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Long Island University Announces Winners of 2007 George Polk Awards

Writer John McPhee and slain editor Chauncey Bailey are among journalists honored in 14 award 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 the George Polk Awards for 2007, recognizing journalists in 14 categories for media coverage that exposed corporate and government misfeasance, revealed the industrial roots of environmental catastrophe and uncovered the abuse of vulnerable populations including children, the elderly and veterans. Among the Award recipients is a journalist slain last summer in Oakland, California, who was investigating a local business now linked to his murder. He is the first journalist since 1993 to become the apparent victim of a targeted killing in the United States. 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 Manhattan on Thursday, April 17, 2008. The annual George Polk Seminar will take place on the preceding evening, Wednesday, April 16, at the Kumble Theater on Long Island University's Brooklyn Campus.

The George Polk Career Award will be bestowed upon John McPhee, the prolific author, essayist and Princeton University professor. McPhee, who turns 77 in March, has been a staff writer with The New Yorker since 1965 and is considered one of the pioneers of creative nonfiction. He has left an indelible mark on American journalism during his nearly half-century career. Among his best-known volumes of work is his Pulitzer Prize-winning "Annals of the Former World," a comprehensive cross-section of North American geology on and around the fortieth parallel.

Senior foreign correspondent Jim Sciutto, producer Angus Hines and cameraman/producer Tom Murphy, for the program "ABC World News with Charles Gibson,” will share the George Polk Award for Television Reporting. Last fall, Sciutto and the team were able to penetrate Myanmar’s news blackout during the government’s crackdown on peaceful demonstrations involving students and Buddhist monks, which were held to protest a decision to sharply raise fuel prices. During two forays into Myanmar, also known as Burma, the journalists posed as tourists, secretly transmitting video evidence of government repression, sometimes recording with cell-phone cameras while evading security forces. Their interviews with monks and other dissidents exposed covert arrests, forced labor and murder.

For their series in The Washington Post, reporters Barton D. Gellman and Jo Becker (now at The New York Times) will share the George Polk Award for Political Reporting. Their work substantiated Vice President Dick Cheney’s emergence as a singularly decisive, influential, yet behind-the-scenes force in White House policymaking. Through four meticulously sourced articles (with assistance from Post researcher Julie Tate), the team divulged Cheney’s role as the hidden architect of U.S. policies concerning torture, military tribunals and other controversial issues, including some that were later overturned as unconstitutional and/or repudiated by Congress.

Leila Fadel, Baghdad bureau chief for California-based McClatchy Company, publisher of 30 newspapers nationwide, will be honored with the George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting. Her work provided a comprehensive array of disturbing, first-hand accounts of violence and conflict by juxtaposing the agonizing plight of families in ethnically torn neighborhoods with the braggadocio of a vengeful insurgent proud of his murderous exploits, and the carnage and sorrow among victims of Iraq’s most deadly car bombing in a remote region of the country where few reporters ventured. Her reports also offered vivid depictions of complex developments and subtle shifts in Iraq’s ever-changing military and political struggle.

Wall Street Journal reporter Shai Oster will be presented with the George Polk Award for Environmental Reporting. His efforts disclosed the unforeseen environmental consequences caused by China’s attempts to harness the raging waters of the Yangtze River for hydropower to meet the ever-increasing energy needs of industrialization. Oster illustrated how construction of the $22 billion Three Gorges Dam is devastating the lives of villagers, triggering deadly landslides and causing geological instability that may compromise the dam itself. Subsequent to his series of seven articles on the dam's problems appearing on the Journal’s Chinese-language Web site, where it was widely read and followed, China acknowledged that it must relocate as many as 4 million people in addition to the 1.2 million already displaced by the construction. It also pledged billions of dollars to prevent and to rectify problems that stand to threaten millions more.

Charles A. Duhigg of The New York Times will receive the George Polk Award for Medical Reporting recognizing his revelations of unethical practices involving nursing homes, long-term care insurers and allied businesses and investors. His ongoing series, which began in December of 2006, paired gut-wrenching examples with detailed analyses, disclosing how commercial entities and individuals abused the elderly, depleting their finances and often compromising their level of care. His reports triggered swift and far-reaching investigations by Congress, leading to changes in the laws protecting this vulnerable group, as well as industry accountability and promises to reform.

The Polk Award for Legal Reporting will go to Joshua Micah Marshall, editor and publisher of the widely read political blog, Talking Points Memo. His sites, and, led the news media in coverage of the politically motivated dismissals of United States attorneys across the country. Noting a similarity between firings in Arkansas and California, Marshall and his staff (with his staff reporter-bloggers Paul Kiel and Justin Rood) connected the dots and found a pattern of federal prosecutors being forced from office for failing to do the Bush Administration's bidding. Marshall’s tenacious investigative reporting sparked interest by the traditional news media and led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The Chicago Tribune will receive the George Polk Award for Consumer Reporting. The newspaper’s accounts of children suffering injury and death from exposure to dangerously designed magnetic building sets, lead-tainted toys and defective cribs led to massive product recalls and heightened public awareness of the dangers posed by these widely sold items. To document the extent of the hazards, the newspaper funded testing and conducted research and investigations that extended from government offices in Washington, D.C., and the home of a stricken child in Washington state to toy factories in China. Its seven-month series of articles and editorials drastically changed American import behavior and held accountable the federal agency that had failed to protect the nation’s smallest consumers.,0,2867796.special

The George Polk Book Award will be presented to Jeremy Scahill, whose explosive bestseller, "Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army,” (published by Nation Books, a co-publishing venture between The Nation Institute and the Perseus Books Group), chronicled the ascent of Blackwater USA, a North Carolina-based company that has become one of the world’s premiere providers of private military services. Scahill’s work exposed killings, human rights violations and misconduct allegedly by the firm’s personnel and revealed the U.S. government’s growing reliance on this "shadow army.” His reporting and Congressional testimony helped propel legislation that would ban U.S. government security contracts with Blackwater and other private military companies.

