Washington Post wins Polk Awards for Jan. 6 and ‘Pegasus Project’ coverage

The project, which has been awarded the Polk prize for national reporting, was launched last spring after Congress failed to create a bipartisan investigative commission. The three-part series “makes clear that the violence that day was neither a spontaneous act nor an isolated event,” Washington Post Executive Editor Sally Buzbee wrote in a letter to readers.

The Post also won a Polk Award for technology reporting, shared with the Guardian U.S. and Forbidden Stories, for “The Pegasus Project,” which revealed how spyware sold to governments by the private Israeli firm NSO Group for the purposes of tracking terrorists and criminals was used to hack cellphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists and others. Those targeted include two women close to Jamal Khashoggi, the assassinated Saudi journalist and contributing Washington Post columnist.

That reporting came out of data accessed by nonprofit Forbidden Stories and human rights group Amnesty International that was shared with and analyzed by news organizations worldwide.

The Polk Awards also honored journalism from the New York Times and CNN related to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and Kabul’s fall to the Taliban; journalists with ABC News and the New Yorker for examining climate change’s far-reaching impacts for the most vulnerable people; and the Wall Street Journal’s blockbuster investigation into leaked Facebook documents. Notably missing: reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which dominated much of the previous year’s winning journalism.

Housed by Long Island University, the Polk Awards received 610 submissions this year, a record number. They came from “far more sources of investigative reporting than ever before,” awards curator John Darnton said in a statement. “This speaks to the vitality and continued promise of a changing journalism landscape and is reason to feel optimistic about the future of our craft.”

Winners will be honored at an in-person luncheon April 8.

Last week, the Polk program also announced a new award in honor of Sydney H. Schanberg, whose work as a reporter, editor and columnist spanned decades. As a New York Times foreign correspondent in 1975, he chronicled Cambodia’s fall to the brutal Khmer Rouge, reporting that inspired the film “The Killing Fields.”

Schanberg died in 2016 at 82. His widow, journalist Jane Freiman Schanberg, stipulated that the $25,000 prize should honor long-form investigative journalism with lasting impact that covers issues such as government corruption or abuse, military injustice, war crimes or sedition.

Luke Mogelson of the New Yorker is the first Schanberg prize recipient. His 12,000-word dispatch “Among the Insurrectionists” provided an on-the-ground account of the siege of the Capitol. In remarks filmed for his acceptance of the prize, Mogelson called Schanberg “an exemplar of the kind of journalism I aspire to.”

“If this article about the anti-democratic forces in the U.S. and their increasing militarization can have a fraction of the impact Sydney Schanberg’s stories did, I’ll be even more gratified,” Mogelson said.

Other Polk winners include:

● State reporting: Carol Marbin Miller and Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald, along with ProPublica, for exposing how an old law meant to shelter medical providers from lawsuits impacted parents of disabled children.

● Medical reporting: Adam Feuerstein, Matthew Herper and Damian Garde of STAT News for an exposé of how a drug manufacturer used FDA back channels to get approval for a polarizing Alzheimer’s medication.

● Business reporting: Jeff Horwitz and the Wall Street Journal staff for “The Facebook Files” series.

● Military reporting: Freelancer Azmat Khan and Dave Philipps and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times for investigations into intelligence failures surrounding airstrikes in the Middle East, including a drone attack that mistakenly killed an aid worker and seven children during the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

● Political reporting: Linda So, Jason Szep and others at Reuters who chronicled widespread efforts by Donald Trump supporters to intimidate poll workers and government officials.

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