WASHINGTON, Feb. 21, 2018 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Long Island University announced the winners of the 69th annual George Polk Awards in Journalism today, citing the staffs of The New York Times and The Washington Post for reporting that led to the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Russian interference in the American presidential election and possible ties to the Trump campaign.
Three reporters — two from the Times and one from The New Yorker — also won awards for exposing decades of sexual predation by the movie producer Harvey Weinstein. Their articles unleashed a torrent of revelations of sexual misconduct in numerous professions and workplaces and inspired the global #MeToo campaign to stop it.
Some of the 17 winners in 14 categories honored for work in 2017 portrayed the plight of African refugees sold into slavery in Libya; Latin American immigrants exploited in the United States; Rohingya refugees fleeing atrocities in Myanmar, and women and children killed and maimed by a U.S. raid in Yemen. Other winning entries depicted residents of Puerto Rico largely left to fend for themselves after a devastating hurricane and people in four African countries coping with famine and violence brought about by the ecological disaster of a dying lake.
Other awarded entries upended the Senate campaign of Roy Moore in Alabama; helped free prisoners wrongfully convicted of murder in Chicago; revealed an alarming rise of maternal deaths in pregnancy and childbirth in American hospitals, and laid bare the bigotry of white nationalists during the march at Charlottesville, Virginia. The award for financial reporting went to an international consortium of journalists who used a trove of leaked documents to expose tax avoidance schemes by the high and mighty across the globe, and the award for commentary went to a New York Times columnist who combined satiric wit with first-rate reporting to lampoon political hogwash and lament its consequences.
"With all the talk about 'fake news' and mistrust of journalism these days," said John Darnton, curator of the George Polk Awards, "it was remarkable to see how much this and other work we considered in 485 entries made a real difference. If there was ever a year to demonstrate how important a free and fair, intrepid and inquisitive press is to our nation, this was it."
Below are the winners of the George Polk Awards for 2017.
The staffs of The New York Times and The Washington Post will receive a Special Award for revealing ties between members of Donald Trump's campaign and Kremlin-connected Russians that helped prompt the appointment of the Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The probe is said to be widening to include possible collusion by Trump officials.
The award for Foreign Reporting will go to Iona Craig of The intercept for going to extraordinary lengths at great risk to document the destruction and civilian casualties caused by a Navy SEAL raid on the remote village of al Ghayil in Yemen. The U. S. government had characterized the attack as "highly successful." Craig and a guide reached the village from the capital city of Aden by traveling 1,000 miles in four days over back roads (and sometimes no roads at all) disguised as a Yemeni couple to evade government forces, rebels and bandits. After an equally perilous return trip her reports received worldwide attention and led to a pending court challenge to the secrecy of the American raids.
Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of The New York Times and Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker will share the award for National Reporting for exposing decades of sexual predation by the movie producer Harvey Weinstein that scarred the lives and ruined the careers of women he forced himself on. The articles detailed the lengths to which Weinstein and his associates went to cover up the aberrant behavior. The Times story broke on a Thursday in October, naming names (some famous), reporting incidents in graphic detail and citing settlements accompanied by non-disclosure agreements over almost three decades. Five days later the New Yorker published an account Farrow had begun to assemble ten months before when he was at NBC, relating the excruciating experiences of 13 of Weinstein's victims. In tandem, these accounts led to Weinstein's demise, shamed his enablers and thrust the topic of sexual harassment into a national discussion and reckoning.
The award for Local Reporting will go to Melissa Segura of BuzzFeed, whose thorough investigative accounts detailed how a Chicago police detective framed innocent men for murder. Her finely drawn human narratives delved into the devastation their wrongful imprisonment had on their families. Her reporting led directly to the release of several men who had been behind bars for decades for crimes others had committed.
Antonia Farzan and Joseph Flaherty of the Phoenix New Times and Maria Perez of the Naples Daily News will share the Immigration Reporting award. Working back from what seemed to be an anomaly -- a large number of arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at two area motels -- Farzan and Flaherty discovered that Motel 6 managers were sending nightly guest lists to ICE. The ensuing uproar led the motel chain to bar all of its employees from sharing such data with the federal agency. In "Florida's Disposable Workers," Perez demonstrated that a group of businesses were hiring undocumented workers, assigning them to dangerous jobs and firing them without compensation if they got injured. Employers used a 2003 state law allowing them to abrogate compensation claims for undocumented workers and in some cases turned the injured workers over to authorities for deportation. She reported that while the same law makes it a crime to knowingly hire such workers only one employer has ever been charged under it.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists will be awarded its second consecutive Financial Reporting award for "The Paradise Papers," the collective work of 380 journalists from 98 media partners in 67 countries that traced numerous ways investors and companies avoid taxes and evade sanctions. The journalists worked with a trove of 13.4 million documents leaked from a 119-year-old law firm in Bermuda to German business reporter Bastian Obermayer. The stories online and in newspapers around the world examined offshore financial machinations of more than 120 politicians and world leaders, including Queen Elizabeth II, and 13 advisers, donors and appointees of President Donald J. Trump. Among them was Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who was forced to divest secret holdings in a shipping company with links to Vladimir Putin's inner circle. The stories also exposed how multinational corporations such as Apple, Nike, Facebook, Allergan and Glencore avoid taxes in their home countries and those where they do business, leading 13 nations to open investigations.
