazine, where Gourevitch is a member of the staff.
Juan Gonzalez won the Polk Award for commentary for his street-savvy, unflinching columns in the New York Daily News. In the foreword to Roll Down Your Window, Stories from a Forgotten America, a compilation of his work, he writes that much of his time in the past two decades has been spent writing about neighborhoods where "strangers roll up their windows as they pass through." In his writing, Gonzalez rolls down the windows to depict complexities in communities of color, struggles in the labor movement and flaws in politicians.
As winner of the Polk career award, Russell Baker is honored for a second time. He won in 1978 for commentary. Resident wit at The New York Times from 1962 through 1998, Baker is a satirist, commentator and raconteur. His whimsically irreverent "Observer" columns and his autobiography, Growing Up, both earned him the Pulitzer Prize.
The 1998 Polk Award recipients will be honored at the 50th Anniversary luncheon, which will be held at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City on April 14. A seminar with the some of the honorees and previous Polk winners will take place the previous evening at the Newseum/NY in Manhattan.
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