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Long Island University Announces Winners of 2006 George Polk Awards

Journalists investigating environmental abuses and government wrongdoings
are among those recognized in 12 categories


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

The George Polk AwardsBrooklyn, N.Y. -- Long Island University has announced the winners of 12 George Polk Awards for 2006, bestowing honors upon journalists who have braved desert warfare, uncovered environmental dangers, revealed questionable financial practices and exposed controversial government and military activities. Spike Lee and Sam Pollard are among the awardees for their gut-wrenching documentary about the devastation of New Orleans. The Polk Awards have been administered by Long Island University since their founding in 1949.

The Awards will be presented at a luncheon honoring the winners at The Roosevelt Hotel in New York City on Thursday, April 12. The annual George Polk Awards Seminar will take place at Bloomberg Headquarters on Wednesday, April 11.

Spike Lee and Sam Pollard will receive the George Polk Award for documentary television. Their two-part HBO series, “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” celebrated and mourned New Orleans, presenting personal accounts of those directly affected by Hurricane Katrina and evidence of gross governmental neglect and ineptitude surrounding one of the worst natural disasters this country has ever faced.

New York Times correspondent Lydia Polgreen is the winner of the George Polk Award for foreign reporting. She ventured deep into thewar-torn western regions of Sudan to report on the carnage in Darfur. Her courageous and often exclusive reporting gave voice to the victims of the conflict – terrified villagers and displaced survivors – alerting the world to their suffering and to the regional spread of the violence as it extended into neighboring Chad.

From NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers and producer Adam Ciralsky will receive the George Polk Award for network television reporting. Their coverage exposed a secret effort by the United States Army to scuttle a promising technology designed to protect soldiers from rocket-propelled grenades, or RPGs. The reports questioned whether the Army unfairly awarded a major defense contractor a $70 million deal to develop an RPG-defense system from scratch, when a promising system already existed that might have helped troops more quickly. As a result of their stories, Congress has ordered a review of the weapons systems and of the Army's dealings with the contractor, Raytheon Company.

Hartford Courant reporters Lisa Chedekel and Matthew Kauffman are winners of the George Polk Award for military reporting. Their four-part exposé, “Mentally Unfit, Forced to Fight,” detailed the high rate of suicide among American troops and the lackluster mental health screening and treatment offered by the military. They gathered and analyzed extensive data, despite resistance by military officials, and illustrated their findings with portraits of troubled soldiers and their families.

Robert Little, a national correspondent for The Sun of Baltimore, will receive the George Polk Award for medical reporting. His three-part series, “Dangerous Remedy,” investigated the use of an experimental, blood-coagulating drug, Recombinant Activated Factor VII, in more than 1,000 soldiers. The drug has been linked to fatal blood clots that occur in the heart, lungs and brain; doctors at major civilian hospitals have rejected the $6,000-a-dose medication as standard treatment for trauma patients. The defense department currently is reviewing its use.

Kenneth R. Weiss and Usha Lee McFarling of the Los Angeles Times are winners of the George Polk Award for environmental reporting. Their five-part investigation, “Altered Oceans,” pursued far-flung, yet alarming phenomena such as virulent rashes suffered by fishermen in Australia, brain-damaged sea lions washing up onto California’s coast, red tides sickening beachgoers in Florida and the deaths of 200,000 albatross chicks on Midway Atoll. All are linked, the report showed, to the disposal of daily waste, industrial pollution and other human activities that are rapidly devastating oceanic ecology.

The Wall Street Journal’s Charles Forelle, James Bandler and Mark Maremont are winners of the George Polk Award for business reporting. The reporters exposed the widespread practice of backdating stock-option awards that allow executives to buy low and sell high, greatly increasing their compensation. The stories shook corporate giants from Apple to UnitedHealth Group and triggered federal investigations into whether shareholders were deceived at more than 130 companies, including some where backdating practices may have been used to exploit low stock prices following the 9/11 attacks.

The George Polk Award for national reporting will go to Jeff Kosseff, Bryan Denson and Les Zaitz of The Oregonian. With ongoing reports, they uncovered the failure of a multibillion-dollar federal program that was intended to help people with severe disabilities find employment. Instead, the program created a booming industry that awarded executives handsomely but left disabled workers in segregated jobs often paying less than minimum wage. The largest recipient of the funds, the National Center for the Employment of the Disabled in El Paso, Texas, turned out to have far fewer disabled workers than the 75 percent mandated by the program and annually paid more than $4 million in fees to a consulting firm owned by its CEO. A federal probe, lawsuits and resignations have resulted, with new legislation expected.

For  “House of Lies,“ a yearlong investigation that toppled the Miami-Dade Housing Agency, Debbie Cenziper of The Miami Herald will receive the George Polk Award for metropolitan reporting. With dogged determination, she documented pervasive mismanagement and misspending by one of the nation's biggest housing agencies that allowed developers and well-connected consultants to amass millions of dollars while families suffered in shelters and rat-infested buildings. Her efforts prompted a wide-ranging criminal investigation and the firing of top housing officials. In addition, families were granted stepped-up emergency housing repairs and rental assistance from the County.

The George Polk Award for local reporting will go to the staff of Lakefront Outlook, a free-circulation, Chicago weekly. Its lone editor, four reporters and intern tackled the complex investigation of the $19.5-million Harold Washington Cultural Center, which had been touted by Third Ward Alderman Dorothy Tillman as “the cornerstone of historic Bronzeville’s economic and cultural rebirth.” Instead, the team exposed the Center as a money-losing operation that was staffed by Tillman’s family, friends and political cronies.

Ray Ring, northern Rockies editor for High Country News, will be the recipient of the George Polk Award for political reporting. He followed the money trail that financed referendum campaigns against land-use regulations in six Western states. Word spread of his report, which detailed the role of a wealthy Eastern libertarian as well as the concerns of environmentalists. The once-popular referenda were defeated by voters in three states, and the courts eliminated one and key provisions of another, with only Arizona approving the full measure. A biweekly news magazine founded by a rancher in Wyoming 37 years ago and now based in Paonia, Colo., High Country News won the 1986 George Polk Award for environmental reporting.

The George Polk Award for radio reporting will honor the producers of "Early Signs: Reports from a Warming Planet." From the snowy slopes on Mount Kilimanjaro, the crowded delta of Bangladesh, the outskirts of Auckland, New Zealand, and elsewhere, 11 journalism students conducted interviews and reported on real-life miseries and perils already caused by global warming. Distributed in various formats nationwide, the seven-month project was edited and produced by the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California-Berkeley, American Public Media and Living on Earth.

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

On Wednesday April 11,the annual George Polk Awards Seminar will host a reception at 6p.m. and a panel discussion at 7 p.m., with director Spike Lee and New York Times reporter Lydia Polgreen exploring the topic, “Illuminating Catastrophe: Covering New Orleans and Darfur.” The Journalism Department of Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus is the sponsor of the event, which will take place at Bloomberg Headquarters at 731 Lexington Avenue, between 58th and 59th streets, in Manhattan. The George Polk Awards Seminar is free and open to the public but reservations are required.No reservations can be accepted after April 3.

On Thursday, April 12, Long Island University will present the George Polk Awards Luncheon at The Roosevelt Hotel, located at 45 East 45th Street., at the corner of Madison Avenue in Manhattan. A poster exhibit displaying work by the award winners will begin at 11 a.m.,and the luncheon and awards presentationswill begin at noon. A limited number of tickets are available.

For reservations to attend the Seminar and for tickets to the Awards Luncheon, please contact the Long Island University Department of Special Events at (516) 299-3298 or by e-mailing




Posted 02/22/2007

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