Today’s publicity plume over Jonah Goldberg’s claim to be a Pulitzer ”nominee” feeds on terminology. Goldberg, a much-published columnist and author of a new book titled “The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas,” claims on the book’s dust jacket to have been “twice been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.” As a penetrating account by MSNBC.com’s Bill Dedman notes, Goldberg’s Pulitzer credentials rise no higher than “entrant.”
The Pulitzer people have a little note on their Web site addressing this question:
Since 1980, when we began to announce nominated finalists, we have used the term “nominee” for entrants who became finalists. We discourage someone saying he or she was “nominated” for a Pulitzer simply because an entry was sent to us.
That’s precisely the offense that Goldberg committed. Sig Gissler, the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, says that the organization runs into this sort of résumé-goosing from time to time. To protect the integrity of “nominees” or “nominated finalists,” Pulitzer has on occasion sent “knock it off” letters to those who’ve abused the distinction. Even so, says Gissler, they don’t “zealously try to police” the terminology.
That the latest example of nomination-inflation came from the literary world wouldn’t shock Gissler, who says that book publishers are “frequently” involved in this sort of transgression. Years ago, when I wrote about media for the Washington City Paper, I had little trouble finding “Pulitzer nominees” in this industry:
[W]hen Western Carolina University announced its new John A. Parris Jr. and Dorothy Luxton Parris Distinguished Professor in Appalachian Cultural Studies, here’s how it headlined the press release: “PULITZER NOMINEE RON RASH NAMED WCU’S PARRIS PROFESSOR.” Rash’s “nomination” comes courtesy of Iris Press, a company in Oak Ridge, Tenn., that produces about four books a year, according to Robert Cumming, Iris’ publisher. How many does Iris pass along to the Pulitzers? “Some years we send almost all of them,” says Cumming. Says Rash of the nod from Iris: “It’s certainly an honor. Obviously, it’s even better if you’re a finalist or a winner.”
In response to inquiries from MSNBC, the publisher of Goldberg’s book, Sentinel (an imprint of Penguin Group USA), called it all “an innocent mistake at worst.” Responding to an inquiry from the Erik Wemple Blog, Will Weisser, vice president and associate publisher at Sentinel, said, “In my experience, this has never come up. We’ve never had a problem with the terminology for this award.” And Goldberg himself, in an e-mail apparently not intended for publication, called the dustup over his dust jacket a “bull____ story” and says that the publisher’s response reflects an effort to act in “good faith.”
And that’s where I get off this bus. As the puffy dust jacket makes plain, Goldberg brims with journalistic credentials. He’s the founding editor of National Review Online, he’s a Los Angeles Times columnist and a contributor to Fox News. That’s enough exposure to this trade to distinguish between “entrant” and “nominee.”
The thousands of us who’ve never reached the money rounds of journalism’s highest awards know never to allow the term “Pulitzer” to appear within 10 terabytes of our bios and résumés. Goldberg should too.
We’ll give the last word to Sentinel Publisher Adrian Zackheim, who just e-mailed me the following note:
Jonah Goldberg has written an important book that merits serious discussion. Instead, some of Mr. Goldberg’s detractors have elected to focus on a side issue instead of engaging with the book itself. It’s lamentable that we have been drawn into a debate on this ridiculous point. As has been reported elsewhere, journalists of every stripe include the fact that they were entered for the Pulitzer in their publication bios.