Why the National Enquirer Shouldn't, and Won't, Win a Pulitzer Prize

In a few hours, this year's Pulitzer Prizes will be announced. Thanks to a brilliant if rather transparent publicity campaign by the National Enquirer, one of the hot plot lines is bound to be whether the tabloid wins a prize for its exposure of John Edwards' extramarital affair. This even though the Pulitzer judges have a whole smorgasbord of perfectly objective, uncontroversial reasons to deny journalism's highest honor to a publication whose current stories include "Sex Crazed Taylor Swift!" and "Why Hillary Clinton Hates Martha Stewart's Guts!"

I don't think the Enquirer is going to win a Pulitzer, and I said as much to the BBC. The issue, as I've notedbefore, is the way the contest's rules are written. However worthy you may consider the Edwards series in isolation -- and remember, the Enquirer's reporting had nothing to do with Edwards not winning the presidential nomination -- it's all but impossible to argue that the Enquirer as a whole "adheres to the highest journalistic principles," as the rules require. Indeed, not even the tabloid's own editors are claiming that it does, merely that they didn't cross any ethical lines (e.g. paying sources) in the reporting of the particular stories it submitted for consideration.

You can make a case that the rules shouldn't be written that way, that the Pulitzer Committee should be free to recognize the most outstanding work regardless of origin. A lot of reasonable people have been making that argument. So has my friend John Cook of Yahoo News. The point is the Pulitzers are not some kind of People's Choice award. They're given out by an organization that is free to define the criteria for winning as it sees fit; and, as defined, those criteria pretty clearly rule out an Enquirer win.

It's as though the New Orleans Saints, after winning the Super Bowl, were to go to the International Olympic Committee and insist they ought to get a gold medal because they're so good at football. Whether or not they're the best football team around is beside the point. There is, at present, no category in the Olympics for American football. And there's no category in the Pulitzers for "serious, important story by an otherwise sleazy publication."
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