Putting the PU Into the Pulitzers


Who the hell cares about the Pulitzer Prizes for journalism, outside the hundreds, maybe thousands of people who compete for them? L.A. Times media columnist Tim Rutten wraps an entire column around the probable fiction that more than a sliver of the population gives a rat's ass:

For better or worse, a significant number of people have come to regard the Pulitzer Prizes as the American news media's annual report card.

Thus, more than a few brows were arched this week when not a single award in a print category went for journalism of any sort connected to the ongoing war in Iraq.

"Of any sort," we soon learn, somehow does not include photography (two Pulitzers were awarded for Iraq-related pictures).

Anyway, Rutten buries his lede. Implicit in his thesis is that the awards should somehow be tied to political events, not necessarily to the best individual pieces of journalism. In other words, political considerations should matter in judging ostensibly non-political work. He then compares the Pulitzer count from Iraq and Vietnam, and includes this revealing passage about Prize-winner (and insufferable baseball nostalgic) David Halberstam:

Obviously the U.S. had been deeply involved in Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia before the Pulitzer board chose to recognize any of the journalism concerning that intervention. As Halberstam said this week, "There was a generational fault line that had to be bridged before the Pulitzer juries or board felt comfortable in honoring any of the work being done in Vietnam. I know that when I won mine, there was a strong sentiment among some people that the board was taking sides against the Johnson administration. I know Scotty [Reston, then the New York Times' associate editor] did some pretty good arm-twisting on my behalf."

Less reason than ever to give a hoot about the news industry's Oscars. Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for Halberstam's The Re-Reckoning, where he revisits his mid-'80s scare-tract about how the Japanese economy was on the verge of Pearl Harboring ours into submission.

NEXT: Should Anthony Kennedy be impeached or just killed?

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  1. you mean there’s another insufferable baseball nostalgic besides George Will and the late Stephen Jay Gould?

  2. biologist — Don’t forget Bob Costas!

  3. Halberstam can rest easy – plenty of other writers are just taking copies of The Reckoning, crossing out “Japan” and writing in “Europe,” and hitting “print.”

  4. Europe? Europe?!?! What a load of crap. China is the proper replacement for Japan.

  5. …crossing out “Japan” and writing in “Europe,” and hitting “print.”

    David, yep, looks like there will always be a market for apocalyptic visions whether religious or secularist. Must satisfy some deep psychological need to believe that catastrophe is looming (and, perhaps more importantly, to compel others to change their behavior before it’s too late, I might add). At any rate, given the amazingly perfect track record of these economic, ecologic, religious, etc. etc., doomsayers (and I mean perfect in being not just wrong but embarrassingly wrong) there is only one strategy for dealing with the next one: ignore it (or better yet, bet against it) and sleep soundly knowing that the probability that this time they finally get it right, is essentially zero.

  6. Seeing as the global economy has firmly committed itself to feeding the US’s bottomless gluttony for consumer goods and funding its enormous debt loads so that the gormandizing can continue, if the US declines, then we all decline together, at least in the short term. China will probably be the winner in the end, but it’ll take 15-20 years to clear the wreckage off the tracks.

  7. if the US declines, then we all decline together, at least in the short term. China will probably be the winner in the end, but it’ll take 15-20 years to clear the wreckage off the tracks.

    Ugh, see, such claims are never ending… My prediction (which unlike these and others is backed up by a history of being right): The US is not going to decline and in 15-20 years people will look back at these dire predictions of decline just like we do with those 1980’s worries about Japan, or the endless parade of eco-disaster claims. They have always been bunk – why should I think this one is different?

    Our bottomless gluttony for consumer goods is what has made our standard of living unimaginable to even the richest person on earth just a century ago. It is not a cause for concern but a reason to celebrate. Besides, we pay for those goods which means the world as a whole is wealthier for our gluttony and ought to thank us.

    As for the government debt, to the extent the government spends wastefully (and it most certainly does), I share your concern. However, whether it taxes or borrows to get the money it wastes is irrelevant; the problem is the waste itself.

  8. The smart writers are taking Halberstram’s book, crossing out Japan & replacing it with USA, then translating the book into French.

  9. Or how about the long tome on military operations in the 90s; his followup to the Best & the Brightest that ignored terrorism, Bin Laden, the
    Khobar Towers

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