The Political Pulitzers

The recent unveiling of the Pulitzer Prizes had more of the same politicized whiff that the Oscars oozed earlier this year. Merit is taking a back seat now to "edginess" in both the news and entertainment media. "Speaking truth to power" is in vogue, even if it’s not true and even if it’s not in the public interest.

The roster of Pulitzer winners had an unmistakable get-Bush smell to them, especially Dana Priest’s exposing secret prisons in Europe for terrorists in the Washington Post, and James Risen’s and Eric Lichtblau’s NSA-surveillance exposure in the New York Times. The Pulitzers have a prize for Public Service, but these leaks in the War on Terror might better deserve an award for Public Endangerment. As Bill Bennett put it, many Americans think it’s odd that on these stories, "the leaker can be prosecuted, but the person who wrote it down, told every citizen about it, and told every enemy of every citizen of this country gets a Pulitzer Prize."

There were other awards. The Washington Post won for exposing the offenses of lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Nothing wrong with that except for this: Notice that Post reporters like Susan Schmidt, whose work on the Abramoff beat won an award this year, never won a Pulitzer for dogged investigations and scoops they unearthed in the Clinton years.

In fact, if you look back through the eight years of the Clintons, you’d be incredibly hard-pressed to find more than one Pulitzer awarded for exposing the ever-bubbling Clinton scandals. In 1999, a New York Times team (including ace investigator Jeff Gerth) won for disclosing the "corporate sale of American technology to China, with U.S. government approval." Columnist Maureen Dowd won that year for her Lewinsky-era columns, but they attacked all sides with equal vigor. She railed against Ken Starr for "dragging us down to the point where we have to hear the sex secrets of crepuscular Republican swamp life" like Rep. Dan Burton.

Even the lesser Pulitzer prizes this year carried a political tinge. Feature photography winner Todd Heisler of the Rocky Mountain News won for "his haunting, behind-the-scenes look at funerals for Colorado Marines who return from Iraq in caskets," it being too difficult, I suppose, to capture visuals of dramatic, front-line scenes of Colorado Marines performing acts of heroism.

Editorial cartooning winner Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution won for "simple but piercing" cartoons like Bush and Cheney saying, "we’ve turned the corner" in Iraq — from "Incompetence" to "Fantasy," and another with Bush telling Daffy Duck he’s doing a "heckuva job" with bird-flu planning. One had Cheney writing Virginia that yes, there is a Santa Claus, and she’s an "unpatriotic, @#$!$* liar for questioning it!"

Another knee-slapper cartoon pictured the American bus being tail-down in the water with all the whites in the top of the bus breathing air, and the "back of the bus" under water, full of drowning blacks. Socially liberal sketches mocking the Catholic Church and "intelligent design" advocates were also in the packet of honored cartoons. Not one mocked a Democrat.

Perhaps the most audacious award for conservative-bashing-over-merit is the Criticism prize for Washington Post fashion writer Robin Givhan, who tried to turn heart patient Dick Cheney’s wearing a parka to an Auschwitz ceremony into an international incident. She also demeaned the family outfits of Supreme Court nominee John Roberts when his nomination was announced. "His wife and children stood before the cameras, groomed and glossy in pastel hues — like a trio of Easter eggs, a handful of Jelly Bellies, three little Necco wafers." Little wafers? If the Roberts family were not white, that line would have started a major ruckus over "dehumanizing" portrayals.

Meanwhile, when it came to assessing Saddam Hussein’s courtroom suits, she glossed right over the 148 deaths he admitted and talked about how he was in danger of looking "jaunty and rakish" like Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin, a Las Vegas lounge act. There’s a great word for this kind of politicized fashion criticism: shallow. It doesn’t deserve prizes. It deserves to be fish wrap.

The Pulitzer judges are not measuring the degree of talent in the journalistic means, but only the political ends they accomplish. Bush-haters are still trying to ride the NSA-surveillance story to the impeachment of the president they despise. After years like these, Americans shouldn’t see the Pulitzer Prizes as awards for merit. They should be seen as merely the media’s endorsements of fashionable left-wing political causes and outcomes, where the rightness of the stories matters less than the rightness of the target selection.