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Exposés on BP Spill and Afghanistan Win Polk Awards

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The New York Times | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

Investigative reports that exposed the devastating environmental and economic impact of the oil spill last year in the Gulf of Mexico and leadership failings in America’s military mission in Afghanistan were among the winners of 13 George Polk Awards for 2010 announced on Monday by Long Island University.

Correspondents of The New York Times won two awards, for military and foreign reporting, and staff members of the independent investigative news group ProPublica shared two awards in collaborative efforts, with colleagues from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans and the PBS program “Frontline” for television reporting, and with staff members from National Public Radio for radio reporting.

Other awards went to reporters for The Washington Post, The Star-Ledger of Newark, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg News, and to a columnist for The Daily News of New York. Sandy Close, executive director of New America Media, which supports thousands of ethnic media outlets, was cited for career achievement.

“A number of major metropolitan newspapers produced significant investigative work during 2010, and for the first time there were some truly noteworthy collaborative projects across print, television, radio and the Internet,” said John Darnton, curator of the Polk Awards, which honor work in the tradition of George W. Polk, a CBS correspondent killed covering the civil war in Greece in 1948.

The Associated Press won the award for environmental reporting for its extensive coverage of the oil spill in the gulf. The agency broke the news that BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig had gone down after an explosion, and its subsequent investigative reports, including compelling videos, detailed many equipment and management failures that magnified the disaster, devastating the region’s environment and economy.

The magazine reporting award went to Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone for “The Runaway General,” which revealed strategic problems, political infighting and contemptuous attitudes toward civilian authority in the American military command in Afghanistan. After the disclosures, President Obama dismissed Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of American and NATO forces in the region.

For behind-the-scenes reports on the war in Afghanistan, enemy incursions from Pakistan and the use of private contractors in the war, two correspondents of The New York Times, Dexter Filkins, then based in Kabul, and Mark Mazzetti, based in Washington, won the military reporting award. The articles also suggested greater corruption on the part of President Hamid Karzai than had previously been reported. (Mr. Filkins has since left The Times.)

Clifford J. Levy and Ellen Barry, Times correspondents based in Moscow, won the foreign reporting award for “Above the Law,” a series that examined corruption and abuse of power in Russia two decades after the fall of Communism, despite post-Soviet promises that no one would remain above the law. Their reports told of citizens killed, harassed, beaten or jailed after defying authorities.

The national reporting award went to Dana Priest and William M. Arkin of The Washington Post for “Top Secret America,” a two-year investigation that exposed a vast network of national security, military, intelligence and corporate interests spawned in the business of keeping Americans safe in the decade since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Los Angeles Times staff and two reporters, Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vives, won the local reporting award for articles on the working-class city of Bell, a Los Angeles County community of 37,000, where officials were raking in some of the highest municipal salaries in the nation, including $800,000 for a city administrator and nearly $100,000 for part-time council members. The reports led to criminal charges of corruption against eight current or former officials.

The metropolitan reporting award went to Amy Brittain and Mark Mueller of The Star-Ledger for “Strong at Any Cost,” a series on steroid use by hundreds of New Jersey law enforcement officers, firefighters and correction officers, in most cases with fraudulent prescriptions and at taxpayer expense.

Three reporters for Bloomberg News, Daniel Golden, John Hechinger and John Lauerman, won the education award for articles on profit-making colleges that recruited underprivileged students, veterans, active members of the armed forces and others, even homeless people, who qualified for various federal financial aid programs. The reports said such aid had soared to $26.5 billion in 2009.

John Diedrich and Ben Poston of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel won the criminal justice award for “Wiped Clean,” a series on lax licensing of gun dealers by the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Some 50 dealers wiped out years of violations by changing ownerships on paper, the reports said.

The award for commentary went to Juan Gonzalez, a columnist for The Daily News, for disclosing a $700 million boondoggle in a project to overhaul New York City’s electronic payroll system and the Bloomberg administration’s failure to act on persistent signs of mismanagement. His columns were followed by the indictment of four consultants and three associates on charges of orchestrating a fraud that cost the city $80 million.

A collaborative effort by A. C. Thompson of ProPublica, Raney Aronson-Rath and Tom Jennings of “Frontline” and Laura Maggi and Brendan McCarthy of The Times-Picayune won the television award for “Law and Disorder,” an examination of charges that New Orleans police officers shot at least 10 people, killing 4, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The radio reporting award went to T. Christian Miller of ProPublica and Daniel Zwerdling and Susanne Reber of NPR for “Brain Wars,”which said the American military was providing inadequate diagnoses and treatment of traumatic brain injuries suffered by thousands of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ms. Close, the career award recipient, was honored for 37 years of service to ethnic media, including the mentoring of many journalists now employed in the mainstream media.

Established in 1949, the Polk Awards are administered by Long Island University. Faculty and alumni select winners from entries submitted by journalists, news organizations and a panel of editors, reporters and journalism teachers. The awards will be presented at a luncheon at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan on April 7.

A version of this article appeared in print on February 22, 2011, on page A21 of the New York edition.

Propublica and New America Media are Atlantic grantees. 

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Read more:

>ProPublica Honored With Two George Polk Awards, ProPublica, 22 Feb 2011

>Polk Winners at a Glance, Long Island University, 22 Feb 2011

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George Polk Awards, New America Media, ProPublica, Sandy Close