Donald Trump seems to say whatever is on his mind, and at a Friday morning news conference in Ohio, he shared a thought that has apparently been in his head for a while: "I've always said, 'Why didn't the National Enquirer get the Pulitzer Prize for Edwards?'"
He was talking about John Edwards, of course, the former senator from North Carolina and 2008 presidential candidate whose love child the supermarket tabloid was first to expose. Trump brought this up to argue that the National Enquirer ought to be "respected," and he raised the subject of the tabloid's credibility because he felt compelled on the day after accepting the Republican presidential nomination to defend his decision in May to cite a National Enquirer story linking Ted Cruz's father to then-President John F. Kennedy's assassin. All of this stems from Cruz's refusal to endorse Trump at the just-ended Republican National Convention.
Anyway, let's try to answer this question that has confounded Trump for so long.
First, a quick refresher on "the" Pulitzer. There are, in fact, more than a dozen Pulitzer Prizes in journalism awarded each year in various categories. The National Enquirer's Edwards coverage would have fit best in the investigative reporting category or, possibly, the national reporting category.
The National Enquirer did get some consideration from Pulitzer judges in 2010, after it was originally rejected on a technicality. Sig Gissler, then the administrator of the Pulitzer Prize Board, initially ruled that the National Enquirer was ineligible because it described itself on its website as a magazine — though it is generally viewed as a newspaper — and magazines were not eligible for Pulitzers at the time. (That changed this year.) The board ultimately relented and said it would consider the tabloid's work.
On awards day, the investigative prizes (there were two that year) went to reporters from the Philadelphia Daily News who uncovered a rogue police narcotics squad and a ProPublica journalist who chronicled a doctor's life-or-death decisions during the response to Hurricane Katrina. New York Times journalists won the national prize for reporting on the hazards of using electronic devices while driving.
There are several reasons the National Enquirer did not win. One is the same reason many terrific entries don't win: Something else was just a smidgen better. A journalistic work need not be flawed to come up short; sometimes it just gets beaten by an even stronger submission.
But its entry did have a couple of big problems. The first is that it was probably a year too late to be a real contender. Pulitzer Prizes recognize work published in the previous year — in this case, 2009. The tabloid did most of its key reporting on Edwards in 2007 and 2008. Stories published in 2009 revealed the convening of a grand jury to examine possible campaign finance violations and the amount of money Edwards's mistress demanded in child support ($18,000 per month), but those aren't really Pulitzer-worthy scoops.
Mark Katches, a Pulitzer judge, told the Los Angeles Times that "at the end of the day, it didn't rise to the top journalism of 2009."
Why didn't the National Enquirer enter the previous year's Pulitzer contest? Well, Edwards didn't actually admit that the daughter of Rielle Hunter, the video producer with whom he had an extramarital affair, was his child until January 2010, shortly before that year's Pulitzer entry deadline.
"There is vindication, finally," the National Enquirer's then-editor, Barry Levine, told The Washington Post at the time. Until Edwards came clean, there was enough doubt about the truth of the National Enquirer's reporting that it likely would not have been able to win in 2009. Levine told the L.A. Times that he "had mostly thought we were the rebels who would never be taken seriously."
The tabloid's reputation was the second major problem. It was right about Edwards but is so often wrong about the sensational gossip it publishes that it just doesn't have the same authority as the news outlets that topped it in the Pulitzer contest. What's more, it openly practices what it calls "checkbook journalism" — paying sources for tips. That's a no-no in mainstream American journalism, where the prevailing thought is that readers will question the motives of people who accept money in exchange for information.
It's hard to imagine a panel of judges who object to the National Enquirer's newsgathering methods being willing to award it the highest honor in journalism.
So, there's your answer, Trump. Now you can go back to wondering about other things.