More Pulitzer Blogging


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.


NEXT: Reason and Gary Johnson at Smokin' Betty's in Philadelphia on May 12!

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  1. They also found systematic failures within the department that allowed Cujdik and his fellow officers to thrive

    1. And here’s the “lost” part of that comment:

      Tell me about all those “good” cops out there again, won’t you?

      1. Just like with everywhere, and everywhen, there are good and bad. There just is. There are good cops who turn in bad cops. There are bad cops who get away with this crap. There is no perfect black or white, and no amount of trying to pigeon hole every single person in one profession into that one hole works.

        Philly, though, is kind of a rat hole. Pretty much any large department has some corruption. Many small ones do, too.

        And some do not.

  2. inadvertently leaving them in the backseat of the car

    Uh-huh. Inadvertent my ass.

    “If you’re gonna act like a lil shit, i’m not taking you in the store.”

    1. oh, and:

      he had forgotten the child was there

      Pretty sure that’s a crime too, isn’t it?

      1. Nope. Virginia child abuse laws specify “wilful acts or omissions.” The prosecutor got it right.

        1. So its still OK for stupid people to have kids.


    2. I would recommend you read Weingarten’s piece first and *then* see if can still be flippant.

      If you can, more power to you.

      1. I’m sure i couldn’t. And rather than read it and go kill myself after losing all hope in mankind, i decided to come in here and be flippant.

        Lighten up francis. It was begging for the extreme “if you kids dont behave i’m going to drive this car off a cliff” joke.

      2. I made it a few pages in before I had to quit.

      3. I read the piece. These people should be shot and their dead bodies sterilized so they won’t have more children to neglect and abuse.

        1. I find it genuinely astounding someone could have that reaction to that story.

          1. My children’s music teacher was just telling me how easy it is, after maternity leave, to accidentally do this.

            When you are back in your car going to work it’s like your mind goes back to the old habits of thought, and those old habits didn’t include having a quite baby in the back seat.

            1. three small kids here and I can’t imagine doing that…I illegally leave them in the car pretty frequently…never leaving the windows up though…unless it is winter. But I never forget they are there…I’m paranoid about running them over inthe drive way…hard to imagine accidently heating htem to death.

          2. aaron, You don’t know SIV.

            1. I find it just as bizarre that anyone think leaving your child to convulse to death in a hot car is OK as long as they “forgot”. They’d be doing hard time if it was their dog.

        2. Yep, the government should regulate who can procreate. After all it’s for the children.

          1. Actually no it isn’t OK for the government to regulate who can have children. That’s why I propose sterilizing them after they are dead.

            1. I find it a difficult subject to reach a conclusion on. On one hand we have the right to control our own bodies, including reproductive organs. On the other, I see the creation of a sentient but helpless organism as a crime against that organism. To have children while being incapable of providing for their welfare until they reach self sufficiency should be criminal. Preemptive sterilization is off the table (as much as it appeals to me) just as any precog police state is. Sterilizing people or fining them for their incompetence after the fact is okay.

              Then the issue becomes even more complicated when minors are involved. Do they own their bodies? Do their parents? Who is liable if they reproduce? If they are rendered sterile until age 18, have their rights been violated?

              So I have to say that in a way I support government regulation of who can have children, to the same degree I support regulation on anything else. If you can’t do it without hurting someone, you’re going to get busted.

              1. “On the other, I see the creation of a sentient but helpless organism as a crime against that organism.”

                So, everybody’s parents are criminals?

                1. Yes and no. I could have explained my position better the first time, but I’m lazy. I tried to expound on that line in the following sentence and hoped it would be enough.

                  If I see a man starving I’m not obligated to feed him. Now what if I see a man starving because I personally stole his food? Let us assume my intent was not to kill him, but I was aware of the consequences of my actions when I comitted them. The actual crime was theft, but if I knowingly allow him to die because of it am I not guilty of murder as well?

                  Destroying the ability of a being to look after itself makes me responsible for what befalls it. If I encase your feet in concrete or strip you naked on the antarctic mainland I’m as much your murderer as the elements are. Even if my intent was only to have some fun and your demise just an expected side effect. Whether I plucked you off the street or grew you in a vat, you are now helpless and I am the cause. If I plucked you off the street but returned you unharmed you would possibly forgive me, and even if not your case against me in court would be diminished. The same with children. If I protected my hypothetical offspring and gave it the means for self sufficiency I would reduce my crime against it. If I’m a good parent I would reduce it so far as to where charges against me become absurd. If not, charges can and will be brought against me in much the same fashion as current child abuse laws.

