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Home > Publications > Quill > SDX Award Winners: Magazine Categories


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Monday, July 13, 2009
SDX Award Winners: Magazine Categories

Playboy Magazine, Vanity Fair and Foreign Policy

By Jim Poyser

Magazine Writing

WINNER: CHRISTIAN PARENTI, PLAYBOY MAGAZINE

“Our Battles Joined”

They killed Ajmal on Easter Sunday. I was at home in Brooklyn when it happened. My girlfriend was away, and I had slept in, awaking alone to the peaceful springtime view of the backyards on my block. As I had for almost a month, the first thing I did that morning was check online for news of Ajmal Naqshbandi. When the story came up that he had been murdered, I felt no shock or sadness or even disgust, just a sudden wave of nausea.

Here it was, the latest receipt from a hopeless war. It had always been a distinct possibility, and now it was a reality: Ajmal, a bright young man destined for great things, had instead been abused, humiliated and then rubbed out, his family left shattered by grief, his colleagues terrified, his best friends reduced to hollow shells.

Christian Parenti is an experienced and resourceful war correspondent who has produced extensive reporting from Afghanistan. In 2007, his translator, Ajmal Naqshbandi, was beheaded, and Parenti returned to Hindu Kush to investigate the circumstances of Ajmal’s death.

The result of his journey is a riveting portrait of a complex political situation in a damaged country.

To understand this debacle and to bid my friend goodbye, I returned to Afghanistan. The story I discovered there, the story of his murder and the incompetence that surrounded it, embodies everything wrong with this famously forgotten war and forgotten country. The truth is never easy to pin down, particularly in Afghanistan.

Judges said Parenti “has written a very good, very serious, very professional story. He reports under harsh, dangerous conditions and writes a lucid, caring account that puts the reader there. This is the way it should be done.”

Speaking to his work as a journalist, Parenti said it “is a great honor to have a front-row seat for history and to be able to travel the world. I consider myself very lucky to do this kind of work.”

More online (PDF from author’s Web site. WARNING: Contains adult pictures): http://tinyurl.com/c7z7rx

Public Service in Magazine Journalism

WINNER: VANITY FAIR

“The Green Light”

Philippe Sands’ article in Vanity Fair sets out to identify the true story of how the Bush administration embraced a policy of cruelty and torture at Guantanamo Bay. His focus is the detailed reconstruction of the process by which high-ranking figures at Defense and Justice, abetted by the vice president’s office, took steps to abrogate key provisions of the Geneva Conventions, and then instituted “guidelines” that allowed torture to be used at the Guantanamo detention facility.

Based on wide-ranging, on-the-record interviews with key personnel up and down the chain of command, Sands demonstrates that this was a conscious policy, conceived at the highest levels of government — though carefully shrouded to afford maximum deniability.

In fact, Sands shows that the new interrogation techniques did not arise spontaneously from the field, as was claimed, but came about as a direct result of intense pressure and input from Donald Rumsfeld’s office.

Also significantly, the article explains why those American officials responsible for giving the green light to the use of torture — and who have now been indemnified retroactively by the U.S. government — might be held liable for prosecution in international courts.

Judges said this “intelligent, cogent report clarifies a murky chapter in the behavior of the U.S. government in detailing how the Bush administration approved abusive interrogation of suspected terrorists. It is an excellent example of the journalist’s watchdog role.”

Within six days of publication, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee had called for hearings on the responsibility of the Bush administration for the policy of abuse. Subsequent hearings produced new material that confirmed the account given in Sands’ “The Green Light.” In March 2009, a Spanish judge started a formal criminal investigation.

Sands, a London-based international lawyer and author of the book, “Torture Team,” believes the publication of “‘The Green Light’ gave the issues great political impetus.” He said his story, along with the attention it generated, “confirms my sense that words and ideas can transform history.”

More online: http://tinyurl.com/2wpndw

Magazine Investigative Reporting

WINNER: E.J. GRAFF, FOREIGN POLICY FOR THE SCHUSTER INSTITUTE FOR INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM

“The Lie We Love”

Westerners have been sold the myth of a world orphan crisis. We are told that millions of children are waiting for their “forever families” to rescue them from lives of abandonment and abuse. But many of the infants and toddlers being adopted by Western parents today are not orphans at all. Yes, hundreds of thousands of children around the world do need loving homes. But more often than not, the neediest children are sick, disabled, traumatized, or older than 5. They are not the healthy babies that, understandably, Westerners hope to adopt. There are simply not enough healthy, adoptable infants to meet Western demand — and there’s too much Western money in search of children. As a result, many international adoption agencies work not to find homes for needy children but to find children for Western homes.

In search of such healthy babies, Western adoption agencies are pouring millions of dollars into poor and corrupt countries. In a wide range of countries and territories, the prospect of these huge profits induces unscrupulous individuals to buy, defraud, coerce and abduct children away from their families — families that were prepared to love, care for and raise these children to adulthood.

Too often, instead of saving orphans, Western money is creating them.

Judges said: “‘The Lie We Love: Corruption in international adoption’ would make a great movie. It has want. It has obstacle. It has action. It even evokes images of people we know through grocery store scandal sheets and gossip magazines. The telling is colorful and a fast read. As an investigative report, it is more than just good narrative; it uncovers a myth. This work is part expose and part explanatory journalism, has global reach and is provocative.”

Reporter E.J. Graff said: “Working on this story — and just as important, the follow-up stories and the Web site — has taught me still more deeply that there is always another voice, another picture, another set of facts and another point of view that deserve consideration. If all the facts are not known, one person’s humanitarian effort might unwittingly become someone else’s human rights violation.

“Spending months immersed in the details of this investigation has deepened my commitment to those who aren’t being heard in our daily discussions, and to digging more deeply into human rights issues.”

More online: http://tinyurl.com/6p2sbb

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