By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 13, 2010; A01
The Washington Post won four Pulitzer Prizes on Monday for reporting on subjects ranging from war to modern dance, and the New York Times won three awards, including one shared with ProPublica, a new nonprofit organization created to pursue investigative journalism.
The public service medal went to a small Virginia newspaper, the Bristol Herald Courier, for examining the state's mismanagement of natural-gas royalties.
Among The Post's winners, Gene Weingarten, who received the feature writing award for his story on parents who accidentally killed their children by leaving them in cars, said he came close to doing the same thing with his daughter 25 years ago. Anthony Shadid won the international reporting prize for a series on the Iraq war.
Sarah Kaufman, who writes about dance and movement in venues as wide-ranging as movies and viral videos, took the criticism award. Kathleen Parker, whose columns are syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group, won the Pulitzer for commentary.
In addition, David Hoffman won a Pulitzer in the general nonfiction category for "The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy." Hoffman worked on the book for six years while he was The Post's foreign editor.
The National Enquirer, which drew attention by entering its exposé of John Edwards fathering a child with a former presidential campaign aide, was not a finalist. The prizes are administered by Columbia University.
ProPublica, which launched just more than two years ago, employs 35 journalists and has teamed with major newspapers and networks, is the first independent nonprofit organization to win a Pulitzer. "The prizes are nice, but what's really nice is that it suggests our nonprofit, nonpartisan model can work," said founding editor Paul Steiger.
ProPublica's Sheri Fink shared the investigative reporting prize with the New York Times Magazine for reporting on decisions made by exhausted doctors whose hospital was cut off by Hurricane Katrina. The Pulitzer board awarded a second investigative prize to Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman of the Philadelphia Daily News for exposing a rogue police narcotics squad.
Weingarten, whose Pulitzer was his second, called his examination of child deaths "the hardest story I've ever done. . . . There was nothing in it for these people to talk to me, except the chance to save a life." He said that a quarter-century ago, he almost left his toddler in the back seat when he forgot to drop her at day care, until she spoke as he left the car.
"It's a shame you carry with you forever. . . . My heart kept leaping into my mouth with recognition of what had almost happened," Weingarten said. He said that when he told his daughter Molly, now 28, "I couldn't look her in the eye."
Kaufman, who studied ballet at a Bethesda academy as a young woman, said her work was first published in college after she called the Washington City Paper and complained that it ran no dance reviews. "To the extent I can capture my experience in the theater and bring the reader there with me, it's a joy to be able to do that," she said.
Part of her job, Kaufman said, is "to say in a beautiful way what's obvious about an art form." But particularly in dance, she said, "there's not enough scholarship, there's not enough rigorous journalism that asks hard questions. . . . I've always viewed myself as a journalist, as a reporter first."
Parker said that when she left her South Carolina home six years ago with a U-Haul trailer to rent a studio apartment in Washington, "nobody had ever heard of me" -- despite the fact she was widely syndicated. "There's this idea you don't exist unless you're in Washington. . . . When you say something on the pages of The Washington Post, it's just different."
Parker, whose column started appearing regularly on the Post op-ed page 18 months ago, began her career as a one-woman bureau in Palatka, Fla., and still commutes to the South Carolina home she shares with her husband. "Basically, I'm in a bunker, writing what I think," she said. "I have never tried to please anyone. I have never thought about what the reader would think, and that's very easy when you're alone." Her winning columns included pieces on national politics, abortion and her childhood love of Nancy Drew.
Widely viewed as right-leaning, Parker received 12,000 hostile e-mails after writing in National Review Online that Sarah Palin was unqualified to be vice president. But Parker resists the label, saying, "Sometimes I'm conservative; sometimes I'm not."
Shadid, a former Baghdad bureau chief who also won his second Pulitzer, spoke from Boston, two days after his wife had a baby. He returned to Iraq after a two-year absence "to write against the narrative that the war was over," Shadid said. "There was a sense in the public that there was an invasion and an occupation, that it turned out okay, and it was a lot more complicated than that."
What he tried to examine, said Shadid, who joined the New York Times this year, is "what did America leave behind -- what kind of society, what kind of government, what kind of landscape?"
Daniel Gilbert, one of seven reporters at the Bristol paper, near the Tennessee border, answered the phone when a Post reporter called the newsroom. "It's a rush, for sure," he said of the prize.
Gilbert said the natural-gas investigation "took 13 months of reporting incrementally, a little bit every week, every month."
Matt Richtel and the New York Times staff won the national reporting award for work on distracted driving caused by cellphones and other devices. Michael Moss and the Times staff received the explanatory reporting prize for work on food safety issues.
The local reporting prize went to Raquel Rutledge of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for stories on fraud and abuse in a child-care program. The Seattle Times won the breaking-news award for its coverage, both in print and online, of the shooting deaths of four police officers and the 40-hour manhunt that followed.
Three Dallas Morning News staff writers -- Tod Robberson, Colleen McCain Nelson and William McKenzie -- won the Pulitzer for editorial writing. Mary Chind of the Des Moines Register captured the prize for breaking news photography for a daring rescue near a broken dam, and Craig Walker of the Denver Post won for feature photography.
The editorial cartooning prize went to animator Mark Fiore, who syndicates himself and appears on the San Francisco Chronicle site, SFGate.com.