Monday, March 8, 2010

Ouch! A Pulitzer For the National Enquirer

Call me a snob, an elitist, a purist, a fossil. Under no circumstances would I consider the National Enquirer a candidate for journalism's most prestigious award, the Pulitzer Prize.

Hold on, Jer. The New York Times, one of the top five newspaper you respect, argues the supermarket gossip tabloid may be worthy for its series of stories that knocked John Edwards out of the 2008 presidential race.

Bull, I say. He wouldn't have won even if he was as pure as he tried to portray. Voters and polling proved that. It was not the Enquirer, but Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton capturing the nation's attention by the New Hampshire primaries. More frightful than that was how close he came to being Vice President on the John Kerry losing ticket in 2004.

Any publication that pays for information is unworthy of the Pulitzer. Checkbook journalism is fraught with too many perils. Picture the old days when two men on horses battled each other with spears but one of them also brandishes a pistol. Guess who wins?

Get off your high horse, Jer, the Times story quotes the Enquirer editor they didn't pay sources in 2009 when stories and photos showed Edwards visiting his love child. And, it quotes the Pulitzer committee:

Sig Gissler, the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, said ... any United States text-based newspaper that publishes at least weekly can enter. “It is up to a jury and then the Pulitzer Board to determine merit."

And, a counter opinion:

“When you pay people for information, the information itself often becomes distorted,” said Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, though she said she supported its Pulitzer entry. 

I found myself granting grudging support for the Enquirer's crusade against the self-absorbed weasel who cheated on his cancer-stricken wife Elizabeth.

According to the Times, the tabloid rather than paying informants formed a team of reporters and photographers to bird dog Edwards and his mistress Rielle Hunter who name they learned from bloggers.

Hunter was pregnant, and was being moved to a gated community in North Carolina, near Andrew Young, an aide to Mr. Edwards who recently published a tell-all book, “The Politician.” The paper promptly rented a cottage there to get its reporters through the guarded front gates.

When they could not find her in the community, the reporters assembled a list of local obstetricians. Since Enquirer reporters cannot pay off medical officials — they might be violating health care privacy laws — they asked contacts for information about her doctor and narrowed the search to two or three offices, which they staked out for more than two weeks. 

It was a day of record-setting temperatures in the Cary, N.C., area on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007, with a high of 80 degrees forecast. And that happened to be the day Ms. Hunter, in a light sweater and jeans — and obviously pregnant — had an appointment. “If she was wearing a heavy coat that day, we wouldn’t have been able to get the shot...”  

That, my friends is enterprising reporting.

 “I think we’re the barbarians at the gate,” Barry Levine, the Enquirer's executive editor, said of mainstream newspapers. “We represent a lot of what they look down on, but at the same time, we beat them at their own game.”



Too many newspapers have lost their investigative arm because of the economics crippling the industry into a dinosaur. The Watergate era is far behind us and advocacy journalism has for the most part been transferred to a new tier.

Even the Pulitzer Committee has been tarnished in recent years in which it bestowed an award to a reporter who fabricated people in the story of which he wrote. Despite its warts, it is the last vestige journalists can point to as special recognition for a job well done just as the film industry honors itself with the Academy Awards.

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