March 6, 2008
Las Lomas Grad Makes His Mark
Kors earns journalism awards after exposing journalism scandal
By Theresa Harrington
From a correspondent for Contra Costa Times weekly newspapers to a freelance writer for The Nation, former Walnut Creek resident Joshua Kors is making a name for himself in journalism.
The 29-year-old Las Lomas High graduate won the George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting and has been named as a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting. Both honors are in recognition of a two-part series, "Thanks for Nothing," published in The Nation last year.
"My series exposed a multi-billion-dollar military scandal," Kors said, in a telephone interview from New York City. "I uncovered an organized effort within the military to purposefully misdiagnose soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan as being mentally ill before joining the Army, in order to cheat them out of benefits."
Long Island University honored slain editor Oakland Chauncey Bailey, along with Kors and a dozen other journalists, when it announced awards in 14 categories last month. The awards will be presented at an April 17 luncheon in New York City.
A press release announcing the awards lauded Kors for fueling a "national uproar" with articles that attracted congressional attention. His work also helped prompt a law signed by President Bush that requires the secretary of defense to investigate personality-disorder discharges and report them to Congress.
Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government awards the Goldsmith Prize through its Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.
"In a period when news organizations are cutting back on their budgets, the finalists for this year's Goldsmith Prize are proof that investigative journalism of the highest quality is still a hallmark of the American press," said Thomas Patterson, acting director of the center, in a news release. "Each of these news stories exposed a troubling threat to our public life and, in doing so, brought about needed change."
The news release linked congressional hearings, bills in the House and Senate, and an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act to Kors' reporting.
Kors, who graduated from Las Lomas High in 1996, kicked off his career as editor in chief of The Page, a monthly news magazine published by the school's journalism class.
"I remember making some journalism news back then," Kors said. "I did a piece about a gay kid who killed himself at Las Lomas. I got a couple of kids who were gay to come out. The San Francisco Examiner did a piece about it."
Kors earned a bachelor's degree in English from Amherst College in 2000 and a master's in journalism from Columbia University three years later. He freelanced as a correspondent for the Journal, Concord Transcript and Contra Costa Sun in 2004, and also worked as a production assistant at KCBS radio in San Francisco.
Currently, he writes for The Nation and also works as an independent Web site designer. His mother, Walnut Creek resident Nancy Hurwitz Kors, is thrilled that her son is achieving his lifelong dream at such a young age.
"He's been writing stories since he was 3," she said. "I would put them in the computer for him. He always wanted to be a writer his whole life, and he wanted to make a difference in the world. He wanted to change people's lives."
Indeed, Kors changes many lives with his award-winning journalism. His stories investigated the case of former Army Spc. Jon Town, who lost most of his hearing in Iraq after being knocked unconscious by a rocket. He also suffered memory problems and depression.
Although Town was awarded a Purple Heart medal, the military denied him medical care and disability pay after he was discharged, attributing his deafness to a pre-existing personality disorder.
"I ended up doing about 14 months of investigations," Kors said, noting that the misdiagnoses affected about 22,500 soldiers and saved the military about $12.5 billion. "Ever since this ran ... every week I've been flooded with calls from soldiers."
He first caught onto the story when he was volunteering for a veterans group in New York, listening to the stories of soldiers coming home from the war.
"A lot of the folks over here are serving by going over to Iraq," Kors said. "I feel I can really do service for the country by using my pen."