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Long Island University Announces Winners of 2000 George Polk Awards


Peg Byron,Director of Public Relations
Brooklyn Campus,
Long Island University

The George Polk AwardsBrooklyn, N. Y. -- The George Polk Awards for excellence in journalism for the year 2000 were announced today in 12 categories by Long Island University. The awards, established by the university in 1949 to honor the memory of a CBS reporter killed while covering the civil war in Greece, will be presented at a luncheon April 18.

The most honored journalists in the 52-year history of the Polks, Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, received the Polk Award for Magazine Reporting - their sixth award for investigative reporting as a team. In "Big Money and Politics: Who Gets Hurt," Barlett and Steele gave readers of Time magazine a virtual balance sheet of what political contributions can and do buy in America. Their reporting detailed how potent interests provide millions for "favored treatment to those who pay up-at the expense of those who don't." Barlett and Steele were previously honored for work at the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1971, 1973, 1988 and 1991, and at Time in 1998. No other journalist has won more than four George Polk Awards.

Laurie Garrett received the George Polk Book Award for Betrayal of Trust, a meticulously researched account of health catastrophes occurring in different places simultaneously and amounting to a disaster of global proportions. The book, published by Hyperion, was the culmination of five years of on-site research on five continents. Garrett was previously honored in 1997 for coverage in Newsday of a health crisis in the former Soviet Union.

The Polk Career Award was bestowed on John Oakes, retired editor at The New York Times, for his singular contributions to the field of journalism. As a Times editorial writer from 1951 to 1961, and as editor of The Times's editorial page from 1961 to 1976, he championed the United Nations, NATO, civil and constitutional rights, gun control, and funding for the arts and humanities. Oakes, who won a George Polk Award in 1965, created the first column devoted to environmental conservation, founded the nation's first "Op Ed" page, and took an early and consistent stand against the Vietnam War.

Michael Grunwald of the The Washington Post won the George Polk Award for National Reporting for a series of 40 articles on the activities of the Army Corps of Engineers, one of the largest and most influential yet least-examined federal agencies. After Grunwald's series examining multi-billion-dollar water projects of questionable value and, often, serious environmental risk, Congress began to examine the feasibility of conducting independent reviews of all major Corps projects.

The George Polk Award for Transportation Reporting went to Scott McCartney of The Wall Street Journal for exposing gross negligence by the Federal Aviation Administration. His stories revealed an agency plagued by lack of oversight of cockpits, toleration of dangerously inadequate pilot training, botched attempts to centralize air-traffic control and installation of a system that provided controllers with incomplete weather reports.

A three-person team at KHOU-TV in Houston - reporters Anna Werner
and David Raziq and photojournalist Chris Henao - won the George Polk Award for Local Television Reporting for "Treading on Danger?" an investigative series credited by the federal government, safety experts, the media and even the Ford Motor Company with causing the recall of more than six million Firestone Tires. The KHOU team tracked down a product defect that had existed for years - tires that lost their tread at highway speeds, often resulting in deadly and tragic accidents.

The George Polk Award for Network Television Reporting went to John Larson, Allan Maraynes, Lynn Dale, Neal Shapiro and Andy Lehren of NBC Dateline for "The Paper Chase," which reported on insurance-industry efforts to deny medical benefits to accident victims. Focusing on the nation's largest carrier, State Farm, the program showed how the company bankrupted many of its own customers by paying supposedly independent reviewers to deflate legitimate claims for medical care.

Virginia Ellis of the Los Angeles Times won the George Polk Award for Political Reporting for exposing official misconduct by the California insurance commissioner, Chuck Quackenbush, who resigned following revelations that he used monies from insurance companies - funds that were supposed to reimburse the claims of earthquake victims - to cover debts from his wife's failed 1998 U. S. Senate campaign and to amass a slush fund to finance his own plans for elective office.

Reporters Kevin Corcoran and Joe Fahy of The Indianapolis Star were honored for Statewide Reporting for an investigative account of Indiana's lack of oversight of the proprietary system it uses to care for the severely mentally retarded. The Star team found that nine of 108 patients died within nine months of their transfer from institutions to community homes. As a result of their work, one top state official was fired, another was demoted and safeguards were installed to monitor the proprietor, ResCare, Inc.

The George Polk Award for Healthcare Reporting went to Sam Hodges and William Rabb of the Mobile (Ala.) Register, for their two-day series, "Dental Divide," which chronicled the sorry state of dental care for children in Alabama. Their three-month investigation turned up waiting lists of six months or more, a paltry number of clinics, unfluoridated water systems in rural areas, and dentists who turned away Medicaid patients.

Alma Guillermoprieto won the George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting for a three-part analysis of the war in Colombia and its relationship to 
the drug trade published by The New York Review of Books. After stalking the Colombian jungle to hear from campesinos (rural people) as well as government officials and guerilla leaders, Guillermoprieto traced the strands of a grim struggle destined to defy easy solutions.

The New York Times received a Special Award for its revelatory series, "Race in America." Three dozen reporters, photographers and editors spent a year producing 14 front-page stories that examined the gap between what Americans say out loud about race and what they feel in their hearts. Focusing on relationships among two or three characters in each article, their stories zeroed in on the role race plays in personal interactions of all kinds.

Long Island University will hold the 2000 George Polk Awards luncheon at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City on April 18. A seminar, also sponsored by the university, entitled "Exposing Systemic Injustice" - a symposium on investigative journalism honoring the work of Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele and featuring several of the new Polk laureates - will take place the previous evening at the First Amendment Center in Manhattan.

Posted 02/01/2001

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