Long Island University Announces 68th Annual George Polk Awards in Journalism

Long Island University Announces 68th Annual George Polk Awards in Journalism


BROOKLYN, N.Y. (Feb. 19, 2017) – Long Island University (LIU) has announced the winners of the 68th annual George Polk Awards in Journalism, continuing the University’s longstanding tradition of honoring and celebrating the impact of courageous and authentic journalism on our national and global discourse.

Honorees include reporters who not only focused on last year’s presidential campaign, but also reported on major foreign stories — the collapse of Venezuelan society, devastation in the wake of ISIS advances In Iraq, a murderous drug crackdown in the Philippines, a state-sponsored program to mask use of banned performance enhancers by Russian athletes and a Panamanian law firm’s facilitation of fiscal manipulation, tax evasion and criminal enterprise by business and government figures across the globe. 

“This election year was a tough one for journalism,” said John Darnton, curator of the George Polk Awards. “We've seen fake news, trite news, disinformation campaigns and charges of biased coverage. But the Polk winners, chosen from some 500 submissions, show there are still bright spots. A vibrant press continues to inform, expose, tell the truth and occasionally fill us all with outrage at injustice."

The 68th annual George Polk Award winners also include reporters who linked rampant abuse of opioids to relaxed oversight by the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration, revealed how prison authorities pit inmates against one another in “double solitary confinement,” reversed wrongful dismissals of state employees in Arizona and rolled back arbitrary limits on special education in Texas.

Others turned an examination of misdiagnoses in Minnesota into a national reevaluation of how to identify military veterans afflicted with traumatic brain disorders, delved into questionable sources of outside income by ranking police officers in New York City and exposed an explosive police sex scandal in Oakland.

Anna Deavere Smith, the educator, playwright and actress who has brought journalism to the stage in acclaimed interview-based dramatic depictions exploring urban conflict in Brooklyn and Los Angeles and, most recently, connecting incarceration of minority youth to lack of educational access and economic opportunity, will be the 35th recipient of the George Polk Career Award.

The George Polk Awards are conferred annually to honor special achievement in journalism. The awards place a premium on investigative and enterprising reporting that gains attention and achieves results. They were established in 1949 by Long Island University to commemorate George Polk, a CBS correspondent murdered in 1948 while covering the Greek civil war.

Below are the winners of the 68th Annual George Polk Awards (for work published in 2016):

The award for Foreign Reporting will go to Nicholas Casey and Meridith Kohut of The New York Times for chronicling Venezuela’s economic collapse in a series of dispatches written by Casey and augmented by Kohut’s photography. They portrayed shocking conditions in hospitals — one was without running water for months and another experienced a power failure that doomed premature infants — and mental institutions without medication that released psychotic patients without treatment. To get these and other stories, Casey and Kohut evaded authorities and risked exposure to malaria in jungle mines where desperate citizens scrounged for gold to feed starving families. Such coverage alerted the world to the depths of this privation and became such a vital news source in a nation misinformed by a government-aligned press that Casey was barred from returning to Venezuela.

The award for Political Reporting will go to David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post, whose dogged pursuit of Donald Trump led to a year-long string of stories revealing a portrait of the candidate that Trump had long sought to keep secret, unmasking his foundation’s deceptive and illegal charitable activities, and leading to a blockbuster – the existence of a video in which the candidate bragged about sexually assaulting women, which shaped our national political conversation for days and became the opening question at a Presidential Debate.

Alec MacGillis of ProPublica will be recognized for National Reporting for his series of prescient dispatches tracing trends that were building support for Donald Trump in states like Ohio. “For the most part,” MacGillis reported from Dayton in July in a story published by Politico, “the political establishment ignored, dismissed or overlooked these forces, until suddenly they blew apart nearly everyone’s blueprint for the presidential campaign.” Small wonder MacGillis was so well prepared to file a definitive 4,400-word analysis, “Revenge of the Forgotten Class,” barely a day after the election was called for Trump.

