Post Wins Pulitzer for Police Series
By David Von Drehle
The series, the result of nearly a year's work by a team of 15 reporters, computer analysts, graphic artists and editors, appeared in The Post in November and produced a swift and intense reaction. The Justice Department was called in to investigate the handling of the local shootings, and D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey ordered new firearms training for all 3,500 members of the force.
The Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times each won two Pulitzer prizes. Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd won the prize for commentary for pieces on the Monica Lewinsky scandal. It was the only Pulitzer awarded for writing on the year's most explosive story.
The Pulitzer board at Columbia University also awarded seven annual prizes and one special commendation in the arts. The special award recognized the late Duke Ellington in his centennial year for "his musical genius, which evoked aesthetically the principles of democracy through the medium of jazz."
Addressing a newsroom gathering minutes after the public service prize was announced, Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. hailed the police series, "Deadly Force," as "a classic case of journalism that matters. Its thorough, air-tight reporting, powerful writing and compelling presentation alerted our readers to an important human rights problem in their own city."
Columnist Dowd, a Washington native and long-time observer of this city's politics, thanked Lewinsky, President Clinton and independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr for providing a rich vein of material. "As Monica says, it's like, way cool," she said of her prize. "I'm just so grateful to President Clinton that he never spoke the words, 'Young lady, pull down that jacket and get back to the typing pool.' "
Overwhelmingly, though, after a year in which public confidence in reporting sagged under an avalanche of sexually explicit scandals, judges honored the meat and potatoes of American journalism: deep digging, clear explanation, speed and human interest.
A group of New York Times reporters, led by Jeff Gerth, won the national reporting prize for stories tracking American transfers of high technology to China despite allegations of espionage. Chuck Philips and Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times won the beat reporting prize by disclosing corruption in the entertainment industry. The Miami Herald won the investigative reporting prize for revelations of voter fraud in a mayoral election that was eventually overturned.
Even the prize for criticism went to an entry that relied heavily on reporting: The Chicago Tribune's Blair Kamin for his series on Chicago lakefront development. His work was moved by the criticism judges to the beat reporting category, but the Pulitzer board reversed the decision.
For the first time in the history of the prestigious prizes -- which bring a $5,000 cash prize, a gala luncheon and the opening words of a journalist's obituary -- both prizes for photography went to staff members of the same organization. Associated Press photographers won in the spot news category for coverage of the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, and in the feature category for photos illustrating the Lewinsky saga.
Two awards were given for coverage of the worldwide economic crisis: A team of reporters at the Wall Street Journal won the international reporting prize for pieces on the meltdown in Russia, while Richard Read of the Oregonian in Portland, Ore., captured the explanatory journalism honor for a series showing the impact of the Asian markets' collapse on a local exporter of french fries.
The Oregonian celebrated Read's prize with a brass band and McDonald's fries for some 350 staffers -- washed down by champagne.
Angelo Henderson collected the Journal's second prize, for his feature on a druggist who turned violent after repeated encounters with armed robbers.
The staff of the Hartford Courant won the prize for breaking news for the frantic work they did when a Connecticut lottery worker killed four supervisors and then turned the gun on himself.
The editorial pages of the New York Daily News and Seattle Post-Intelligencer were honored. Editorials in the News crusaded for better management of the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem, while David Horsey of the Post-Intelligencer drew the year's prize-winning editorial cartoons.
The Post's "Deadly Force" was the product of cutting-edge data-crunching and old-fashioned shoe-leather. A database manager, Jo Craven, came to The Post from the National Institute for Computer Assisted Reporting with a tip she wanted to pursue. She had heard that the FBI collects -- but doesn't publish -- statistics on justifiable homicide by police officers nationwide.
When all the data were in, the District of Columbia proved to have the highest rate of police shootings in the country. A team of reporters -- Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz and David Jackson -- took to the streets to reconstruct key events, analyze gun use and explain the reasons for the city's problem.
Two conclusions began to form. "First, this was a damnable outrage and had to stop," said Atkinson, who has left The Post to write a three-volume history of World War II. "Second, that this was the kind of story we got into journalism to tell."
In a speech to the newsroom, Atkinson noted that Post Publisher Donald E. Graham is a former D.C. police officer, and said that "it really pained him that we were depicting an institution he cares deeply about in such a light. That said," Atkinson added, "his support was unstinting and enthusiastic."
Downie began his announcement of the prize by holding up The Post's previous Pulitzer Gold Medal, awarded in 1973 for the paper's coverage of the burgeoning Watergate scandal.
Five Post writers were finalists for Pulitzer prizes, the most in the paper's history: staff writer Barton Gellman in beat reporting for his disclosures of spying by U.N. weapons inspection teams in Iraq; foreign correspondent David Hoffman in international reporting for a series on the legacy of the Cold War in Russia; Style writer Henry Allen in the criticism category for reviews of photography and painting exhibitions; Eric L. Wee for a Sunday Style profile of a man who collects postcards; and Fred Hiatt of the editorial board for his editorials on human rights around the world.
A complete list of Pulitzer finalists follows:
Public service -- the Boston Globe; the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Breaking news reporting -- staff of the Jonesboro Sun in Arkansas; staff of the Miami Herald.
Investigative reporting -- Alix M. Freedman of the Wall Street Journal; Fred Schulte and Jenni Bergal of the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Sun-Sentinel.
Explanatory journalism -- Tom Brune of the Seattle Times; William Carlsen and Reynolds Holding of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Beat reporting -- Barton Gellman of The Washington Post.
National reporting -- Chris Adams, Ellen Graham and Michael Moss of the Wall Street Journal; the staff of the Times-Picayune in New Orleans.
International reporting -- David Hoffman of The Washington Post; the staff of the New York Times.
Feature writing -- Eric L. Wee of The Washington Post; Tom Hallman Jr. of the Oregonian in Portland, Ore.
Commentary -- Nat Hentoff of the Village Voice of New York; Donald Kaul of the Des Moines (Iowa) Register.
Criticism -- Henry Allen of The Washington Post; Gail Caldwell of the Boston Globe; Justin Davidson, of Newsday of Long Island, N.Y.
Editorial writing -- Fred Hiatt of The Washington Post; Lawrence C. Levy of Newsday.
Editorial cartooning -- Clay Bennett of the Christian Science Monitor; Rob Rogers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Spot news photography -- photo staff of the Eugene Register-Guard in Oregon; Mike Stocker of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.
Feature photography -- Daniel A. Anderson of the Orange County Register in California; Bill Greene of the Boston Globe.
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