                  Of course it’s complicated further because sentience is a continuum rather than a discrete category. A baby is more aware than the ball of cells that preceded it, but it isn’t the same as a fully functional adult. The creation of a sentient being is a process decades in the making rather than a single event. This makes it even more difficult to calculate the magnitude of hypothetical crimes of the parent. So difficult that I wouldn’t argue if you told me this was too impractical to ever influence law. But hopefully you can see why I won’t staunchly deny government a role in reproductive regulation the way I deny it elsewhere. We imprison murderers so they can’t murder again, we take the licenses of those who cannot drive safely, and we should sterilize incapable parents before they inadvertently kill again.

                  The short answer: Yes. Everything cognizant that has reproduced or attempted to reproduce is morally tarnished. The extent of the criminality is variable.

        3. Yes, because it’s apparent by reading that story that the parents intended to neglect those children.

          1. Neglect is a passive form of abuse in which the perpetrator is responsible to provide care for a victim who is unable to care for oneself, but fails to provide adequate care to meet the victim’s needs, thereby resulting in the victim’s demise.

            “neglect” doesn’t require intent(excepting Virginia apparently)

    3. Fuck you, wylie. Do you have any kids? It can happen to the best of parents — you’re dropping off kids at various places, and you forget the baby who has fallen asleep in the kiddie car seat in the back seat of the car.

      Sending grief-stricken parents to jail over a tragic mistake like that is a terrible idea.

      1. I generally avoid making “you have to be X in order to understand” arguments, because they’re typically bullshit avoidance arguments, but in the case of being a parent, it’s valid. Nothing, and I mean *nothing* else you ever do in your life is even close to the experience. (I maintain that we’re genetically programmed to not comprehend parenthood before actually having children. We’d never reproduce otherwise.)

        So, if you are suggesting that justice was somehow not served, and you don’t have kids, STFU. You’re talking out of your ass.

        I can’t ever imagine me leaving a baby in the back of a car, but I can imagine the crushing grief the father is still going through as a result of that carelessness.

        1. That was not directed at prolfeed.

    4. Depends on the age of the child. If you’ve got a quiet or sleeping baby in a rear facing child seat, and it’s unusual for you to be taking that baby to, say, day care (I dunno, your wife is sick), and your mental autopilot just follows your normal routine — bad shit can happen. It’s not like you’re thinking about life and death stakes when you’re putting the baby in the car, so your brain isn’t going to be unusually vigilant.

      As someone who’s accidentally driven past day care once or twice, I can empathize (and truthfully, it makes me very paranoid about doing the same thing).

  3. Any prize for journalism that doesn’t recognize Radley Balko as the greatest living journalist in the English speaking world, is just another paid political announcement.

    1. I’m reminded of this:…..nt_1513527

    2. Not taking anything away from Balko, but he mainly pursues stories on the backs of journalists who’ve already done the legwork.

      1. Yeah, that Steven Hayne thingee was all over the NY Times, WaPo and whatever they call newspapers in Mississippi before Radley got involved with it.

  4. Pretty sure that’s a crime too, isn’t it?

    Nothing’s a crime if the prosecutor says it isn’t, and everything is if he says it is.

    The guy who Mazda-rotisseried his kid was a fellow government employee, but I’m sure the prosecutor’s kind disposition toward him was for some admirable other reason.

    1. Again, read the piece.

  5. Hey, I’m all for dead baby jokes, but I’m a little surprised by the attitude here that the guy should be prosecuted. He fucked up and his kid is dead. Isn’t that punishment enough?

    Q: What is black and bubbly and taps on glass before it explodes?
    A: A baby in the microwave.

    1. Q: How do you make a dead baby float?
      A: Two scoops of ice cream, one scoop of dead baby …

      1. What’s funnier than a dead baby?
        A dead baby in a clown costume!

        1. Our Child Clowns are the Best in Town! Just don’t forget to feed them!

          1. Just don’t forget to feed them!
            OK in VA, as long as you didn’t “intend” to omit feeding them.

        2. How did the dead baby cross the road?

          It was stapled to a chicken.

