ProPublica and partners won two George Polk Awards in Journalism on Monday, with work being recognized in the state reporting and national television reporting categories.
ProPublica, PBS FRONTLINE and the University of California, Berkeley Investigative Journalism Program won a Polk Award for national television reporting for “American Insurrection,” a documentary that examined emboldened extremist activity across the country. ProPublica reporter A.C. Thompson, along with Lila Hassan and Karim Hajj of FRONTLINE, explored the threat posed by violent far-right groups that see themselves as defending the U.S. Constitution but that are tied to antigovernment, white supremacist ideologies and criminal activity.
As part of the project, ProPublica and FRONTLINE conducted interviews, extensively studied social media and reviewed court records (some previously unreported) to identify more than 20 Boogaloo Bois or sympathizers who’ve served in the armed forces. The project spurred new federal probes, including one resulting in the arrest of four white supremacists, and generated promises from the Pentagon to combat extremism among active-duty soldiers. This marks the tenth Polk Award for ProPublica and the seventh consecutive year in which the newsroom was so honored.
The Miami Herald won the Polk Award for state reporting for “Birth Rights,” a ProPublica Local Reporting Network series on Florida’s Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association. Miami Herald reporters Carol Marbin Miller and Daniel Chang, in collaboration with ProPublica, investigated the program, which strips parents of brain-damaged newborns of their right to sue. In return, the program offers parents a one-time payment and promises to cover medical expenses throughout the child’s life. Yet NICA has frequently denied or delayed help for struggling families — sometimes spending tens of thousands more in legal fees fighting requests for benefits than it would cost to help parents who depend on the program to care for their children.
The searing investigation documented how NICA amassed assets of nearly $1.7 billion while repeatedly refusing pleas from parents for medication, wheelchairs, specially equipped vans, therapy, in-home nursing care and home modifications. NICA even hired a private investigator to tail one of the families in its program, hoping to prove they were unworthy of help.
Hours after the initial story was published in April of 2021, the state’s chief financial officer initiated an audit of the program that, months later, validated many of the reporters’ findings. By the end of the month, Florida lawmakers had passed sweeping legislation — later signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis — to increase benefits and protections for families of brain-damaged babies. The reforms included funding for mental health services, adding a parental representative to the program’s board of directors and retroactively compensating families. The following day, the executive director of NICA announced a host of additional reforms that went beyond those mandated by lawmakers. By the end of the year, the program’s executive director had resigned, ending a nearly two-decade-long term at the helm of the organization.