The award for Medical Reporting will be presented to Nina Martin of ProPublica and Renee Montagne of National Public Radio for "Lost Mothers," an eye-opening series seeking to discover why the United States has the highest rate of women dying in pregnancy and childbirth in the developed world. Working with a team of reporters, Martin and Montagne developed heartbreaking narratives of mothers who died for lack of basic care, analyzed data establishing that African-American women die from childbirth at more than triple the rate of other women, demonstrated how the British reduced maternal mortality rates with steps most American hospitals resisted undertaking, and developed a national database to track maternal mortality. Following the broadcast and publication of their series nearly 4,000 women reported their own near-death experiences in childbirth, and health organizations across the nation began to focus on the problem.
Stephanie McCrummen, Alice Crites and Beth Reinhard of The Washington Post will receive the award for Political Reporting for their story exposing Alabama Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore's past as a sexual molester of a 14-year-old girl when he was a local prosecutor. Their account rocked the political world far beyond Alabama and, judging by exit polls, led to the election of the state's first Democratic Senator in 21 years. Working from a tip on the campaign trail, McCrummen found the 14-year-old, who was now in her 50s, and worked with Reinhard to locate three more girls who had been pursued by Moore in their teens. When all four agreed to go on the record the story rang so true that many Republican leaders disowned the Moore campaign.
The award for Magazine Reporting will go to Ben Taub of The New Yorker for "Lake Chad: The World's Most Complex Humanitarian Disaster," a powerful portrait of the plight of Chad and three other nations in Africa's Sahel that surround a lake that has shrunk to a twentieth of its size in about 20 years. "Chad was named for a mistake," is the memorable opening sentence (by explorers who did not know it meant "lake" and thus called it "Lake Lake") in an 8,000-word depiction of the travails of 100 million impoverished people. They are deprived of food and water, attacked by Boko Haram and sometimes their own government's forces and uprooted by tribal wars. Taub identifies no ready solutions for inhabitants of a region growing more arid by the year and proving impervious to international relief and pacification efforts.
Adam Dean and Tomás Munita of The New York Times will be honored in the Photography category for depicting, in ways that words alone could not convey, the flight of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Rather than waiting at the Bangladeshi border to capture images of people streaming across, Dean and Munita found their way into Myanmar to photograph burning villages. They accompanied survivors on their arduous trek, listening to atrocious accounts of women being raped and babies tossed into the fire. Their oddly artistic photos, taken under the most arduous of circumstances, evoke a sense of the resilience and even dignity of the Rohingya in the face of genocide.
Elle Reeve of VICE News will receive the National Television Reporting award for "Charlottesville: Race and Terror," a stunning 22-minute segment that aired on HBO's VICE News after clashes between white supremacist marchers and counter-demonstrators left one dead and riveted the nation. Gaining the trust of a self-styled "alt-right" leader, Reeve used the access he provided to draw close to "Unite the Right" planners and to conduct interviews that gave an unvarnished view of the hatred underlying the Charlottesville marchers. The report went viral, earning accolades from dozens of media outlets and turning Reeve from interviewer to interviewee in television, print and online accounts of her weekend inside the white nationalist movement.
The award for Foreign Television Reporting will be presented to reporter Nima Elbagir and producer Raja Razek of CNN for a report from Libya with footage of a slave auction of African refugees that caused a worldwide uproar. The would-be migrants to Europe were trapped in North Africa, abandoned by human traffickers who promised them safe passage to a new life and stymied by a crack-down on immigration by European countries. After obtaining video of a slave auction in 2015 Elbagir and Razek spent two years attempting to verify its authenticity and gain access to an auction themselves. They did so in August. In November they aired both the original tape and new video shot with hidden cameras and a cell phone, naming nine auction sites in Libya and including an interview with a Nigerian refugee who said he had been sold into slavery.
David Begnaud of CBS News will receive a Public Service award for his reporting from Puerto Rico on the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria and the inability of federal and territorial officials to provide timely and effective aid to the islanders. Begnaud and his crews brought mainland viewers firsthand accounts of the suffering and loss of life and property. They documented reports of relief failures and they debunked official excuses. As his reporting continued Begnaud became more than a journalist. His social media accounts became conduits for ways to access help. Grateful residents took to calling him "Saint David."
An award for Commentary, presented for just the tenth time in the history of the George Polk Awards, will honor Gail Collins of The New York Times for twice weekly columns that probed the oddities of American politics and social mores with satiric wit and wisdom. Her writing often spices biting humor with pointed references to under-reported events and telling quotes that only someone with 47 well-spent years in journalism could find and appreciate. Prior Polk laureates in this category include Russell Baker, Daniel Schor, Roger Angell, Frank Rich, Red Smith, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and, most recently, Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Winners of the 2017 awards will be honored at a luncheon ceremony at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan on Friday, April 6. 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, "Convincing Your Sources to Talk," Thursday evening, April 5 at LIU Brooklyn's Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts. Several of this year's award winners are expected to take part in the seminar, which starts at 6:30 and is free and open to the public.
LIU is one of the nation's largest private universities. Since its founding in 1926, LIU has provided high quality academic programs taught by world-class faculty. LIU offers 500 accredited programs to more than 20,000 students and has a network of over 200,000 living alumni, including leaders in industries across the globe. Now in its 67th year, LIU established the Polk Awards in 1949 to commemorate George Polk, a CBS correspondent murdered in 1948 while covering the Greek civil war. LIU is recognized for its commitment to engaged education, service learning, and entrepreneurial thinking and empowers students with the skills they need to excel in the classroom and in their careers. Visit liu.edu for more information.
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