Panda Pulitzers, for the Best in Warm-and-Furry Coverage

Acolleague scolded us for our recent item on the Fox News hissy fight over the Washingtonian's "50 Best Journalists" issue. "Journalists writing about journalists writing about journalists," he clucked. Well, here's an idea we think everyone can get behind: journalists writing about journalists writing about . . . pandas!!!

To mark li'l Butterstick's debut Tuesday in a clamorous news conference before scores of pandarazzi, we reviewed the resulting coverage and are pleased to present the first-ever Panda Pulitzers.*

* Most Strained Beltway-Insider Analysis:

Richmond Times-Dispatch

"Though Tai Shan, the National Zoo's nearly 5-month-old giant panda, is only 21 pounds, he's generating more buzz than President Bush's sinking poll numbers or the latest indicted lawmaker."

* Most Ambitious Sociological Profile:

The Washington Times

"During Tai Shan's press debut, most of the female reporters oohed and ahhed as the 21-pound cub climbed rocky ledges in his enclosure, pulling himself up with his front legs and wobbling his back paws up and over, while the male reporters focused primarily on shooting pictures and scribbling notes. It might be maternal instinct that draws the female fans to Tai Shan, said Janice McGurick of the District. 'Guys don't go for the cuddly stuff,' she said. 'Men just don't really like cutesy.' "

* Best Identification of a Potential Corporate Naming Opportunity: The Baltimore Sun

" . . . pink, hairless and approximately the size of a stick of Land O'Lakes."

* Hardest-hitting Investigative Reporting: CNN

"Tai Shan, 41/2 months old, 21 pounds. But here are some other vital statistics on the newly debuted giant panda cub. He cost $100,000 a month for the first six months of his life. His parents cost $10 million over 10 years. . . . Are they worth it in terms of popularity? Maybe not. . . . Officials say visitorship does spike whenever a cub is born or an older panda arrives, but goes back to normal within about a year."

* Least Hard-hitting Investigative Reporting: "Today," NBC

Katie Couric: "Isn't he cute?"

Al Roker: "He's a cutie."

Matt Lauer: "Yeah, he really is. That's cool. And he makes his debut next month."

Couric: "So cute."

* Best Media Analysis: China Daily

"Tai Shan, the 9.5-kilogram baby panda born in July at the US National Zoo, took his first bow before the media on Tuesday, reducing one of the hardest-bitten press corps in the world to cooing and incoherent babble."

*Employees of The Washington Post Co. or its affiliates not eligible.

Getting Behind the Honorees: A Likely Lineup

It's rubbernecking time, Washington style. Tonight's Kennedy Center Honors is the closest thing we get to the Oscars, with everybody air-kissing and back-thumping. The annual surprise is which stars will show up to sing the praises of the five artists. Odds are good if a celebrity and honoree have worked together, better if they're already honorees themselves. As a public service for you autograph hounds, our predictions on who'll turn out for this year's honorees:

Tony Bennett: Since Ol' Blue Eyes isn't around to hail his favorite singer, we're betting on folks from Bennett's hip-third-act MTV era: Elvis Costello or k.d. lang, his partner on the "Wonderful World" album.

Suzanne Farrell: Look for earlier honorees who share her fancy footwork -- ballerina Maria Tallchief (1996) or choreographer Arthur Mitchell (1993).

Julie Harris: The Tony-winning actress has performed onstage with all the greats, but we're secretly wishing for co-stars from her six years on "Knots Landing" -- Joan Van Ark, Donna Mills or Michele Lee, who never misses the Honors festivities.

Robert Redford: Gotta bet on 1992 honoree Paul Newman, Butch Cassidy to Bob's Sundance Kid. If Barbra Streisand weren't allergic to this administration, she might share the way they were. And what could be more thrilling for "All the President's Men" fans than Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein or Dustin Hoffman?

Tina Turner: Oprah has already spilled the beans that she'll be here, and we figure pal composer Quincy Jones (2001) will tag along.

Readers Tell Us

Wheaton asks: During the great Reliable Source drought of 2005, my husband had a sighting: a celebrity coming out of a gentlemen's club looking quite disheveled. I passed it on to a columnist at another paper . . . but [he] could get no comment from the subject's people other than to say they weren't sure if he was in town. If a publicist simply refuses to comment, does this kill your desire to pursue (fearing retribution), or stoke the fires, or what?

Oh, stoke the fires, definitely. There have been times, in fact, when we've been kinda lukewarm on an item but then run up against a PR type whose sullen intransigence only makes us crave the story more. (Retribution? Ha! What's a flack gonna do, slash our tires? . . . uh-oh.) Still, ethics hold us back from wreaking revenge: If the publicist balks and we can't confirm it elsewhere, we can't run it.

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