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The Polk Conspiracy: Murder and Cover-Up in the Case of CBS News Correspondent George Polk

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In war-torn Greece, the murder of a young American reporter sent a shock through the West and set the stage for the four-decade Cold War; now with a new introduction by the author Greece in 1948 was a country reeling from two major conflicts. The Nazi occupation and World War II had left it weakened, and the Greek Civil War—already raging for two years—had torn it apart. O In war-torn Greece, the murder of a young American reporter sent a shock through the West and set the stage for the four-decade Cold War; now with a new introduction by the author Greece in 1948 was a country reeling from two major conflicts. The Nazi occupation and World War II had left it weakened, and the Greek Civil War—already raging for two years—had torn it apart. One of the earliest clashes of the Cold War, Greece’s civil dispute pitted the American-backed royalist government against the Soviet-funded Greek Communist Party. Reporting at the front lines for CBS News, George Polk drew the ire of both sides with his uncompromising and incisive coverage. In mid-May, days after going missing, Polk was found dead, shot execution style with his hands and feet bound. What transpired next was a mad scramble of finger pointing and international outrage. To appease its American backers, the Greek government quickly secured the dubious confession of a Communist journalist—though the bulk of the evidence pointed to the royalists. An influential moment in the early days of the Cold War and a powerful force in the formation of the Truman Doctrine, the Polk conspiracy was emblematic of the ideological conflict that would embroil the globe for the next forty years.


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In war-torn Greece, the murder of a young American reporter sent a shock through the West and set the stage for the four-decade Cold War; now with a new introduction by the author Greece in 1948 was a country reeling from two major conflicts. The Nazi occupation and World War II had left it weakened, and the Greek Civil War—already raging for two years—had torn it apart. O In war-torn Greece, the murder of a young American reporter sent a shock through the West and set the stage for the four-decade Cold War; now with a new introduction by the author Greece in 1948 was a country reeling from two major conflicts. The Nazi occupation and World War II had left it weakened, and the Greek Civil War—already raging for two years—had torn it apart. One of the earliest clashes of the Cold War, Greece’s civil dispute pitted the American-backed royalist government against the Soviet-funded Greek Communist Party. Reporting at the front lines for CBS News, George Polk drew the ire of both sides with his uncompromising and incisive coverage. In mid-May, days after going missing, Polk was found dead, shot execution style with his hands and feet bound. What transpired next was a mad scramble of finger pointing and international outrage. To appease its American backers, the Greek government quickly secured the dubious confession of a Communist journalist—though the bulk of the evidence pointed to the royalists. An influential moment in the early days of the Cold War and a powerful force in the formation of the Truman Doctrine, the Polk conspiracy was emblematic of the ideological conflict that would embroil the globe for the next forty years.

30 review for The Polk Conspiracy: Murder and Cover-Up in the Case of CBS News Correspondent George Polk

