The Pulitzer Prizes announced this week demonstrate again the stranglehold that liberals and leftists enjoy when it comes to garnering recognition from those who bestow honors for outstanding journalism and writing.
While it is laudable that Anne Applebaum, who serves on the liberal Washington Post editorial board, won for documenting the terrors of the Soviet Gulag, it should be recalled that Solzhenitsyn’s monumental work on the same subject appeared in the 1970s. Likewise, the award given to William Taubman for his Khrushchev biography comes long after the Soviet Union itself had admitted to the crimes and repression documented. It has apparently taken the liberal and leftist establishment decades to accept and document crimes that many anti-communists were assailed for daring to mention back in 1940s and 1950s.
The rest of the awards, however, went pretty much as expected, with liberal and left-driven journalism taking the honors. In the category for commentary, the winner and all those nominated were liberals. The public service writing award went to two PBS leftists. The investigative reporting award went for a series about American atrocities in Vietnam, which is standard fare in the awards business. The national reporting award went to a series attacking Wal-Mart -- a favorite bete noir of the Left. The international reporting award went to the Washington Post for a series on the reactions of Iraqis to the American invasion, much of it casting U.S. efforts in a negative light. The beat reporting award went to a story on college admissions preferences for the wealthy (not one of the extraordinary investigations into race preference admissions has ever won). The drama award went to a play whose lone character is a transvestite. The non-fiction book award went to a book by a leftist about race struggles.
In short, like many national awards of this kind, the Pulitzer is a political prize bestowed almost exclusively on writers, journalists and thinkers who cater to suitably liberal or left-wing points of view. It wasn't always thus, but since the 1960s that's been the case. Writers Peter Collier and David Horowitz, for example, were nominated for a National Book Award for the first of their four best-selling biographies of American dynastic families. That was when they were on the Left. Although their book on the Kennedys earned them the sobriquet "the premier chroniclers of American dynastic tragedy" and the New York Times described their book on the Fords as an "irresistible epic," they were never nominated for an award again.
Having spent more than 20 years working as a journalist or with journalists, I can attest to what even internal surveys by academics and journalists have shown: most journalists are either liberal/Left or so cynical that they resist easy characterization. In fact, in nearly a decade of working as a local reporter, I do not recall stumbling across another conservative. So do liberals dominate the reporting awards? The answer is obvious. And it's not because the few conservative journalists don't write worthy stories. Heather MacDonald, Michael Fumento, William Tucker, Bill Gertz and the late Mike Kelly have produced prize-worthy work by any standard, but none of them have been rewarded by the Pulitzer Board.
Still, many of the awards honor legitimate feats of journalism and many focus on local news coverage that defies easy ideological characterization, so let us put aside the journalism categories for now and look instead at the major book or commentary awards, which are more high profile and often more slanted. For the purposes of this analysis, four categories – general non-fiction, commentary, autobiography/biography and history – are relevant. A review of winners over 40 years shows that conservatives are basically excluded.
The category for commentary is an exception. Since 1970, when commentary was first singled out for recognition as part of the Pulitzer Prizes, several prominent conservatives have won, including George Will, William Safire, Charles Krauthammer, Vermont Royster and Paul Gigot.
But liberals have still dominated, with winners including Mike Royko, David Broder, Mary McGrory, Ellen Goodman, Russell Baker, Art Buchwald, Claude Sitton, Murray Kempton, Jimmy Breslin, Clarence Page, Jimmie Hoagland, Anna Quindlen, Colbert King, Thomas Friedman, Maureen Dowd and William Raspberry. William F. Buckley, Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, and Thomas Sowell, to mention just four obvious conservatives whose work is impressive in scope and quality, have never won.
A 4 to 1 ratio is actually a victory of sorts for conservatives when compared to most other categories or awards. Not a single discernible conservative has won in the other three major categories being considered here. Not one. There is a long list of leftists and liberals, however. Among those honored for their work in history, we find Dean Acheson, James MacGregor Burns, Leon Litwack, Taylor Branch, Joseph Ellis, Robert Caro, Stanley Karnow, Gordon Wood, Louis Menand, and Doris Kearns Goodwin.
