The Polk Conspiracy: Murder and Cover-up
in the Case of CBS News Correspondent George Polk by Kati Marton
by DCDave

The first hot battle of the Cold War, the global war between the forces of freedom and the forces of Soviet-controlled communism, was fought in Greece. It was the battle for Greece that precipitated the Truman Doctrine, the resolution of President Harry Truman to do whatever it took to stop the spread of communism. And it was in Greece that the first great test of the Truman Doctrine was passed. With massive financial assistance from the United States the Greek government was able to put down a Soviet-supported communist insurrection.

That, at least, is one side of the story, and it is the side that most Americans who still pay any attention to such "ancient history" have come to accept. Our view of the Greek Civil War of the late 1940s--and the war itself--might have turned out differently had George Polk lived, had he not been murdered in 1948 while attempting to get an interview with the insurrection's leaders. Polk, as our military folk used to say in Vietnam, couldn't be persuaded to "get with the program."

This much one can easily gather from Kati Marton's gripping narrative of the perilous and ultimately fatal path that this chief Middle East correspondent for CBS News followed in his dogged search for the truth about the war. Going beyond Marton's account one can also deduce that the future of America's press as a watchdog on its own government would have been quite different if Polk's surviving colleagues in the news business had been equally as dogged in demanding the truth about his murder, instead of accepting the Greek government's transparent cover-up story that the communists did it and allowing a pigeon to be railroaded.*

One colleague who didn't fall for the fiction, but who was not among the high-level journalists who were allowed to attend the trial to duly give it their seal of approval, was CBS national news commentator, Don Hollenbeck. Unfortunately, according to a short blurb in The New York Times, Hollenbeck committed suicide in June of 1954. According to Marton, Hollenbeck was a man broken from the relentless pounding he took from the cold warriors in the press. According to The Times, he couldn't stand the pain of a bleeding ulcer so he turned on the gas jets in his apartment. At any rate, until Edmund Keeley came along in 1989 with his scholarly account of the whitewash ("The Salonika Bay Murder," see review) and now Marton, that was about the last we saw of journalists standing up for Polk. These days, ironically, they make a big fuss about it when they get the George Polk Award for investigative reporting.

I look forward to the Mel Gibson movie to be made from this book and trust that this review will not lessen the prospects for that eventuality.

*Among those abandoning Polk in favor of the Greek government's whitewash, according to Marton, were leading columnist Walter Lippmann; Eugene Meyer of The Washington Post; William Paley, Joseph C. Harsch, Winston Burdett, and John Secondari of CBS; and James Reston of The New York Times.

David Martin
January 23, 2000

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