The staff of The Washington Post won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize public service medal for its coverage of the causes, costs and aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack, showing how the forces behind the siege are shaking the underpinnings of democracy.
The stories submitted to the Pulitzer Board for the winning entry and each of the finalists are included below:
The Staff of The Washington Post
For its compellingly told and vividly presented account of the assault on Washington on January 6, 2021, providing the public with a thorough and unflinching understanding of one of the nation’s darkest days.
At 7:30 a.m. on Jan. 6, 2021, a pair of reporters from the Local staff of The Washington Post left their homes to cover President Donald Trump’s final stand against the 2020 presidential election. In their hands were pens and paper, and on their bodies were bulletproof vests, metal helmets and other protective gear. They were the first of dozens of reporters on the streets that historic day and among more than 100 journalists who would contribute to The Post’s coverage on the origins and fallout of an unprecedented attack on American democracy.
From those early hours of Jan. 6 through the entire year, The Post provided an unflinching, unparalleled and indispensable account of the attack. We described it as an “attempted coup” in our earliest stories and provided a series of immediate scoops about the urgent warnings that preceded the siege, the peril that Vice President Mike Pence and top lawmakers faced during the rampage and Trump’s failure to stop rioters.
Days before the Capitol attack, The Post had taken the lead in exposing Trump’s efforts to subvert the election, revealing a personal one-hour phone call in which the president urged Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to flip the state in his favor. The story and publication of an audio of that call underscored the gravity of the vote on Jan. 6. The call was subsequently cited in the article of impeachment against Trump passed by the House of Representatives 10 days later.
In the wake of the violence, The Post captured every aspect of the insurrection. Our coverage included intimate accounts of what the U.S. Capitol Police confronted, a haunting story about how Ashli Babbitt became a rioter, a piercing look at how everyday Americans joined the mob and a video that published just 10 days after the attack and took viewers inside the Capitol in a way they had not seen before.
Our charge to provide a full accounting of the causes, costs and aftermath of Jan. 6 became even more pressing in late May, when efforts in Congress to create a bipartisan panel to investigate the siege collapsed. The Post newsroom mobilized and dedicated itself to fill the vacuum. Our goal: to uncover new information about the events before, during and after the insurrection and to provide the American people with a definitive account of the worst desecration of the Capitol since British forces set fire to it in 1814.
The resulting three-part series provided penetrating coverage of the failures that led to the attack and illustrated how the forces behind that assault remain potent and growing, undermining the faith many Americans have in the integrity of their elections — and laying the groundwork for battles yet to come.
The Post has won for public service five times previously:
Hannah Dreier and Andrew Ba Tran
For a gripping, deeply reported series that illuminated how FEMA fails American disaster survivors by not confronting structural racism or climate change, prompting policy overhauls.
After more than a week of on-site reporting for her piece “The last days inside Trailer 83,” Hannah Dreier wondered if there was anything more to see. For eight days, in order to document a story about the government’s obligations to people in need, she had been showing up at the FEMA-provided trailer of Mike and Crystal Erickson before they awakened and staying until they went to sleep. She had spent hours with Crystal, who is partially paralyzed from a stroke, and hours more with Mike as he tried to figure out how to keep FEMA from evicting them. She had seen them worry, laugh, fight, make up, be silent, be bored, you name it. The truth was the days were becoming repetitive. But she showed up for day nine anyway, and when Mike decided to get Crystal out of her hospital bed by hoisting her into a kind of sling, and then into a wheelchair, and then outside to their front porch for the first time in months, Dreier was able to write these four paragraphs that are so intimate they ache:
Outside, the air was dry and full of ash from two wildfires burning nearby. Minutes passed. She was smiling. Then she looked uncertain. Then she was in pain from her bedsores and started crying. Then she was calling out for Mike, who had gone inside to do the dishes.
He rushed her back in and hoisted her in the net as her crying turned to screaming. “Oh God, just do it,” she screamed, suspended now above the bed. But Mike was afraid of letting her fall and was so focused that he didn’t hear the crunch of approaching cars.
It wasn’t until someone was knocking that he looked out and saw two FEMA security guards and two women who were strangers. “Give me a minute,” he yelled. But the knocking got louder and so Mike paused and threw the door open, revealing Crystal suspended in the net, clothed in only a T-shirt.
“You might as well get a front-row seat,” Mike said to the group. The guards looked aghast and took a step back. “You want to know why we haven’t gotten out of here? I’m doing this all day long.” Mike slammed the door. “You’re doing good,” he said to Crystal as he lowered her into bed and pulled up her sheet.
