Who Killed George Polk?

When William R. Polk '51 flies to Greece in January to attend the trial of the men accused of his brother's murder, he will be starting the next chapter of a tale of international intrigue that has steadily been building up in intensity since the corpse of correspondent George Polk was found floating 150 yards off shore in Salonika Bay on May 16.

George Polk, Middle East correspondent for the Columbia Broadcasting System, had established a reputation as a fearless and honest reporter and as an opponent of the Greek Royalist Government. His death occurred during the very week he was to have returned to the United States to accept one of Harvard's coveted Nieman Fellowships.


The Greek Government immediately accused the Communists of killing Polk to embarrass the Government. The Communists and many others accused the Government of killing Polk to stop him from reporting facts unfavorable to the Government and to intimidate other newsmen into ceasing their criticism of the Greek Government. And radio commentator Robert S. Allen declared in a mid-summer broadcast that the British Intelligence Service had murdered Polk because the latter was about to receive a Communist offer to make peace with the Government, and the report of such an offer would mean an end to American support of Britain's position in Greece.

The United States State Department paid little attention to the case. Frederick Ayer, security officer of the U.S. Mission to Greece, was detailed to protect Polk's wife while she was being interrogated by the Greek police. He frequently was absent from the questioning sessions and made few other efforts to intervene in the case.


Two groups were set up to conduct a dis-interested investigation of the killing. The Overseas Writers Association, under Walter Lippmann, sent General William J. (Wild Bill) Donovan, of wartime Office of Strategic Services fame, to Greece to find out who killed Polk. And the Newsmen's Commission to Investigate the Murder of George Polk, representing about 20,000 working newsmen in the U. S. and Engand, has been raising money to send a team, to include William Polk, to Greece to track down the killers. The former group hoped to bring pressure on the Greek government to make an honest attempt to find the murderers, while the latter sought to conduct an investigation on its own.

Lippmann's group, loaded with prominent names, had an easy time getting its investigation under way. William Polk was not so lucky.

His first real trouble arose in Washington. Polk resigned from Newsweek in 1947, charging that since the Astors had taken over the magazine, it had deliberately distorted and biased the news in an effort to stir up anti-Communist and anti-labor feeling among its readers. In a letter to the foreign editor of the magazine, he declared that he could no longer, in clear conscience, continue to work for a publication that, in his viewpoint, presented its readers with "a carefully selected line of propaganda written to achieve a certain desired effect," while pretending to present them with news.

Hence it was not a complete surprise to William Polk when he learned, as he describes it, that Ernest K. Lindley, head of Newsweek's Washington Bureau, had suggested to newsmen that Polk not be permitted to go to Greece.


Polk felt it necessary to make clear that he had no political aims in mind in wanting to go to Greece, and was interested in tracking down his brother's murderers, whoever they might be, in order to prevent other reporters from being intimidated by the threat of personal violence. He felt that since his brother's murder, most American newsmen in Greece have ceased to report news that any political faction might dislike, for fear that their sources, or they themselves, might be killed in retaliation.

To make clear this stand and to refute Lindley, William Polk had to find a sounding board. He chose the Progressive Party and Henry Wallace, a choice which today he admits was his "worst mistake." As a result, Wallace got up at his now famous press conference during the Progressive Party's Philadelphia convention and implied to the assembled newsmen that they should be ashamed of themselves for not risking their necks to get news as George Polk had done. Hence instead of getting across the point William Polk had wanted emphasized, that Lindley's action was, he believed, motivated by George Polk's relationship with Newsweek, Wallace instead only succeeded in antagonizing a large number of influential reporters.

William Polk has had to face two other hurdles: money and Harvard University's rules. The first problem arose because, inexperienced in money raising, he did not apply to the Bureau of Internal Revenue for tax exempt status for gifts until his drive for funds was well under way; by the time he did apply, red tape would have kept him from getting approval until well after the time it would be useful. Failure to get the tax exempt status for gifts for a non-profit purpose cost him many contributions. Moreover, despite donations from the Harvard Liberal Union and from Harvard's American Veterans Committee chapter, fund raising has generally been slow.

The second problem is a leave of absence to postpone final exams and miss part of the term.

Twice the Greek Government has announced that it has found George Polk's slayers. The first time their announcement fell through. Then, on October 17, the Government accused four men of the murder.

The four are: Adam Mouzenides, member of the central committee of the Greek Communist Party who Communists claim was killed in action a month before Polk's murder while the Government claims he is still alive in Commun-