The Washington Post was awarded two Pulitzer Prizes on Monday, capturing journalism’s most prestigious honor for its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and for its coverage of the 2017 Senate race in Alabama, in which The Post broke the story of sexual misconduct allegations against the Republican candidate, Roy Moore.
Both sets of stories exposed secret or undisclosed information and altered America’s political landscape. The Post’s revelations about Russia, including contacts between Russian figures and President Trump’s associates and advisers, helped set the stage for the special counsel’s ongoing investigation of the administration. The Moore stories were a factor in changing what had seemed like a certain victory for the Republican candidate. Both investigations were produced amid unusually harsh criticism, including from the president himself.
The reporting about Moore and subsequent coverage of attempts to discredit The Post’s work won in the investigative journalism category. The Russia-related stories shared the Pulitzer for national reporting with the New York Times, which was recognized for its work on the same topic. Post reporters have now won or shared the national reporting Pulitzer four times in the past four years.
The Times and the New Yorker magazine also shared the gold medal for public service, the highest honor in the 101-year-old competition, for their work documenting allegations of harassment and sexual assault involving prominent men in the entertainment industry and news media. The award went to a team of reporters at the Times that focused on Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and comedian Louis C.K., and to the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow, who revealed Weinstein’s allegedly violent interactions with acclaimed actresses and efforts to cover them up.
The Post’s prizewinning entries involved multiple journalists. The Russia package included 10 stories by 11 reporters, including Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima, Adam Entous, Philip Rucker, Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Hamburger, Greg Jaffe, Devlin Barrett, Sari Horwitz, Ashley Parker and Carol D. Leonnig.
The combined text and video entry for the Moore series was credited to 10 staff members, including Stephanie McCrummen, Beth Reinhard, Alice Crites, Aaron C. Davis, Shawn Boburg, Dalton Bennett, Thomas LeGro, Andrew Ba Tran, Julio Negron and Robert O’Harrow.
“These days journalists need a soul and a spine, and the journalists who worked on these had both,” said Martin Baron, The Post’s executive editor. “They had a soul in seeking and finding the truth, and they had a spine in that they overcame deceit, denial, obstruction and threats. They stood strong throughout that.”
The Post’s Russia stories contained several startling revelations: that Michael Flynn, Trump’s designated national security adviser, had discussed lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition period, potentially in violation of the law; that acting attorney general Sally Yates had told the White House that Flynn had misled senior officials, including Vice President Pence, about his Russia contacts, making him vulnerable to Russian blackmail; that attorney general-designee Jeff Sessions failed to disclose two conversations with Kislyak when asked about contacts during his confirmation hearing; and that Trump revealed secret intelligence to Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in an Oval Office meeting in May. The newspaper also published a lengthy account of President Barack Obama’s struggle to retaliate against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s interference during the 2016 campaign, and explored Trump’s unwillingness to confront the issue of Russian election interference.
The news about Sessions’s undisclosed encounters prompted him to recuse himself in March from an investigation of Russia’s election conduct. Sessions then appointed his deputy, Rod J. Rosenstein, to oversee the investigation. The New York Times subsequently reported that notes taken by ousted FBI director James B. Comey recounted a conversation in which Trump urged Comey to drop an investigation of Flynn. That led Rosenstein to appoint Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel last year.
Throughout it all, Trump denounced The Post’s and Times’s reporting about Russia as “fake news.”
The Post’s investigation of Moore began in October when McCrummen, on a reporting trip to Alabama, heard rumors that Moore had made romantic and sexual advances toward underage girls in the late 1970s and early 1980s while he was in his early 30s.
McCrummen soon located one of the women, Leigh Corfman. She told the reporter that she was 14 years old when Moore approached her outside a courtroom in Etowah County, Ala., in 1979. Corfman said Moore later picked her up near her home and drove her to his house, where he initiated physical contact with her. Five other women also told McCrummen and Reinhard that Moore pursued them when they were between the ages of 16 and 18 and Moore was a young attorney.
The allegations instantly changed the trajectory of a race that had been expected to be a lock for Moore, a former state chief justice endorsed by Trump. It also undercut Moore’s image as a deeply religious family man known for erecting a monument to the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of his courthouse. Democrat Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor, won in an upset in December, beating Moore by just 22,000 votes.
McCrummen said Corfman was initially reluctant to speak about her experiences when the reporter first contacted her. She said she had a long series of off-the-record conversations with her before Corfman felt ready to come forward. “A lot of it was me listening and not talking,” McCrummen said. “I just kept telling her, ‘This is your decision. You have to be okay with this.’ I was ready to lose the story, for nothing to work out.” Ultimately, she said, “I think the lack of pressure” and respect for The Post’s professionalism helped persuade Corfman to go on the record.
Moore vigorously denied the women’s stories and repeatedly criticized The Post’s reporting throughout the campaign. Conservative websites, such as Breitbart News, also rushed to Moore’s defense, questioning The Post’s veracity.
The Post later reported on an elaborate effort to discredit its reporting by Project Veritas, a conservative group that uses deceptive tactics in an effort to capture video it hopes will reveal liberal media bias. A woman secretly working for the group contacted Reinhard shortly after the Corfman story was published and falsely said she had been impregnated by Moore when the woman was a teenager in 1992. The group’s intent was to surreptitiously record Post journalists making biased statements, according to its founder.
The Post never published the woman’s story and instead turned the tables on her and Project Veritas. Crites discovered that the woman, Jaime T. Phillips, had a GoFundMe page aimed at raising money for her work with an unidentified conservative media organization. McCrummen confronted Phillips about the document at a suburban Washington restaurant as Post videographers Dalton Bennett and Thomas LeGro recorded the encounter. A few days later, playing a hunch that Phillips worked for Project Veritas, Aaron C. Davis and reporter Shawn Boburg teamed up to track her as she drove from her home to the organization’s offices outside New York City. Bennett and LeGro subsequently recorded Davis’s interview with Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe outside the office as he declined to answer questions about Phillips.
The Post also had two finalists in the annual Pulitzer competition: Book critic Carlos Lozada was cited for essays about the cultural and political forces shaping the Trump presidency, and John Woodrow Cox was recognized for his alarming and emotional series of articles about children who have experienced the trauma of gun violence.
The New York Times won three awards. In addition to sharing the national reporting prize with The Post and receiving the public-service medal for its reporting on sexual harassment, the newspaper won in the editorial cartooning category for “Welcome to the New World,” a series that followed a Syrian refugee family’s first months in America through illustrations. The series was written by Jake Halpern and illustrated by Michael Sloan.
The Times’s Pulitzers had an unusual footnote: reporter Michael Schmidt was a prominent contributor to both the paper’s Russia coverage and its harassment stories, earning him a piece of two Pulitzers in one year — a “rare feat” in the annals of the competition, according to Roy Harris, a historian of the awards.
One of the most notable winners this year came in the letters, drama and music portion of the awards, where Kendrick Lamar won for his album “DAMN.” in the music category. The 30-year-old rapper, already seen by many as one of the genre’s greatest of all time, became the first non-classical/non-jazz winner.
Other journalism winners included the Press-Democrat of Santa Rosa, Calif., for breaking news reporting for its coverage of historic wildfires; the Cincinnati Enquirer staff in local reporting for its coverage of the city’s heroin epidemic; and the staffs of the Arizona Republic and USA Today network in explanatory reporting for coverage related to President Trump’s proposal to build a border wall.
The Pulitzers are awarded annually for newspaper, magazine and online journalism. Separate awards are made for achievement in literature, drama and musical composition. The awards are administered by Columbia University, and are determined by juries of professional journalists.