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.