In the general non-fiction category, winners have included Barbara Tuchman, David McCullough, Tina Rosenberg, Garry Wills, Richard Hofstader, Theodore White, Norman Mailer, Frances Fitzgerald, Annie Dillard, James Lelyveld, J. Anthony Lukas, Neil Sheehan, Jonathan Weiner, John Dower, John McPhee, Samantha Power and David Remnick. In the biography and auto-biography category we have W.A. Swanberg, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Robert Caro, Joseph Lash, George Kennan, Edmund Morris, Russell Baker, Katherine Graham, David McCullough, etc.
Some of these awardees wrote great books and their work deserved recognition, irrespective of ideological pedigree. It cannot be ignored, however, that conservative authors are totally overlooked (or snubbed) going back to the 1960s. No awards for Allan Bloom (The Closing of the American Mind), George Gilder (Wealth and Poverty), Charles Murray (Losing Ground), Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom (America in Black and White), whose books helped set the terms of national discussion and policy.
Why? For starters, Joseph Pulitzer was a crusader who coined a much-cited definition of journalistic excellence: to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. By this standard, documenting the defects in society is a priority, often with the goal of stimulating government activism to redress specific issues. When not pushing for more government to solve seemingly intractable social problems, the press is routinely focused on corporate malfeasance. Finding victims and documenting failure is the paradigm through which journalists practice their craft -- except, alas, when it might cut against the liberal grain. There will be no Pulitzers for exposing the destructive effects of liberal programs like welfare, for example, or the political subversion of the public health system by the AIDS lobby.
To show just how prevalent this bias is, consider for a moment John Stossel, the Emmy-winning television reporter, who recently published a book, Give Us a Break, in which he documents how he was ostracized by the journalism community when he turned his reporting talents from major corporations to big government. Once a touted and celebrated reporter, suddenly he was on the outside among the liberal elite. Bernard Goldberg, in his books, Bias and Arrogance, also documents the liberal slant of major news organizations.
This political culture within the profession discourages journalists from tackling certain stories that would provide a more balanced view of public policy and international issues. How is it, for example, that the media have gladly focused on the victims of American and corporate power, yet done so little to document the suffering of victims of Ba'athist tyranny in Iraq? Could it be that the media is reluctant to give moral credence to what is an unpopular war among leftists and Democrats? Prisons were emptied, mass graves uncovered, and yet coverage that has explored these issues in depth or interviewed families or victims at length has been scarce since Saddam was toppled. Certainly, compared to the coverage given Richard Clarke’s attacks on the Bush policy in Iraq, efforts to document the atrocities uncovered by our troops has been miniscule. It is as if we had defeated the Germans and then no one bothered to document the concentration camps or the Nazi killing machine, but rather focused on the imperfections of D-Day.
This bias is evident in coverage of Cold War issues, as well. Again, it took decades before liberals finally documented atrocities perpetrated by communism. Yet, their work was quickly recognized. Meanwhile, the work of Richard Pipes, Robert Conquest and Martin Malia has never received a Pulitzer. As this year shows again, there is no shortage of honored books or authors who "dare" to report on American "crimes" in Southeast Asia or Central America – among them Frances Fitzgerald, Neil Sheehan, Norman Mailer, Tina Rosenberg and Gloria Emerson – or for work that takes the traditional liberal slant on our nation’s race problems. The result is that even well-intended and more fair-minded journalists or historians often seem to view issues through the paradigms constructed by anti-American critics like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn.
Take as one example recent Pulitzer winner Samantha Power. In her book on genocide, A Problem from Hell, she documents what she calls the reluctance of the United States to take any action to thwart the genocidal policies of other governments. Power, it should be noted, reviewed Chomsky’s recent book, Hegemony or Survival, for the New York Times. The book is another in a long line of his anti-American fulminations. Though Power concedes that Chomsky can be one-sided, her own work is in some ways a testimony to his influence.