All this helps explain why “The last days inside Trailer 83” is such a masterpiece. To her core, Dreier is a persistent and resourceful investigative reporter whose tools of the trade routinely include FOIAs and databases. She and Andrew Ba Tran used data-driven reporting and analysis to show the systemic nature of FEMA’s shortcomings, contributing to the impact detailed in the questionnaire. The Post made the data the reporters assembled publicly available.
Dreier is also a humane reporter who goes back for the ninth day, and tenth day, until she is sure she has a story that is as deep in emotional resonance as it is in factual resonance.
In a hidden corner of California lived two people in need, and into that corner came the government to help. What happened next? Here were the facts — unsparing, unassailable, no longer invisible and eventually leading to change — because a persistent and humane reporter went, asked, saw, and stayed.
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The Staff of The Washington Post
For a sweeping series on environmental racism, illuminating how American communities of color have disproportionately suffered for decades from dirty air, polluted water and lax or nonexistent environmental protection.
Shortly after Joe Biden was inaugurated in January 2021, he did something no other president had done. He vowed to undo past wrongs committed against communities of color and signed an executive order that placed addressing the disproportionate health, environmental and economic impacts their residents shouldered “at the center of all we do.”
The Washington Post climate and environment team paid close attention. Unlike most people, we knew exactly what Biden was talking about and the difficult promise he was making.
Across the United States, Black, Brown and Indigenous people are more likely to live near pollution and suffer terrible health outcomes as a result. It is a little-known field of conservation called environmental racism or environmental justice, where activists who agitate against pollution work in the shadows of big green groups and are often as poor as the people they represent. It became the mission of The Post’s climate team to tell stories that explain exactly what environmental justice is.
The Post traveled far and wide to tell key stories: We went back in time to tell the origin story of the environmental justice movement that set the stage for a year of coverage. Our new environmental justice beat reporter, Darryl Fears, teamed with Brady Dennis to find the leaders who launched a protest 40 years ago over a decision by North Carolina to dump a mountain of poison in a Black farming community — and in the process spurred a national movement. At the height of the covid-19 pandemic, Dennis drove to Warren County, where he met Dollie Burwell, the forgotten “mother of environmental justice,” and retraced the steps of the fierce demonstration she led. Burwell’s protest was the first to draw national media coverage and show people waging similar fights near and far that they were not alone.
Next Fears, reporter Juliet Eilperin and photographer Salwan Georges took readers to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where a massive oil and gas refinery rained oil on several surrounding neighborhoods. Fears and Eilperin identified dozens of people who were affected, and combed through government records to examine how the plan won its permits to operate under the Trump administration. Georges traveled to the island, where not everyone was welcoming. The refinery was a major employer on the island, and several people excoriated Georges’s reporting. One homeowner he photographed was concerned for his safety. She warned him to not tell anyone where he was staying, and to switch rental cars so that people couldn’t easily identify the vehicle he was driving. Their dogged coverage over the course of two month, chronicling several accidents at the plant, helped prompt Environmental Protection Agency officials to shut it down.
Our stories revealed that Black and Brown Americans face problems and pollution that White Americans don’t: freeways that dissected their communities and razed their homes; pollution sites such as scrapyards in areas that already host dozens of polluters; water shortages that result from poor infrastructure and contamination. Anyone who didn’t understand Biden’s action could read these stories and become fully aware.
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For succinct and layered cartoons covering a wide range of social and political topics with immediacy and impact.
An exquisitely drawn polar bear is perched on a tiny piece of ice, giving voice to the notion of the need for a new pandemic because greenhouse gas emissions that were first reduced at the start of the coronavirus have now rebounded. Startling? Powerful? Insightful? The answer to all is yes. That sums up the work of Ann Telnaes.
No one gets to the heart of the issues confronting the world today quite like Telnaes. Consider the range and complexity of the topics she has tackled: Homelessness. The failings of the U.S. health-care system. Income inequality. Degradation of women.
Look at how her deft drawings capture fundamental truths. A masked Joe Biden doles out sustenance to the poor while the wealthy recipients of tax cuts scold about the cost. George Floyd under the knee of a police officer illuminates the oppression of Black Americans and the need for justice. A wall of blue obscures the quest of an Afghan girl seeking the basic human right to be educated. And one man and just 25 words exposes the hypocrisy of the gun-rights movement.
Ann Telnaes’s beautifully rendered drawings break through the noise. They lay bare the worst – and the best – of us.
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About the reporter: More from Ann Telnaes