The award for Local Reporting will go to Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston of the weekly East Bay Express for exposing a sordid criminal sex scandal within the Oakland police department that led up the ranks and cost three police chiefs their jobs in a single week. Their explosive revelations in the face of municipal efforts to downplay the case compelled authorities to acknowledge the extent of police corruption. BondGraham and Winston picked up the trail after the suicide of an officer they had linked to an underage sex worker, who had been exploited by him and other East Bay police officers, some of whom traded information on police enforcement plans for sex.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists will receive the award for Financial Reporting for ”The Panama Papers.”  The consortium with Süddeutsche Zeitung, McClatchy, the Miami Herald, Fusion and more than more than 400 journalists from over 100 other media partners in nearly 80 countries, the ICIJ investigated a trove of leaked documents from inside Mossack Fonseca and Co., a law firm specializing in offshore secrecy. The team analyzed 2.6 terabytes of data and 11.5 million files relating to 214,000 offshore companies linked to 140 politicians in more than 50 countries, exposing offshore companies tied to Syria’s deadly air war, the looting of Africa’s natural resources, and a Russian network with ties to President Vladimir Putin that hid as much as $2 billion in assets. These and other revelations led the U. S. to require that banks identify the real owners of shell companies that open accounts, and led the European Union to create a 65-member investigative committee to weigh tighter money laundering and corporate transparency rules. Global repercussions from reporting by the media partnership, an offshoot of the Center for Public Integrity, included the resignations of Iceland’s prime minister, Austrian and Dutch executives, government officials in Spain and Armenia, and an ethics expert at FIFA, the world soccer body. Perhaps the unkindest cut of all? One study found the market value of nearly 400 publicly traded companies linked to the Panama Papers dropped by $135 billion.

The award for Medical Reporting will go to Lenny Bernstein, Scott Higham and David Fallis of the Washington Post for tracing lax regulation of the distribution of narcotic painkillers by the Drug Enforcement Administration — despite rampant addiction and nearly 180,000 deaths in the U. S. since 2000 – to pressure from the pharmaceutical industry and allies in Congress and the Justice Department. They revealed that the industry and its law firms apparently sought to mitigate oversight by hiring dozens of DEA officials, 31 alone from a key division charged with preventing the diversion of prescription drugs to the black market. 

The award for State Reporting will recognize Craig Harris of The Arizona Republic for uncovering the wholesale termination of women, minorities and those over the age of 40 without cause by Arizona state agencies, ostensibly to cut costs but obviously as a way to shed the workforce of female, minority and older employees. After Harris detailed two especially egregious cases — an award-winning teacher jettisoned after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and an African-American juvenile correctional officer fired after he was injured on the job — officials reinstated the teacher, the officer and five colleagues and 40 other employees dismissed from the inaptly named Department of Economic Security. As a result of Harris’s stories, two agency heads are gone and more suspected cases of wrongful termination are now under review.

Christie Thompson of The Marshall Project and Joseph Shapiro of National Public Radio will receive the award for Justice Reporting for bringing to light an oxymoronic abuse of inmates by federal and state prison authorities — double solitary confinement. Starting with an Illinois prison where they found four instances of one inmate killing another after both were confined to a tiny cell 23 hours a day, they used freedom-of-information requests and local news reports to identify 17 such cases across the country. They found that at least 80 percent of federal inmates held in punitive segregation were housed two to a cell and that the practice was deployed in at least 18 state prison systems. When a federal inmate refused to bunk with another who was violence-prone, he was chained tightly for a month by vengeful guards, Thompson and Shapiro reported, in an extreme example of a common form of punishment. The Federal Bureau of Prisons continues the practice despite public outcries in response to the Marshall/NPR reporting but has relaxed some double-solitary procedures.

The award for Sports Reporting will be presented to Rebecca R. Ruiz of the New York Times for a breakthrough account of a massive state-run doping program in Russia that had ​corrupted the results of at least three recent Olympics. After ​seizing on the fact that a former director of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory was key to Russia's cheating, Ruiz spent months persuading him to talk. He finally opened​ up​ in Los Angeles, describing how Russian athletes had taken banned, performance-enhancing substances and evaded detection through a cloak-and-dagger scheme involving the nation's Federal Security Service, Chivas whisky, Martini vermouth, table salt and a hole in the wall of the 2014 Olympic anti-doping lab. At first the Russian government disputed Ruiz’s reporting but after much of the Russian contingent was disqualified from the Summer Olympics in Rio and the entire nation was barred from the Paralympics, top Russian officials acknowledged the existence of the doping program.

Brian M. Rosenthal of the Houston Chronicle will be honored with the award for Education Reporting for exposing a longstanding but previously unreported Texas policy setting a quota denying special education services for more than 8.5 percent of students in any of the state’s 1,200 school districts. The first of a series of stories based on 1,000 interviews with educators and parents of special-needs children sent shockwaves through the state and led to a federal edict barring the practice, established as a budget-balancing tool in 2004, and the state has agreed to end it.

