For journalists, there are few honors higher than winning a George Polk Award, named for the CBS Correspondent who was killed (under mysterious circumstances) while covering the Greek civil war in 1948. Mr. Polk joined the network after serving as a naval officer in the South Pacific during World War II, and there’s some evidence to suggest that his service record helped him land a job at the network. Unfortunately, somewhere between Guadalcanal and CBS, Polk decided to embelish his military resume, eventually stating that he was a bomber and fighter pilot who shot down 11 (!) Japanese aircraft.
In reality, Polk was an aviation maintenance officer who never flew a combat mission; his claims about being a naval aviator and fighter ace were nothing more than an elaborate fiction, sustained first by Mr. Polk and later by his colleagues.
In the current issue of the Weekly Standard, World War II historian Richard B. Frank examines Polk’s service records, and finds that the late journalist blatantly–and willingly–padded his military exploits, fabricating documents to support his claims, and wearing naval aviator wings on his uniform–despite the fact that he never qualified as a navy pilot. Frank’s expose raises an obvious question: if Mr. Polk was willing to lie about his Navy service, did he also shade the truth in covering stories for CBS?
Equally telling is this little annecdote from Mr. Frank. After carefully researching and writing the Polk expose, he offered it to a number of MSM outlets, including the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, and the Washington Post. All declined to publish it.
As Mr. Frank observes, honoring genuinely honest and crusading journalists in the name of George Polk is a travesty. So is the media’s refusal to recognize that one of their icons, was (in many respects) little more than a liar and a fraud.