When is an Award Prestigious? Is the Pulitzer Just BS?
Years ago, I was having dinner with a reporter friend. I promised to give him a scoop on the yet unannounced winner of a “prestigious award.” I leaked him the name of the man who would be honored as the Portland Cement Man of the Year.
For a prolonged time, he stared at me in disbelief. When he finally found his voice, he questioned my sanity. Did I really believe the Portland Cement Man of the Year was an important story – or that it was a prestigious award? He went on to explain to me that it is an insignificant story. It was merely a narrow industry honoring its own. He even referred to the award as “incestuous” to dismiss the scoop I offered him.
After allowing him to ramble on for a few moments – providing all sorts of reasons why my information was beneath consideration –I got to the point. I put on my best inquisitive face and asked him how the Portland Man of the Year Award differs from … oh, I don’t know … the Pulitzer Prize?
In fact, every objection he gave to the importance of the Portland Man of the Year Award could be equally applied to the Pulitzer. It is a narrow industry honoring its own, for sure. It is incestuous. The only significant difference is that the folks who run the Pulitzer Prize are the same folks who run the newspapers that give the Award great coverage. There is no end to the laudatory adjectives they apply to the Award – “prestigious,” “coveted,” “esteemed,” “distinguished,” “exclusive,” etc., etc., etc.
I have never been overly impressed by the Pulitzer Prize. I offer three possible reasons. (1) I am not generally impressed by awards. (2) I never got one. (3) I do not like their philosophic bias. Three is the correct answer.
In case you have not noticed, the Pulitzer Prize is controlled by the most left-wing elements of the profession. Any time there is a left-wing lean to a story or a book, it is more likely to take home the Prize. And the Pulitzer bias has gotten worse over the years. Conservative columnist George Will won one in 1977 – before he joined the folks on journalism’s rive gouache. The late David Krauthammer (my personal favorite) won a Pulitzer in 1987. But it is mostly left-wingers honoring … left-wingers.
In the history of the Pulitzer the Prize has never been taken away or recanted – but it should have been. One close call was when Janet Cooke, of the Washington Post, declined the Prize at the last moment after it was revealed she had fabricated her story about an 8-year-old heroin addict.
Alex Haley won a special award from the Pulitzer folks for his book “Roots.” It was later discovered that he had plagiarized part of his writing from the work of another. He was forced to pay a settlement to the original author. Pulitzer did not revoke Halley’s special award.
The Boston Globe won the Prize for public service with a submission in which columnist Michael Barnicle was a key contributor. IN an unrelated incident, he was canned from the Globe for inventing a news story. Yes, that is that same Michael Barnicle who now pontificates regularly on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
There were calls to revoke awards in the past. Once such case involved foreign correspondent Walter Duranty, of the New York Times. His report denied the atrocities committed by Joseph Stalin- including the starvation of millions in Ukraine. Though his report might have been more aptly considered Soviet propaganda, Duranty retained the Prize.
More recently, Texas Republic Congressman Lance Gooden sent a letter to the Pulitzer Board asking that the 2018 Prize awarded to the New York Times and the Washington Post for coverage of the mendacious Trump/Russian conspiracy narrative be revoked. It seems a substantial amount of their coverage was baseless, and fact challenged, as proven in the subsequent special counsel’s Muller and Durham reports.
The Prize is alleged to honor excellence, but I see it more like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. You will recall, the overstuffed character was said to have a brain only because the Wizard bestowed a diploma on him. The sheep skin was to proclaim his intelligence to the world. So … does great journalism get the Prize, or is the Prize merely a means of putting an arbitrary imprimatur of great journalism on favored writers with favored political viewpoints? I will leave that up to you to decide.
So, there ‘tis.