The award for Radio Reporting will go to Robert Lewis of WNYC for disclosing questionable outside business interests of New York City police commanders. Surprised to see that just one of more than a dozen officers publicly named in the city’s most explosive police scandal in two decades had filed a financial disclosure form, Lewis dug deeper and discovered the NYPD has virtually no oversight of its officers’ outside financial interests. Few officers are required to file annual disclosure forms with the city’s ethics watchdog. Reviewing six years’ worth of forms, Lewis found some earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from outside activity that appears to conflict with the city’s interests. Several profited from test prep courses for subordinates seeking promotion and, in one outrageous case, an assistant chief with business ties to local politicians, owned a private security company and bought properties at a discount from the distraught daughter of a missing loan shark while the department investigated his disappearance. Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised to investigate.

Reporter A. J. Lagoe, producer Steve Eckert and photojournalist Gary Knox of KARE-11 in Minneapolis will be presented with the award for Television Reporting for “Invisible Wounds," a series of reports initially disclosing that the Veterans Administration in Minnesota deployed unqualified diagnosticians — some were not even physicians — to examine veterans for traumatic brain injuries in violation of its own standards. Starting with 300 cases in Minnesota the story spread nationwide after the VA admitted failing to properly examine as many as 25,000 vets. New diagnoses in Minnesota in the aftermath of KARE’s reports are finding that half those first told they did not have TBI are afflicted with it.

The award for Magazine Reporting will go to Anand Gopal for "The Hell After Isis,” a wrenching 9,000-word account in the May 2016 issue of The Atlantic describing the travails of one Iraqi family caught in the crossfire between Islamic State terrorists and U.S.-backed forces. Exposing grave human rights violations on both sides, the article came after nearly two years of reporting on Sunnis in Iraq, often overcoming official resistance to Gopal’s presence.

Daniel Berehulak of The New York Times will receive the award for Photojournalism for "They Are Slaughtering Us Like Animals," a haunting photo essay depicting the wanton carnage of President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous drug crackdown in the Philippines. A photojournalist who has traveled the world documenting oppression, want and disasters and who spent months inside West Africa's Ebola zone in 2014, Berehulak was stunned by the relentless killing he witnessed on the streets of Manila. More than 2,000 Filipinos were gunned down in official police operations between July and November with many others killed by vigilantes and rogue officers. Working many nights and once for 36 hours straight, he documented 41 crime scenes with 57 fatalities over 35 days and spent hours with families to unearth back stories, document contradictions in police accounts, catalogue overcrowding in jails and depict wrenching funeral scenes.

Anna Deavere Smith, the George Polk Career Award winner, conducts voluminous field interviews and researches official documents to create narrative scripts like Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 to explore ethnic conflict and urban riots. She then brings them to life by playing every role in one-woman theatrical productions that have been hailed as a highly original and incisive form of journalism. Reviewing Smith’s latest work, Notes From the Field, Critic Ben Brantley called her “the American theater’s most dynamic and sophisticated oral historian” in a New York Times review. “Seeing Ms. Smith render others’ takes on these events and the culture that spawned them,” he wrote, “you experience them with a fresh urgency that feels almost firsthand.”

Winners of the 2016 awards will be honored at a luncheon ceremony at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan on Friday, April 7. The journalist and author Charlayne Hunter-Gault will read the award citations and will also moderate this year’s David J. Steinberg Seminar of the George Polk Awards, “Covering the Trump Presidency,” Thursday evening, April 6 at LIU Brooklyn’s Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts. David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post, Alex MacGillis of ProPublica and Marina Walker Guevara, deputy director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, will take part in the seminar, which starts at 6:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

Journalistic achievement in Documentary Film is recognized by the George Polk Awards with a separate honor. The 2016 winner is Hooligan Sparrow by Nanfu Wang, which was seen on the Public Broadcasting System POV series. Ms. Wang traces the arduous efforts of Chinese women’s rights activist Ye Haiyan (aka “Hooligan Sparrow”), focusing on accusations that a school principal abducted six female students 11 to 14 years of age and sexually assaulted them over a 24-hour period in 2013. When parents and their supporters demanded justice, the perpetrators insisted the girls were prostitutes and authorities cracked down on the protestors. A special screening of the documentary, Ms. Wang’s first feature film, will take place on Wednesday, April 5, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) at 7:30 p.m. 

About Long Island University (LIU)
LIU, founded in 1926, continues to redefine higher education, providing high quality academic instruction by world-class faculty. Recognized by Forbes for its emphasis on experiential learning and by the Brookings Institution for its “value added” to student outcomes, LIU offers 500 accredited programs, with a network of 200,000 alumni that includes industry leaders and entrepreneurs across the globe. LIU’s renowned faculty, the LIU Promise student mentoring program, innovation in engaged learning, further distinguish LIU as a leader among the nation’s most respected universities. Visit liu.edu for more information.