Politics & Policy

Politicized Pulitzers

Inoculating "us" against "them"

By sheer coincidence, the winners of journalism’s Pulitzer Prizes were announced on the same day the Sami al-Arian terrorism case finally ended. The two make an interesting combination.

#ad#Of course, there are many Pulitzers, and some of them may be richly deserved in the merit-based sense of outstanding reportage and writing. The intention here is to focus narrowly on the ones awarded for what is called “Beat Reporting” and “National Reporting,” but would be better understood as the Prizes for Excellence in the Compromising of National-Security Secrets.

These awards unmistakably announce that organized journalism, a.k.a. the mainstream media, is embarked on its own version of the al-Arian defense for Dana Priest, James Risen, and Eric Lichtblau. These are the reporters who, along with their powerful newspapers (respectively, the Washington Post and the New York Times), took it upon themselves to decide what national-security secrets were not important enough to keep confidential in wartime–notwithstanding that those secrets (viz., how our intelligence community houses high-level al Qaeda detainees and how it searches for potential terrorists operating within the U.S.) are designed to keep Americans from getting killed by the enemy.

Sami Al-Arian, who finally pled guilty to supporting terrorism and will be deported, proved very hard to convict (indeed, for years he was essentially impossible to indict) in large measure because he ingratiated himself with powerful government officials throughout the 1990s. Down the road, predictably, his defense–regardless of what the evidence showed about his ties to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a barbaric terror organization–was: How bad a guy can he really be if he has access to high-level political actors who certainly don’t seem to be treating him like a terrorist?

With these Pulitzers, organized journalism is inoculating its operatives the same way: How can this reporting, which reveals national-defense secrets critical to wartime intelligence gathering, be deemed treasonous or otherwise against the public interest? After all, pillars of journalism like the elite writers, editors, and academics on the Pulitzer committee have recognized it with these coveted awards? This ups the ante to a degree commensurate with the prestige of the award.

As expertly explained in an important essay by Gabriel Schoenfeld in the March 2006 issue of Commentary, the publication of at least some of the stories the media have chosen to honor may be felony violations of the federal espionage act, which proscribes the revelation of certain national defense secrets, including signals intelligence (which is at the heart of the NSA-surveillance program disclosed by Risen and Lichtblau in December 2005). If you buy that we are at war (and 150,000 young Americans in harm’s way would suggest to some that we are), if you buy that we are confronting an enemy hell-bent on murdering as many of us as possible (as nearly 3,000 dead in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the wreckage of Flight 93 would seem to attest), this kind of reporting is not praiseworthy; it is incomprehensible.

Yet, to criticize, let alone to indict, the conduct of the reporters and their newspapers, you must now rebuke the entire community that has lauded them. A community which still profoundly influences the public narrative of events, and which has just sent you a patent signal that they intend to fight you every step of the way.

A similar example used to be: “How can Yassir Arafat be thought a terrorist? Why, he’s a Nobel Laureate!” And if organized baseball had a similar award right now, you can bet they’d give it to Barry Bonds, who is being investigated for steroid use, etc.

It’s an old strategy, but all the latest incarnation does is cheapen the Pulitzers. Once an award–any award–is politicized, it no longer has any claim on being about excellence.

Assuming it ever really had one. The Pulitzers are not so much a ceremony of craft as a Left-wing agape. The unavoidable fact is that modern liberals are behind these awards, and modern liberals decide who gets them. They don’t control much anymore, but they still control that. And they are hardwired to revere an alternative reality that bleaches out everything other than their own pieties. In that solipsistic universe, these awards are perfect.

But make no mistake, these awards are not about who performed the best reporting or churned out the most skillful piece of writing. They are a reflection of the us-versus-them divide, and of who has best served the “us” faction.

Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

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