  6. “if you kids dont behave i’m going to drive this car off a cliff into that lake”

  7. read the piece.

    I almost barfed reading the excerpt. That guy missed his true calling; he should be writing books with (shirtless) Fabio on the cover.

    1. I brokedown and read the article. I felt i couldn’t keep discussing it otherwise.

      I gotta agree with P Brooks. I don’t see what all the fanfare is about. Its a sob piece, thats all.

      And because all those people are sad, and hey, it could happen to anybody, we’ll just bypass the law and ignore the death of a human being.

      Take it to trial. Otherwise it’s just a freepass for infanticide. Is the system perfect, are juries perfect? Absolutely not. But we don’t just absolve people of responsibility for their actions because they were stressed, upset, or drunk.

      1. They guy in the article who tried to wrestle a gun away from a cop( at the scene of his child’s negligent death) knew what he had done was totally inexcusable.

        People care more about dogs than children these days. Fucking sick.

        1. I can do lots of inexcusable and horrible things that aren’t crimes. Do you really think putting that man in prison would do anyone any good?

          1. That isn’t the criteria we use for putting people in prison. An otherwise stable and law abiding citizen who kills a family member is unlikely to ever kill again but we don’t let ’em walk.

            You can be sure an imprisoned parent won’t be “unintentionally” leaving any other children in hot cars.

  8. 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.

    I … FORGOT!!

    1. Exactly.

  9. Weingarten is awesome — always worth reading.

  10. we’ll just bypass the law and ignore the death of a human being.

    The law specifies only “wilful acts or omissions” as criminal child abuse. Unless you know of some evidence this was wilful, the prosecutor did the right thing by not prosecuting without evidence that the law had been broken.

    Take it to trial.

    Why? There’s no evidence the law was broken.

    1. Well you got me there.

      And let that be a lesson to everyone who’s sick of their kids: Virginia is the place to get rid of them. Just keep it on the DL.

      1. Are you trolling? Or are you such an obnoxious scumbag that no woman wants to procreate with you? This stuff happens to parents who love their kids.

    2. Why is it “criminal child abuse” and not Manslaughter?

      1. Depends on the definition.

        1st degree is generally unintentional but without malice aforethought.

        2d degree generally means causing someone’s death unintentionally in connection with some other wrongful act.

        3d degree generally requires criminal negligence (requires foreseeable threat to safety).

    3. Was this not an omission? I suppose you could apply “wilful” to “omission”, but one could argue for either interpretation the way it’s written.

  11. Why can’t we just forgive and forget?

    I’m not talking about the dead baby thing, I mean the Philly cops.

  12. agree witht he sentiment that the act would be it’s own punishment…but just started reading it..two things strike me…a guy did it?
    the prosecutor wouldn’t have to worry about me, my wife would already have gotten a gun and shot me.

    300 pound man did it…think that dude ever forgot to eat dinner?

    1. True, the fact that his subconscious brain is good at monitoring blood sugar levels suggests it must also be good at measuring “baby in car” levels.

  13. Just like with everywhere, and everywhen, there are good and bad.

    That’s nice, but that “bad” bank teller or ticket-taker at the movie theater can’t completely and utterly ruin my life (if he doesn’t just decide to assassinate me) since he knows he’ll never be held accountable for anything he does. So fuck those unionized baboons; every single one of them.

    1. Anyone can choose to ruin your life. Steal your identity. Steal all your money. Hurt your family, hurt you, mug you, rape you. ANYONE. Having a badge does not make a good cop, but not having a badge does not make a good person. Finally, for all of the criminal abuses that do happen in departments that allow corruption to foster (and there are far too many of those, I agree), there are also cops and detectives who do good work, who have no union protection, who really do protect the innocent and take down dangerous fuckers.

      Again, there is good and bad everywhere. There are corrupt fuckers. And then there are the guys who go to work, do their jobs well, called upon by their own neighbors in their communities to do said jobs, and go home. It’s a shame not all departments are like that. But there are still those out there, and there are still good cops.

  14. I wonder if their is any correlation between taking prescription ant-depressant/ -anxiety, sleeping or other psych meds and these parents “forgetting” they left the kid in the car?

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