Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Monday, April 17, 2006

  Let us praise a few Pulitzers

The Pulitzer Prize Board had no sooner announced its annual awards today than the usual angry leftists began grumbling. The well-meaning but naïve folk at the Columbia School of Journalism soon felt the wrath, not of their liberal peers, but of the amateur gasbags loosely associated with what is quaintly called, in the parlance of our times, the blogosphere (shudder).

I will take it upon myself to set them straight on a few things, though I have little doubt the lesson will be lost on these poor benighted souls. As for myself, I have no truck with journalism prizes. Even the best of them encourage all manner of muckraking and prying into other people's business. There ought to be, but there aren't, prizes for reporting good news, about sensible people going about their personal affairs, avoiding entanglements with the government, and the like. But alas, the Pulitzers reward prying of the worst sort.

Yet liberals can never accept the ground rules, even when they're written in their favor. The to-do over a few scraps of prize-money thrown into the maw of the ravening beast that is modern journalism! Well, the most controversial award, for national reporting, went to James Risen and Eric Lichtblau for their story last December in the New York Times on domestic eavesdropping. Might as well begin there.

The report was of course nearly treasonous, blowing the whistle as it did on President Bush's illegal use of the NSA. That, I have no doubt, is the only reason the Pulitzer Board gave any attention to Risen and Lichtblau. Any attention whatever, I say; it was never more than a tempest in a teapot, and Senators Specter and Roberts have put the whole story right back where it belongs (don't mind a spot of tea myself!).

None the less, we who remember the old school of reporting, the school of minding your own business unless there was a damn good reason for blabbing what confidential sources were telling you, can take some measure of satisfaction in the award to Risen and Lichtblau. It's not so much that the NYT revealed some mildly embarrassing tittle-tattle. More to the point, the NYT agreed to suppress information when they were told to do so. It's not so much that the paper eventually published an abbreviated version of the article by Risen and Lichtblau (even Time magazine might have done that); it's the fact that the newspaper smothered the story for over a year.

The White House asked The New York Times not to publish this article, arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny. After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting. Some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists has been omitted.

While this is not quite mind-your-own-business reporting, it is very possibly the best we can hope for in the current climate of crusading journalism. If you compare this to the situation thirty-three years ago, you will notice that we've made great strides in the matter of suppressing unwelcome news.

In 1973, Jack White noticed (not that it was any of his business) that Richard Nixon had forgotten to pay his income taxes. It was only for a few years, but of course a journalist is bound to publish this fact rather than just sending a reminder to the President that he needed to file those returns. Well, be that as it may.

The point is that White sat on the story for twelve days before publishing, and that was made a big deal among reporters. The day he wrote the story, the workers at his paper began a general action, a strike in the parlance of our times. Thus did Jack White wait out the strike for nearly two weeks before going into print with his muckraking report. At the time, it seemed like an extraordinarily long delay for such a big story. Yet here was the NYT, only two years ago, shoving a spying scandal back behind the sofa cushions for more than a full year.

So as distressed as I am to see these two rascals Risen and Lichtblau rewarded, let us imagine instead that the Pulitzer prize was awarded NOT for the year 2005, that is to say for the published report itself, but instead for 2004, for the suppression of the report during a presidential election and beyond. Can't you just hear liberal crania popping throughout newsrooms big and small?

And those bloggers, these Pulitzers will provide them with plenty of complaints to grind and grind for days. They're already howling, somewhere, that there were no Pulitzers awarded for reporting on the Downing Street memo. Such irony, because of course reporters didn't get around to actually reporting on that until everybody already knew about it. So what is the Pulitzer Board supposed to file that under? "Breaking News"?

This evening I overheard in the grocery store one scruffy fellow, a blogger by the looks of it, complaining that the award for "Criticism" went to a fashion critic. This fellow seemed to have the notion, can you believe it, that the recipient ought to be making critical comments about the government or perhaps the media. The fool, nobody had ever informed him that "criticism" means flitting around in the margins of music, attending Broadway plays, and the like.

I suppose he imagined that people like himself, who do nothing but carp on-line all day, ought to get the Pulitzer Board's attention. The proud heirs to the mantle of MediaWhoresOnline, or some such. And now they will criticize the Pulitzer selections with malice, knowing full well that next year the Board will cave to their pressure and award them all a lifetime achievement award. For criticism.

Crossposted at My Left Wing and at Daily Kos.


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