February 18, 2007


George Polk's Real World War II Record: The fictional career of a famous newsman. (Richard B. Frank, 02/17/2007, Weekly Standard)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This article is the product of extensive research in archives and secondary sources, as well as consultation with other historians who are specialists in naval air combat in the Pacific on both sides. Individuals like John Lundstrom, Barrett Tillman, and James Sawruk not only looked at the same official records I did but, in the case of Lundstrom and Tillman, also interviewed surviving pilots and read letters and diaries. For the sake of brevity and accessibility, this article does not attempt to discuss the sources in detail, but a much longer narrative, along with many of the key documents supporting the conclusions offered here, can be read at www.weeklystandard.com. There are, of course, hundreds of pages of documents that could be deemed relevant if one included all the records I and my colleagues looked at that do not mention Polk when they should have if he had done what he claimed. A shorter version of this article appears in the February 26 issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

The dedicated website of the George Polk Awards trumpets that the prize is "one of America's most coveted journalism honors-and probably its most respected." Bill Moyers and Russell Baker, among others, testify that the award means more to them than any other. The list of those cited since the award's inception in 1949 comprises a two-generation roll call of distinguished names in American journalism: Christiane Amanpour, Roger Angell, R.W. Apple, Homer Bigart, Jimmy Breslin, Walter Cronkite, Gloria Emerson, Frances FitzGerald, Thomas Friedman, David Halberstam, Seymour Hersh, Marguerite Higgins, Chet Huntley, Peter Jennings, John Kifner, Ted Koppel, Charles Kuralt, Joseph Lelyveld, Tony Lukas, Mary McGrory, Edward R. Murrow, Jack Newfield, Roger Rosenblatt, Morley Safer, Oliver Sacks, Harrison Salisbury, Sidney Schanberg, Daniel Schorr, Eric Severeid, Howard K. Smith, Red Smith, I.F. Stone, Nina Totenberg, and many others.

It is improbable that a George Polk Award will come to Jayson Blair, the former New York Times reporter exposed for fraudulently concocting all or important parts of more than two score of stories. It is even less likely that Blair's name will crown a journalism honor. An internal investigation disclosed that his frauds began not on the pages of the New York Times, but in the lies he told his employers about his biography and work. If telling falsehoods to his employers about his background now stands as the unheard alarm bell for Blair, then there is something critical that Blair and Polk share. Yet there remains a vital difference between Blair and Polk. Blair inflicted severe damage to the most respected news organization in American journalism. That damage, however, only indirectly affected journalism as a profession. George Polk's story, because of the awards given annually in his name and proudly held by scores of well-known journalists, brings discredit to the entire profession.

In what conceivable sense is journalism a profession?

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 18, 2007 10:09 AM

John Lundstrom, mentioned in the first paragraph, is the author of The First Team, Black Shoe Carrier Admiral, and many other books on air combat in the Pacific, and probably knows more about WWII in the Pacific than Admiral Yammamoto did. I just finished The First Team, and it's a wealth of detail, down to naming individual pilots and tail codes for every sortie flown by every F4F in the Pacific for the first seven months of the war. If John Lundstrom says George Polk wasn't a naval aviator, he wasn't a naval aviator.

Posted by: Mike Morley at February 18, 2007 11:24 AM

> In what conceivable sense is journalism a profession?

In the sense that the world's oldest profession is a profession.

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at February 18, 2007 1:25 PM

Nina Totenberg, Daniel Schorr, Sidney Schanberg, Peter Jennings? A veritable hall of losers, no?

Posted by: jim hamlen at February 18, 2007 2:10 PM

In the dictionary sense?

Posted by: PapayaSF at February 18, 2007 11:47 PM

Mike Morley:

Any idea if he ever expressed an opinion about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis or the court-martial of the captain? I wrote a paper about this in college and it remains an area of interest.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at February 19, 2007 12:45 AM

I don't think Lundstrom has written on anything other than carrier aviation. Here's an Amazon result using "John B. Lundstrom" as the search term.

Posted by: Mike Morley at February 19, 2007 6:25 AM

Explicitly not the dictionary sense.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2007 7:43 AM

Mike Morley:

Thank you for the information.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at February 19, 2007 10:59 AM