When Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October, the mystery of his fate was personal to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius and global-opinions editor Karen Attiah.
Ignatius had been friends with Khashoggi since 2003; Attiah had recruited him as a Post columnist in 2017 and had edited his columns. Together, Ignatius and Attiah sought to expose Saudi complicity in what turned out to be Khashoggi’s slaying, the latter through dozens of social media posts and media interviews and the former through a series of reported columns revealing the machinations of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.
Their work describing the plot against Khashoggi by Mohammed’s regime, and its ramifications, was honored Tuesday with the George Polk Award, one of journalism’s most prestigious honors.
The awards’ judges cited Ignatius and Attiah’s “eloquence and resolve in demanding accountability” from the Saudi government and from the Trump administration following Khashoggi’s death. Ignatius “hammered home” Mohammed’s likely role in his columns while Attiah “came out from behind her editor’s desk to wage a public campaign on behalf of the truth,” they said in their citation.
The Polk Awards are themselves named for a CBS correspondent who was murdered in 1948 while covering the Greek Civil War. The annual honors, which focus on investigative and enterprise reporting, are administered by Long Island University.
In the wake of Khashoggi’s death, Ignatius said he felt “a deep anger” over the crime and the Saudis’ fumbling attempts to cover it up. “I thought, I’m not going to let this story go until I found out how and why he was killed,” he said Tuesday. He added, “Trump has given [Mohammed] a pass on the murder of a Washington Post colleague . . . and I think the president has to answer why it’s business as usual.”
Attiah said she was motivated “to keep reminding people of [Khashoggi’s] words and ideas,” which stressed reform of the repressive monarchy. “I felt protective of his work . . . I was grieving in public. I was angry in public.” She highlighted her colleague’s death via numerous interviews and a relentless Twitter feed .
The New York Times was a double winner in the competition. Times reporters David Barstow, Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner were honored for their 18-month investigation of Trump’s financial history, which they found was derived from an inherited fortune and what the paper said were “suspect tax schemes” over many years. The Times staff was also cited for a series of stories about how Facebook and other social-media giants misled regulators and the public and failed to monitor invasions of privacy and the dissemination of hate-mongering and propaganda.
For the first time, the Polk winners included a podcast. The judges chose “In the Dark, Season 2,” a series by American Public Media reporter Madeleine Baran and senior producer Samara Freemark that cast doubt on the conviction of Curtis Flowers, who is on Mississippi’s death row.
Among other winners:
● Bill Siemering, 84, received the Polk Career Award for writing the initial mission statement for NPR and helping to launch the public-radio programs “All Things Considered” and “Fresh Air.”
● Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, Reuters correspondents who have been imprisoned in Myanmar since December 2017 after they revealed a massacre of Rohingya villagers by paramilitary police. The reporters are serving seven years in prison for violating Myanmar’s official secrets act.
● Julie K. Brown of the Miami Herald, for a series about wealthy hedge-fund manager Jeffrey Epstein’s plea agreement with federal prosecutors, which enabled him to escape a lengthy prison sentence despite extensive evidence of child abuse.
● The staff of ProPublica, for a series of reports about the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from adults who are suspected of entering the country illegally.
● Ben Taub of the New Yorker magazine for his firsthand account of the detention and summary execution of hundreds of Iraqis, mostly members of the country’s Sunni minority, by vengeful Shiites who suspected them of collaborating with retreating ISIS fighters.