Seems to me the most regrettable Pulitzer winner this year is the New York Times blatantly prize-baiting series on distracted driving. The one-sided series practically begged for the legislation the paper could later claim credit for inspiring, but never really explained why if the increase in distracted driving is spilling blood all over America's highways, America's highways are safer than they've been since the 1950s. Nor did the series adequately explain the merit of targeted distracted driving laws that can't really be enforced, and probably won't make the roads much safer.
But I do want to point out two of this year's Pulitzer winners that I think are particularly deserving.
The first is the "Tainted Justice" series, which won an investigative reporting prize for Philadelphia Daily News reporters Barbra Laker and Wendy Ruderman. The series, which I've blogged about numerous times here, exposed a rogue, corrupt narcotics unit led by Philadelphia police officer Jeffery Cujdik that was raiding and stealing from immigrant-owned bodegas across the city. Further investigation found the unit encouraging snitches to lie, accusations of sexual assault, and patterned lying on police reports. They also found systematic failures within the department that allowed Cujdik and his fellow officers to thrive—and that still hasn't held them sufficiently accountable. Raker and Ruderman received anonymous threats and were personally attacked by the Philadelphia police unions for their investigation.
The second is Gene Weingarten's wrenching Washington Post Magazine feature on parents who killed their own children by inadvertently leaving them in the backseat of the car. The story is more evidence that Weingarten writes better than any journalist alive. It's one of the most moving features I've ever read. The piece also mentions Commonwealth's Attorney Earle Mobley. I do a lot of writing about bad prosecutors, so it's worth sending some praise to Mobley, a particularly honest and thoughtful DA. Here's an excerpt from Weingarten's article, in which Mobley explains why he didn't charge a father who caused his own son's death by inadvertently leaving him in a hot car:
As tragic as the child's death was, Mobley says, a police investigation showed that there was no crime because there was no intent; Culpepper wasn't callously gambling with the child's life—he had forgotten the child was there.
"The easy thing in a case like this is to dump it on a jury, but that is not the right thing to do," Mobley says. A prosecutor's responsibility, he says, is to achieve justice, not to settle some sort of score.
"I'm not pretty sure I made the right decision," he says. "I'm positive I made the right decision."
There may be no clear right or wrong in deciding how to handle cases such as these; in each case, a public servant is trying to do his best with a Solomonic dilemma. But public servants are also human beings, and they will inevitably bring to their judgment the full weight of that complicated fact.
"You know, it's interesting we're talking today," Mobley says.
He has five children. Today, he says, is the birthday of his sixth.
"She died of leukemia in 1993. She was almost 3."
Mobley pauses. He doesn't want to create the wrong impression.
He made the decision on the law, he says, "but I also have some idea what it feels like, what it does to you, when you lose a child."
Those of you who followed the Ryan Frederick case might remember that Mobley is the prosecutor who, in mid-trial, spoke up to say that a jailhouse snitch Frederick prosecutor Paul Ebert put on the stand was notoriously unreliable. It was a pretty extraordinary and admirable thing for Mobley to do.