Pulitzer versus Nixon by Tom Reynolds
What do you suppose the reaction of the New York Times and the Washington Post would be if some politician was awarded the “Richard Nixon Good Government Prize” for outstanding public service? Outrage? Screaming editorials demanding the award be refused? How could anyone accept an award named after Nixon?
But those same papers (and others) cannot stop bragging about receiving Pulitzer Prizes.
Is Joseph Pulitzer the newspaper equivalent of Richard Nixon? Does a bear…?
Yellow Journalism is variously defined as: sensationalism; tantalizingly lurid; crude exaggeration; biased; scandal mongering; little or no legitimate well-researched news; using eye-catching headlines for increased sales. Everything the free press is NOT supposed to be.
And the two uncontested fathers of Yellow Journalism are William Randolph Hearst and…Joseph Pulitzer. Yes, that Joseph Pulitzer.
Competing in the NY City market, both founded, practiced and encouraged all the above adjectives applied to Yellow Journalism. Pulitzer and Hearst both aligned themselves with the Democrat Party – the party of Tammany Hall and of New York City corruption. Both spread sensational and fact-free accounts that helped involve the United States in the Spanish American War. Obviously, not candidates to be icons of the free press!
So, why is Pulitzer enshrined while Hearst is largely forgotten or negatively remembered?
Hearst outlived Pulitzer by more than three decades and spent his considerable fortune on wine women, song, multiple mansions and a Hollywood actress mistress.
Pulitzer left part of his fortune to award this prize (and $15,000 - tax free).
Since journalists write the books and articles and profit by the prize, guess who gets the better press? If you have any doubt, read the history of Yellow Journalism and see how both are labelled the fathers but Pulitzer gets “kid glove” treatment while Hearst’s sins are front-and-center.
Does the left leaning media put their biases aside when awarding the prize? The 19-member Pulitzer Prize Board is comprised of major editors, columnists and media executives in addition to six members drawn from academia and the arts. Lots of conservatives in that group?
In 1962, Citizen Hearst: A Biography of William Randolph Hearst by W. A. Swanberg was highly recommended for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography, but denied by the board. Its subject was not an "eminent example of the biographer's art as specified in the prize definition." In contrast, a New Yorker writer’s autobiography about his surfing days and At Home with the Marquis de Sade were “eminent examples” of biographies awarded prizes.
In 2003, the Pulitzer Board refused to revoke the award won by former New York Times reporter Walter Duranty denying the Ukrainian famine in the Soviet Union. The New York Times itself called his work “some of the worst reporting to appear in this newspaper." (Not a tough bar to jump over.)
The 2018 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting was awarded to The New York Times and The Washington Post for their reporting on what is now known as the Russia Collusion Hoax. The Pulitzer Board refused to recall the prize, even after it was proven to be a hoax. The New York Times and Washington Post decided that if they won an award, there is no reason to give it back.
Given its history, the Pulitzer Prize is an apt name for the award as it reflects both the donor and the recipient’s ethical commitments to journalism.
The next time you see someone being lauded for the Pulitzer Prize, now you know the story. Has anyone ever asked the award recipient: how can you accept an award in Joseph Pulitzer’s name?
Perhaps, after a long life, Donald Trump will leave money for “Trump Prizes in Reporting”. Can you imagine…can you just imagine the media reaction!