Joe Bruno ’14 receives Polk Award for coverage of voting scandal in congressional race

The WSOC-TV journalist was recognized for his dogged reporting that helped establish with certainty that McCrae Dowless, a Republican political consultant, orchestrated a plot to influence a rural North Carolina congressional race. 

Investigative reporter and Elon alumnus Joe Bruno ’14 has received a prestigious George Polk Award for his nationally recognized reporting on ballot fraud in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District race, the last undecided congressional race in the country.

Joe Bruno ’14 
The George Polk Awards, handed out annually by Long Island University to honor excellence in print, digital and broadcast journalism, were announced on Feb. 19. An investigative journalist for WSOC-TV in Charlotte, Bruno was honored in the organization’s Local Television Reporting category.

In a Polk Awards news release, Bruno was commended for his news coverage that “helped establish with certainty that McCrae Dowless, a Republican political consultant, orchestrated a plot to destroy some properly cast absentee ballots and fraudulently include others in a rural North Carolina Congressional race that the GOP candidate led by 905 votes. His interest piqued by a state election board’s initial refusal to certify the results, Bruno and his crew travelled well out of the station’s normal coverage area to locate unsuspecting victims who had handed their ballots to Dowless’s operatives and subsequently found two women who confessed to the election fraud in interviews aired across the nation and online. Well into 2019, the election result was still unsettled.”

In fact, on the day of the Polk Awards announcement, Bruno wasn’t at the organization's celebratory luncheon in Washington, D.C., but rather was continuing his coverage of ballot fraud investigation. This included attending an election voter fraud hearing at the State Board of Elections in Raleigh.

“Joe is tenacious and unstoppable,” said Associate Professor Richard Landesberg, following the Polk Awards announcement. “In an era when some think all the answers are on the internet, Joe recognizes that great reporting comes from old-fashioned methods: going door-to-door and digging up information by talking with people. We are lucky to have Joe letting us know what politicians are doing in our name.”

Associate Professor Anthony Hatcher also commended Bruno, tweeting, “This is wonderful news, @JoeBrunoWSOC9 and well deserved. Your reporting has been accurate, informative, and a vital public service. It also has national importance. We're so proud of you here @eloncomm @elonuniversity.”

Alongside fellow WSOC-TV reporter Allison Latos (left), Bruno offers a televised update on Feb. 19 regarding the N.C. election voter fraud hearing at the State Board of Elections. Photo courtesy of Corey Gensler (@CoreyWSOC9)
Following the announcement, Bruno, an active presence on Twitter, tweeted, “At a loss for words. Thank you so much @PolkAwards for the honor.”

In all, 14 news organizations and Netflix were recognized by the Polk Awards for outstanding journalism during 2018 and will receive their awards at an April 5 luncheon in New York City. Among the news outlets recognized were The New York Times, Miami Herald, Arizona Republic, Tampa Bay Times, ProPublica and Reuters.

Long Island University, which gives the awards annually in memory of George Polk, a CBS correspondent murdered in 1948 while covering the Greek Civil War, said it received 554 entries for consideration — the most in the program’s 70-year history, according to John Darnton, curator of the awards.

“The Polk Award is one of the most prestigious in journalism,” Landesberg said. “Named after a courageous CBS reporter, it honors those willing to confront the powerful with incisive, accurate reporting that is important to our democracy.”

The Elon professor added that “Joe joins great journalistic company with his Polk Award,” noting that Polk laureates include Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and Seymour Hersh.

Prior to the Polk Awards announcement, Bruno’s coverage of the North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District had already garnered praise from media outlets and political observers. This included a Dec. 5 Washington Post article, titled “The shoe-leather reporting boosting North Carolina’s explosive election fraud investigation,” that highlighted the young reporter's efforts.