Freelance writer Joshua A. Kors will receive the George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting. His two-part series "Thanks For Nothing,” investigated the story of Jon Town, a former U.S. Army specialist who suffered severe hearing loss, memory problems and depression from exposure to a 107-millimeter rocket explosion in Iraq. Town received a purple heart but later was refused disability or medical benefits based on the Army’s claim that he had a pre-existing personality disorder. Building upon this case, Kors uncovered how military doctors were misdiagnosing thousands of soldiers wounded in Iraq as being mentally ill, thereby cheating them out of medical care and disability pay and saving the military billions of dollars. His two articles, which were published in The Nation, fueled a national uproar and congressional action; in January, President Bush signed a law requiring the secretary of defense to investigate all personality-disorder discharges and report them to Congress. Town is now receiving his medical and disability benefits.

The George Polk Award for Financial Reporting will go to Edward Chancellor for his prescient article, "Ponzi Nation,” published in Institutional Investor magazine. Chancellor sounded the alarm months before the financial markets began their roller coaster ride south, warning that excessive risk-taking and interconnected investments – fueled by subprime mortgages and the activities of lightly regulated hedge funds – could cause calamity for world economies.

North Carolina’s Charlotte Observer will garner the George Polk Award for Economic Reporting for a yearlong series exploring the causes of the community’s high rate of housing foreclosures, published long before many people had recognized the crisis that was brewing. The articles exposed questionable practices by one of the nation’s largest homebuilders, prompting multiple federal and state investigations, including a federal criminal investigation and an inquiry by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The reports also brought about new efforts to reduce foreclosures, as well as reforms to state laws and regulations that are designed to bring financial relief to homeowners across North Carolina.

The George Polk Award for State Reporting will go to Jerry W. Mitchell of Jackson, Mississippi’s Clarion-Ledger. Mitchell and the newspaper uncovered how disease outbreaks and health problems went unreported by the Mississippi State Department of Health, including a statewide upsurge in tuberculosis, increased syphilis infections and a skyrocketing infant mortality rate – the nation’s highest. With coverage throughout 2007, Mitchell also raised questions about the competence of the health department’s top official and its watchdog agency, the State Board of Health, prompting action by state investigators and legislators that resulted in a completely new Board of Health and chief health officer. It marked the first time in state history that an entire state board and its agency head had been replaced.

Chauncey W. Bailey, Jr., who was the editor of the Oakland Post, will be honored posthumously with the George Polk Award for Local Reporting. Bailey was gunned down on August 2, 2007, while in the midst of investigating a local business, Your Black Muslim Bakery, which has been linked to kidnapping, rape, torture and several killings, now including Bailey’s. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the slaying was the first allegedly targeted killing of a journalist in the United States since 1993. In a career spanning more than 30 years, Bailey earned a reputation as a tireless, hard-nosed journalist who was dedicated to addressing the concerns of black communities in California’s Bay Area.

Visit the George Polk Awards Web site for additional information at:

On Wednesday April 16, the annual George Polk Seminar will take place at the Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts on Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus, located near the intersection of DeKalb Avenue and Flatbush Avenue Extension in downtown Brooklyn. A 5:30 p.m. reception will precede the panel discussion that begins at 6:30 p.m. The Seminar will explore the topic: "Strategies – Old and New – for Groundbreaking Journalism.” Panelists will include Leila Fadel, Baghdad bureau chief for the McClatchy Company and winner of the George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting; Jim Sciutto, ABC News senior foreign correspondent and winner of the George Polk Award for Television Reporting; and Josh Marshall, editor and publisher, Talking Points Memo, and winner of the George Polk Award for Legal Reporting. The George Polk Seminar is free and open to the public. Reservations are required.

On Thursday, April 17, 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 Department of Special Events at (516) 299-3298 or e-mail

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

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 while covering the civil war in Greece in 1948. A committee of jurors comprised of University faculty members and alumni select the winners from entries submitted by independent journalists, news organizations and a formal panel of media professionals that includes a number of former Polk Award winners.

Long Island University
In its ninth decade of providing access to the American dream through excellence in higher education, Long Island University is a multicampus, diverse, doctoral institution of higher learning. One of the largest and most comprehensive private universities in the country, Long Island University offers over 550 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degree programs and certificates, and educates over 24,000* credit-seeking and continuing education students in Brooklyn, Brookville (C.W. Post), Brentwood, Riverhead, Rockland, Westchester and Southampton. The Arnold & Marie Schwartz College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences prepares students for successful careers in the fields of pharmacy and health care. The University’s Global College offers a wide range of study abroad options at overseas centers in China, Costa Rica, Japan and South Africa.

Long Island University’s more than 650 full-time faculty members provide outstanding instruction, which is supplemented by internships and cooperative education opportunities. The accomplishments of nearly 167,000 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 University’s NCAA Division I and II athletic teams, nationally renowned George Polk Awards in journalism, Tilles Center for the Performing Arts and Long Island University Public Radio Network (WLIU-FM and WCWP-FM) provide enrichment for students and the community.

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

The Brooklyn Campus is distinguished by...
dynamic curricula reflecting the great urban community it serves. Distinctive programs encompass the arts and media, 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 2005, the Campus opened a new performing arts complex, which includes the 320-seat Kumble Theater, and in 2006, a $45 million Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center, both of which serve the Campus and the community.

Posted 02/18/2008

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