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Prize Duds

Apr 30, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 31 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Scrapbook did not win a Pulitzer Prize this year, and the way things are going, we’re not likely to win one next year, either—or any year, for that matter. But we’re not complaining. We knew that when the Pulitzer people started rewarding “new media” and other unconventional outlets that the prizes would fall into the laps of politically congenial publications such as the Huffington Post and Politico, and that is exactly what has happened.

Photo of Vaclav Havel

Nor can we feel as insulted as America’s novelists, since the Pulitzer board also decided that no novel published during 2011 was worthy of this year’s award for fiction. Coming from the people who gave the prize just once to Ernest Hemingway, and for his worst novel (The Old Man and the Sea, 1953), that’s got to hurt. But to our novelist friends, The Scrapbook suggests a more comforting perspective: The Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1925—the year of The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald), An American Tragedy (Theodore Dreiser), Manhattan Transfer (John Dos Passos), and Barren Ground (Ellen Glasgow)—went to Sinclair Lewis for Arrowsmith.

So go figure.

In the meantime, The Scrapbook is prompted to observe that the -Pulitzers, like the MacArthur “genius” grants and the Academy Awards and the Nobel Peace Prize, have long since descended into the realm of self-parody. Since the prizes are administered by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the New York Times, it can come as little surprise to learn that, over the years, a disproportionate number of Pulitzers have gone to—yes, you guessed correctly, the New York Times (two this year). The other journalism prizes are usually divided among a fraternal handful of big guns in the business (the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, etc.—but not the Wall Street Journal these days, for obvious reasons) and for appearance’s sake a provincial newspaper or two will be blessed as well. This year the Tusca-loosa News and the Harrisburg, Pa., -Patriot-News had their forelocks tugged.

Of course, the fact that the process of awarding a prestigious prize has been corrupted by self-interest is no great shock. The Scrapbook would probably be just as shameless as the New York Times when it comes to logrolling! What pushes the Pulitzers into satirical territory, however, is their utterly predictable politics. As our editorial (page 8) explains in more detail, the Associated Press won an unseemly investigative reporting prize this year for revealing the awful truth that the New York Police Department seems to have kept New Yorkers safe from terrorist attacks. The feature photography prize went to a perennial favorite (post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans), while national reporting was represented by a related obsession: the problems of wounded veterans. The explanatory reporting prize went to the Times for stories on corporate misbehavior. And the board was apparently so determined to recognize the late Manning Marable’s fawning biography of Malcolm X that it moved him from the biography category to history—where his Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention surely doesn’t belong.

All of which suggests, in The Scrapbook’s estimation, that as daily newspapers grow increasingly marginal in the national conversation, the Pulitzer spectacle—the corporate back-scratching, left-wing bias, unbearable sanctimony, and horses beaten to death—is likely to evolve, over time, into the greatest, and most instructive, story never to win a Pulitzer Prize. ♦

Remembering Cerny

Many are still mourning the death of Vaclav Havel, so it’s especially sad that Oldrich Cerny, another hero of the Prague Spring, has died too soon at age 65. On August 21, 1968, then a 22-year-old university student, he penned a letter addressed “To All Students of the World.” The missive briefly captured international attention and remains an inspiration for oppressed political dissidents everywhere:

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