  1. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    An eye-opening look at American influence in Greece shortly after the end of the Second World War. I'd highly recommend this book to anyone interested in American politics and history. Despite the title, this is not a murder/crime book in the spirit of, say, "The Stranger Beside Me," but a close look at a side of America that most Americans probably know nothing about. I was drawn to this book not for the murder mystery/conspiracy angle, but for the history and so I was not disappointed. George An eye-opening look at American influence in Greece shortly after the end of the Second World War. I'd highly recommend this book to anyone interested in American politics and history. Despite the title, this is not a murder/crime book in the spirit of, say, "The Stranger Beside Me," but a close look at a side of America that most Americans probably know nothing about. I was drawn to this book not for the murder mystery/conspiracy angle, but for the history and so I was not disappointed. George Polk was a widely respected reporter/correspondent for CBS News in 1948. Born in Texas to an affluent family that subsequently lost much of their wealth in the Depression, he sought his own fortune eventually ending up in the Middle East, specifically Greece, where he reported critically on both the conservative right-wing faction currently in power and the communist rebels resisting said government. This made him an enemy not only of the right-wing Greek politicians for whom any attempt to seek out another view was seen as a betrayal, but also of the British intelligence apparatus that had long woven its way into the shadows of Greek politics and of the burgeoning American network that was buying influence by way of "foreign aid" via the Truman Doctrine. When Polk's murdered body washed ashore in a remote Greek village, the crime is ultimately pinned on the communists, even though there was plenty of evidence suggesting a right wing conspiracy to murder Polk and blame it on the communists for political gain. The author never unequivocally states who killed Polk-that simply is not known-but she presents lots of evidence implicating the Greek government and the British, with a high likelihood that the Americans had a hand in the coverup. Let's just pause here and let that sink in: America may very likely have covered up the murder of one of its own reporters, one of its own citizens. Marton, a reporter herself (she was an ABC News correspondent who had been married to Peter Jennings) includes enough background to give you an idea of the times: World War II had just ended, and America was freaking out about the spread of communism. Most of the Balkans had gone Red and Greece was considered the last stand. Nevermind that the Greek commies were not taking orders from Stalin and had in fact helped fight off the Nazis during WWII. And nevermind that the right-wing conservative government that the US chose to back solely because it was NOT communist included Fascist elements that had SUPPORTED the Nazis during WWII. A lot of this stuff foreshadowed what would come in Vietnam. This has me interested in reading more about this history, both about Greek in the 1960s leading up to today (giving more context to contemporary news about the refugee crisis and economic austerity) as well as about Truman, the Truman doctrine and the personalities of those times. That said, I need a break from politics. This was a great book, but it drained me.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    Kati Marton, Peter Jenning's wife, has written a book about the execution of a fellow American journalist in postwar Greece as exemplifying the immoralities of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War and of the Greek civil war itself, and U.S. involvement in it, as prefiguring the greater disasters to come in Southeast Asia. In so doing she presents a biography of the victim, George Polk, and portraits of many of his professional colleagues in print and radio journalism. The assassination of Geor Kati Marton, Peter Jenning's wife, has written a book about the execution of a fellow American journalist in postwar Greece as exemplifying the immoralities of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War and of the Greek civil war itself, and U.S. involvement in it, as prefiguring the greater disasters to come in Southeast Asia. In so doing she presents a biography of the victim, George Polk, and portraits of many of his professional colleagues in print and radio journalism. The assassination of George Polk occurred because he had uncovered a secret bank account held by former Greek Prime Minister and current Foreign Minister Constantine Tsaldaris, representative of part of his cut of the U.S. aid pouring into the rightist monarchy under the Marshall Plan intended to defeat an indigenous republican rebellion. With the connivance, if not under the direction, of the British, Polk, who had just interviewed Tsaldaris in order to give the man a chance to defend himself, was earmarked for liquidation, with the intention of setting up the murder as appearing to be the action of communist insurgents under the direction of Moscow. As Marton shows, the set-up was inept, but that did not prevent the U.S. State Department and C.I.A. from accepting and promulgating the lie despite knowing that an entirely innocent man was framed. The primary bad guys of this story are, in addition to almost everyone in the Greek government, George Marshall, U.S. Secretary of State, and Bill Donovan, former head of the O.S.S. The good guys, in addition to Polk himself, include a host of honest journalists, prominently headed by Edward Murrow, Polk's former boss.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jan C

    Newspaperman George Polk was murdered in Greece in the late '40s. Question is, who did it? The Communists? The right-wing? The Greek government, with the assistance of the British and (to a lesser extent) the Americans. But you can't have them blaming themselves. He went to Salonika hoping to meet with the leading Communists, in the Civil War going on in Greece. He had learned that one of the leaders of the government had deposited $25k in an account with Chase in New York. Several days later he Newspaperman George Polk was murdered in Greece in the late '40s. Question is, who did it? The Communists? The right-wing? The Greek government, with the assistance of the British and (to a lesser extent) the Americans. But you can't have them blaming themselves. He went to Salonika hoping to meet with the leading Communists, in the Civil War going on in Greece. He had learned that one of the leaders of the government had deposited $25k in an account with Chase in New York. Several days later he is dead. The Greeks eventually land on a reporter with Communists leanings, who has sold himself to the Nazis, the British, the Communists, the right-wing, etc. Not too hard to torture a confession out of him. Pretty disappointing that they did the same thing to his 68-year old mother though. Walter Lippmann gets together a committee pushing the United States to find out what happened to Polk and why. Gen. "Wild Bill" Donovan, former head of OSS, takes command. He is too involved in the Cold War which is just heating up right about this time. Ms. Marton was, at the time, married to reporter Peter Jennings. Her parents had previously received the Polk Award for journalism, which is the story of another book - Enemies of the People: My Family's Journey to America.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Octavia Cade

    In 1948, the body of an American journalist tasked with covering the Greek civil war was found. George Polk had been murdered, and a disaster of an investigation and show trial followed. Pitting the ethics of honest journalism against the endemic corruption of the Greek government, and the willing-to-countenance-corruption of the Americans propping up the regime, it's no surprise that ethics lost. And they did so partly because the bulk of the American journalists, some of whom were in positions In 1948, the body of an American journalist tasked with covering the Greek civil war was found. George Polk had been murdered, and a disaster of an investigation and show trial followed. Pitting the ethics of honest journalism against the endemic corruption of the Greek government, and the willing-to-countenance-corruption of the Americans propping up the regime, it's no surprise that ethics lost. And they did so partly because the bulk of the American journalists, some of whom were in positions high enough to make a fuss, decided (with some honourable exceptions) to look away, to be deliberately sub-standard in the performance of their vocation. Marton's coverage-in-retrospect, taking place 40 years after the events in question, seems well-researched and plausible. I'd never even heard of Polk before this, but despite a fatal naivety in his last few days, he comes across a lot better than the men who did their level best to obfuscate his death. Yes, the Yanks were in the beginning of their frothing-at-the-mouth over communism, but their willingness to throw up truth and justice for their own ends make that frothing appear a lot less about idealism and loyalty than it does their desperate desire to hold onto power at any cost, and for its own sake. One would like to think that journalists working now would be less slavish in their desire to please, but one only has to look at what passes for much of contemporary political journalism to see that such a wish is woefully optimistic.

