A New Hope?

by Lou Dolinar

This year’s Pulitzer committee awards are . . . interesting. I don’t pretend to understand its politics any more, but clearly rationality now has a seat at the table, and some opportunity to horse trade for a few awards outside the usual liberal consensus. Some notable examples:

The dog that didn’t bark: Not a single award went to what was arguably the most long-winded, over-reported, faux angst-ridden but insignificant story of the year, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The environmental reporting was not one of journalism’s finest hours. Anytime the committee agrees with me, Rush Limbaugh, and National Review, I applaud. I would give the New York Times (although the committee didn’t) an honorable mention for their reporting of the real story — how 11 oil workers died in the tragic industrial accident.

The Los Angeles Times got the prestigious Public Service award for an old-fashioned rip-roaring expose of Bell, California, a tiny municipality whose payroll was swollen with six- and seven-figure salaries. The city manager made $1.5 million per year. The Times’s Tea Party was so successful that nobody had to pass a law or establish a regulatory regime: The mayor was recalled, and everyone on the city council either resigned or was recalled. Talk about happy endings.

Former Dartmouth Review editor Joseph Rago of the Wall Street Journal won the coveted prize for Editorial Writing for “his well crafted, against-the-grain editorials challenging the health-care reform advocated by President Obama.” ’Nuff said. The Journal’s superb editorial page has had an undeserved dry spell since 2000 and 2001, when Paul Gigot and Dorothy Rabinowitz, respectively, picked up awards.

An anti-crime story? Good grief. Frank Main, Mark Konkol, and John J. Kim of the Chicago Sun-Times won Local Reporting for “their immersive documentation of violence in Chicago neighborhoods.” From the first of the series:

This is the story of why they won’t stop shooting in Chicago.

It’s told by the wounded, the accused and the officers who were on the street during a weekend in April 2008 when 40 people were shot, seven fatally. Two years later, the grim reality is this: Nearly all of the shooters from that weekend have escaped charges.

“You don’t go to jail for shooting people,” says Dontae Gamble, who took six bullets that weekend, only to see his alleged shooter walk free.

The most startling prize, for National Reporting, went to Pro Publica for “The Wall Street Money Machine.” Pro Publica isn’t a newspaper. It describes itself as “an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest,” one that sometimes donates its work to mainstream newspapers and magazines. Funded by the Sandler Foundation (prominent contributors to John Podesta’s Center for American Progress), Pro Publica is, from what I’ve seen of its work, mildly left-of-center, akin to the old New York Times under Abe Rosenthal.

What’s interesting here is the precedent: A web-based non-profit wins the Big One. Where mildly left-of-center can go, mildly right-of-center can follow. All it takes is money and reporters — 34 of the them at Pro Publica.

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