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L.A. Times Wins Pulitzer for Public Service

The Post's Steve Coll Awarded Prize in Nonfiction for 'Ghost Wars'

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 5, 2005; Page A01

The Pulitzer Prizes yesterday recognized classic investigative work on hospital deaths, railroad safety and political scandals, including the long-suppressed tale of a former Oregon governor who had a sexual relationship with a teenage girl.

Washington Post Associate Editor Steve Coll, who stepped down in December as managing editor, won the nonfiction prize for his book "Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001." It was the second straight year a Post staffer won the nonfiction prize, following Anne Applebaum’s award for her book on the Soviet gulag.

_____Pulitzer Prizes_____
List of 2005 Prizes Awarded
_____Ghost Wars Excerpts_____
Steve Coll These reports were adapted from "Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001," The Penguin Press (New York: 2004), by Washington Post managing editor Steve Coll: A Secret Hunt Unravels in Afghanistan Mission (The Washington Post, Feb 23, 2004)
Flawed Ally Was Hunt's Best Hope (The Washington Post, Feb 23, 2004)
Legal Disputes Over Hunt Paralyzed Clinton's Aides (The Washington Post, Feb 22, 2004)

The Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal each won two Pulitzers. None of the prizes, administered by Columbia University, dealt with the 2004 presidential campaign. The Newark Star-Ledger won the breaking news award for its coverage of the resignation of Jim McGreevey as New Jersey’s governor after he acknowledged a gay affair with a staffer he had promoted to homeland security chief.

And the smallest winning paper, Willamette Week of Portland, Ore., captured the investigative reporting prize for disclosing the long-ago affair with a 14-year-old girl involving Neil Goldschmidt, a former Oregon governor, who resigned from a state higher-education board as the story was being published.

Walt Bogdanich of the New York Times, a former ABC News producer, won the national reporting prize for detailing a corporate coverup of responsibility for fatal accidents at railway crossings. It was the second Pulitzer for Bogdanich, who won a 1988 prize at the Journal.

Coll’s award for "Ghost Wars" was his second Pulitzer. He shared a 1990 prize with Post reporter David A. Vise for reporting on the Securities and Exchange Commission. A New York Times review described his book as "terrific" and "certainly the finest historical narrative so far on the origins of al-Qaeda in the post-Soviet rubble of Afghanistan."

Asked how he wrote the book while serving as managing editor, Coll said, "I worked seven days a week for two years and used the weekends to catch up."

"What was hard was writing it -- that nearly broke me. I started getting up in the middle of the night to do some writing before I came to work," he said.

The most challenging part of the book, Coll said, "was documenting covert action in Afghanistan in the three years before September 11, because that was the most sensitive period to be reporting on," but he said government investigations "loosened up the mortar a little bit." Addressing the newsroom, Coll said he drew on the work of numerous Post journalists and praised his researcher, Griff Witte, now a Post business reporter.

The Post had non-winning finalists in four categories, two of them involving national security correspondent Dana Priest, one for her reporting on clandestine intelligence and the other with a team of Post reporters for work on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq. Anne Hull was a finalist in feature writing for her series on being young and gay in America, while Sebastian Mallaby was a finalist for his editorials on genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region.

It is rare for an alternative paper to win a Pulitzer, but Nigel Jaquiss won the first such prize for the 90,000-circulation Willamette Week by beating the rest of the Oregon media on the story of Goldschmidt’s relationship with a former babysitter. "It was one of those pieces where we knew we had to do nothing but obsess on it 24-7," said Editor Mark Zusman. "We knew Neil would deny it. The girl denied it. I spent hours on the phone with her mother in Ankara, Turkey, and she denied it. But things accumulated to such a point that I felt like we had it. We realized there was some risk involved" in taking on the popular former mayor of Portland over conduct from the 1970s and his subsequent payments to the girl.

At the Journal, Amy Dockser Marcus won the beat reporting prize for stories about the lives of cancer survivors, and Joe Morgenstern won the criticism award for his movie reviews. Journal Managing Editor Paul Steiger said he was not surprised to win two awards that did not involve the paper’s greatest strength, business reporting. "A few years ago we set about making coverage of health care a core coverage area for us," he said. "We have increased the number of reporters covering it."

The Los Angeles Times won the public service medal for exposing medical problems and racial injustice at the Martin Luther King/Drew Medical Center, while reporter Kim Murphy took the international reporting prize for her work on problems in Russia. Los Angeles Times Editor John S. Carroll said the King/Drew stories described how the hospital was needlessly killing and maiming patients, "essentially the impoverished population the hospital was created to serve," but remained "a sacred cow politically." Carroll said Murphy’s work included a gripping "Sophie’s Choice" piece on a mother who was forced to decide which of her children to save during the school hostage crisis at Beslan.

A second prize for foreign reporting was given to Newsday’s Dele Olojede for his examination of Rwanda after a decade of genocide.

In other awards, Gareth Cook of the Boston Globe won for explanatory journalism for his writing on the scientific and ethical issues involved in stem cell research. Julia Keller of the Chicago Tribune won the feature writing prize for reconstructing the impact of a deadly tornado. Connie Schultz, Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist and wife of Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), took the commentary award for columns on the underprivileged. Tom Philp of the Sacramento Bee won for editorial writing about a flood-damaged California valley. Nick Anderson of the Louisville Courier-Journal took the prize for editorial cartooning.

Deanne Fitzmaurice of the San Francisco Chronicle won the Pulitzer for feature photography, and the Associated Press won for breaking news photography.

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