  5. 4 out of 5

    David02139

    Very interesting book about the murder of George Polk and the duplicity of British, American and Greek officials. I had no previous understanding of how United States was involved in Greece in the early 40s to "fight communism".

  6. 4 out of 5

    Zeb Kantrowitz

    George Polk was born into a wealthy family in Fort Worth, Texas. From a young age he wanted to be a war correspondent. During WW Two he fought and was decorated at the battle of Guadalcanal. After being mustered out George went to Europe where he became one of the “Morrow Boys” and reported from all over war torn Europe. By 1946 he had become a specialist in the Greek Civil War where he worked for CBS news. The war was being fought by the Greek Royal government and communist Guerillas in the nor George Polk was born into a wealthy family in Fort Worth, Texas. From a young age he wanted to be a war correspondent. During WW Two he fought and was decorated at the battle of Guadalcanal. After being mustered out George went to Europe where he became one of the “Morrow Boys” and reported from all over war torn Europe. By 1946 he had become a specialist in the Greek Civil War where he worked for CBS news. The war was being fought by the Greek Royal government and communist Guerillas in the north, supported by the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. In 1947, Polk married Rea Coccins (aka Rhea Kokkonis), a Greek national and ex-stewardess. George’s reporting (for Newsweek and CBS) was evenhanded but he accused members of the Greek government of pocketing some of the US aid meant for use in the Civil War (these charges were not proved by Polk). In 1948 Polk’s body washed up in Salonika bay, he had been shot in the head and his arms and legs were tied up. It was known to his colleagues that George had travelled to the north to try and get an interview with Markos Vafiadis, the communist leader. Greek officials desperately wanted to pin the crime on communists. This was most likely done with the apparent collusion of the U.S. State Department, the OSS (later to become the CIA) and American and British diplomats. A Greek journalist, Gregory Staktopoulos (a purported communist), who worked for Reuters was arrested along with two other suspects. They were convicted and sentenced to life in prison (Staktopoulos was released after twenty years). There is compelling evidence that Staktopoulos was innocent, his confession obtained under torture. Friends in New York City (many at CBS) started a project to send an independent investigation committee to Greece. Members included Ernest Hemingway, William Polk (Polk's brother), William A. Price (his cousin) and Homer Bigart. This was superseded by the Lippman Committee, consisting mostly of Washington journalists with Walter Lippman as chairman and James Reston of the New York Times. In his name, a group of American journalists initiated the George Polk Awards for outstanding radio or television journalism. These awards were modeled after the Pulitzer Prize which is awarded for outstanding print journalism in newspapers. The killing has never been solved. Zeb Kantrowitz zworstblog.blogspot.com

  7. 5 out of 5

    Carole

    Back to the 50's (actually, the 40's, after the war) when the Soviets were taking over the Balkan states, the U.S. (and Britain) were trying to take a stand in Greece. This is really the story of the American journalists and their industry (with ties to the U.S. government)and how they were trying to cover the story: Marshall Plan aid, graft, Communism, more graft, and propaganda for the American public and officials. Heady stuff.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Laurie Stoll

    Once again, you can't judge a book by it's cover. Below the title of this book are the words, "Murder and Cover-up in the Case of CBS News Correspondent George Polk". This story is more of a history book of the civil war in Greece.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rahadyan

    A well researched and reported look at the late 40's murder of George Polk.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Scott Finley

  11. 5 out of 5

    Emily Kunze

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mark Ayers

  14. 5 out of 5

    Brittany Farrell

  15. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  16. 4 out of 5

    Diego Santos

  17. 5 out of 5

    Richard

  18. 4 out of 5

    Annie

  19. 4 out of 5

    Leigh Coop

  20. 4 out of 5

    Allan

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bob

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dallon Heiner

  23. 5 out of 5

    Karol

  24. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Schneider

  25. 4 out of 5

    Daphne

  26. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

  27. 5 out of 5

    Cm Shegraf

  28. 5 out of 5

    Liz Gnidovec

  29. 4 out of 5

    Harley Werner

  30. 5 out of 5

    Scott Browne

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