Pulitzer Fever

The Prize Season Is Upon Us

Ask most newspaper writers if they're applying for a Pulitzer, and they'll swear they don't think about that stuff. But as the February 1 deadline approaches, the politicking has begun. The New York Times submits candidates in all 14 categories, which helps to improve the paper's odds. This year, everyone's betting on Portraits of Grief, those thumbnail obituaries of September 11 victims that were discontinued as a daily feature on December 31.

Insiders say that despite resistance to Portraits early on, the Times plans to nominate the feature in the public service category. Staffers who worked on the section recently talked it up to The New Yorker, without ever mentioning the P-word.

This year, the man in charge of Times submissions is Arts & Leisure deputy editor William McDonald. For weeks, McDonald has been camped out in a special projects room with graphic designers who produce the "scrapbooks" that accompany every entry. After hemming and hawing over which writers to submit, section editors write content summaries, which McDonald then edits. As nominees on different floors are quietly tapped to have their photos taken, executive editor Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd make the final decisions. Boyd did not respond to a request for comment.

In the opinion of one Times insider, the Gray Lady's post-September 11 coverage faces heavy competition from The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times. While the Times's spot reporting on September 12 was stellar, the Journal had the added handicap of having to evacuate its office on the day of the attack.

Other possible entries are said to include a 6648-word, December 30 front pager by Judith Miller, Jeff Gerth, and Don Van Natta Jr., on U.S. anti-terrorism strategy for the last decade, and a 9100-word July 15 Florida dispatch by David Barstow and Van Natta. Columnist Thomas Friedman has been touted for a 2001 Pulitzer by Baltimore Sun op-ed editor Richard Gross.

At The Wall Street Journal, one reporter predicts a victory for Joshua Harris Prager's January 31 exposé, which revealed that the New York Giants won the 1951 World Series by stealing catchers' signs from the Brooklyn Dodgers. (The Voice puts a tremendous effort into its Pulitzer packages.)

PS: Insiders say the Times won't be assigning any more Pulitzer-intended monster exposés in the Philadelphia Inquirer tradition. Instead of giving reporters months to investigate and thousands of words to write, the new plan is to ask for short updates every two to four weeks. Maybe they could fit 14 exposés on a page, à la Portraits.

Dust in the Wind

The EPA says the air at ground zero is safe, but how much do we really know about the health risks for people who live and work there? "Very little," according to a Times Metro story on January 11, because scientists lack rigorous methodologies for measuring short-term air pollution. Or maybe what we don't know won't hurt us.

According to a January 8 story in The Washington Post, tests conducted on a downtown residential building on December 3 revealed the presence of asbestos dust 555 times greater than the accepted levels. The New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, which hired an independent contractor to conduct the tests, has also obtained FOIA data showing elevated toxic levels at ground zero shortly after the attack.

Why hasn't the Times run this story?

Sealed With a Hiss

According to published reports, many legal experts believe that the U.S. lacks the evidence to press treason charges against John Walker. But don't tell that to the mob of conservatives who think he deserves the death penalty. If you do, they'll buzz you with angry e-mail, as I learned after a recent Press Clips questioned CNN's Walker interview and suggested that the man is innocent until proven guilty.

The kill-Johnnie crowd is so eloquent, it's only fair to reprint their best lines. Verbatim excerpts from their e-mail to me follow:

• Did you lose your Burka? Is that why you are such a wacko?

• You are an asshole! I'm not sure of you were aware of that.

• Your thoughts on the issue confirm you are a babbling idiot.

• Eat my ass, you miserable liberal fuck.

• John Walker . . . is a Traitor. Simple as That. He should be killed. Simple as That.

• If it looks and acts like a rattlesnake, it probably is a rattlesnake. . . . If it is an American that looks and talks and acts like a Taliban fighter, then it is probably a traitor.

• Poor Johnnie, he's so misunderstood. Drugged, drunk, or stone cold sober, his own words have condemned him.

• Tough nuggies. The precious little moral relativist would not have been shot and in need of morphine if he had not been a member of al Qaeda. . . . The moral of the story is that CNN grabbed the story that was available.

• Wherefore your lop-sided vituperousness?. . . At least those who got this story . . . displayed some sense of objectivity. . . . But then you didn't get the story, did you?

• In case you haven't noticed (and I'm sure you haven't, considering all the femin-nazi, proto-Marxist bullshit you've spent the past few months spoonfeeding to the ventriloquized zombies that read your pathetic stuck in a time warp rag), we're in the middle of war.

• You continue to wring your hands . . . about forced confessions. Welcome to the real world, Ms. Cotts.

• John Walker the treasonous bastard that he is should be hung and left hanging till he rots off of the rope.

• John Benedict Walker . . . should be hung in times square for his crime. You bleeding heart communists make my blood boil.

• If he ever returns . . . I hope it's for a public hanging from the tree you're hugging.

• Thanks for picking up for brother John Walker. Do you think he personally got the pleasure of horse-whipping any women tied to soccer goal posts. If not, at least he was over there fighting for the right to do it.

• The only point worthy of notice in your otherwise laughable article . . . is that it fails to mention that Walker's Daddy is gay. I expect the leftwing press to studiously avoid . . . that fact from now until the case is resolved.

• Let's just say that the progeny of effete, bath house-hopping, Rama-ding dongs who live in Marin County and take it upon themselves to join a gang of blood thirsty, Muslim terrorist thugs aren't entitled to the same due process rights as Americans. That's right, Ms. "I'm reporter because I know how to type," you renounce your citizenship when you take up arms for another nation. . . . In conclusion, let me just say that CNN must be doing something right if they haven't hired your stank ho' ass yet.

(Actually I was holding out for Fox.)

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