Power, like many critics of American foreign policy on the Left, views American decision-making outside of historical context. She judges our action or inaction against some unachievable ideal rather than against what other nations or governments were doing. If our record is less than satisfactory, it seems fair to ask how it compares with the action or inaction of others? To attack the United States because it has neither the capacity nor the will to right every horrific wrong being committed across the globe is to hold our nation to a standard unmatched in history. As we are finding in Iraq today, the choices are not painless or uncomplicated, but these factors often are forgotten over time.
For example, what would she have had the American government do to stop the Holocaust or the Armenian genocide beyond exercising our maximum military and diplomatic might against the regimes perpetrating these crimes, which we did once involved in both World War I and World War II? We lost almost a million men in both wars and it was not a given that we would triumph. Nor is it a given we will win in Iraq against a clearly fascist enemy, but our harshest critics for acting against a tyrannical regime are on the Left.
Back in the 1980s, J. Douglas Bates, a former newspaper editor, offered some criticism of the Pulitzers in his book, The Pulitzer Prize. He documented a bias evident in the Pulitzers, not against conservatives, but against those who worked in the heartland or out West. His argument was that Easterners had the advantage. Bates also documented the lobbying effort by leftists on behalf of the work of Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. When a group of leftist writers took out an ad in the New York Review of Books arguing that Morrison should win in the fiction category, the Pulitzer Board a few weeks later honored her novel Beloved. You can rest assured that those writers never organized on behalf of black author Shelby Steele, known for his rejection of politically correct views.
Bates has plenty of sympathy for liberals he feels have been overlooked by the Pulitzers, including I.F. Stone, Leonard Bernstein and Neil Sheehan for his reporting on the Vietnam war (though Sheehan would later win for his history of Vietnam). Yet, not once in his 250-page book did Bates explore the issue of bias against conservative writers or journalists who cut against the liberal grain.
The awards, of course, are administered by the Columbia Journalism School, which is itself a bastion of liberal/Left attitudes. One Columbia University student once reportedly remarked – all my professors come from The Nation and the Village Voice. There is not a single identifiable conservative on the Columbia Journalism faculty. Bernard Goldberg, in his most recent book, Arrogance, reports that a blue ribbon panel was established a few years ago to review the school’s operations in an effort to improve its performance and the practice of good journalism. Goldberg notes that the panel consisted almost entirely of known leftists and liberals, while prominent and respected conservatives were not invited to contribute.
Awards are symbolic but also important. They are the trademark of excellence and they often make or break careers. They should be based on the quality of the work being considered, not on the political prejudices of judges or the industry as a whole. Most conservatives, I am confident, want fair and balanced reporting even when it cuts against the grain of their own ideology. This is the bulwark of a free society. What they can’t accept as easily is the kind of spectacle witnessed over the past couple of weeks, when Richard Clarke was given unprecedented air time, during a time of war, to espouse views at odds with those of conservative administration trying to win that war.
A self critical journalism community must ask itself why such noted conservative writers and authors as William F. Buckley Jr., David Horowitz, Peter Collier, Michael Novak, George Gilder, Charles Murray, Allen Bloom, William Gertz, Gerald Posner, Dinesh D'Souza, Thomas Sowell, Florence King and many others have been overlooked by so many contests that honor writing or letters.
However difficult it might be for liberal elites to acknowledge it, every major award given for writing or public affairs reporting is dominated or controlled by the leftist or liberal intelligentsia. Is it an accident that Jimmy Carter was given the Nobel Prize precisely when a conservative president whose policies Carter detests was trying to mobilize the international community against worldwide terrorism?
Those who would claim to be the standard-bearers of excellence and the defenders of the marketplace of ideas should be embarrassed by the discriminatory practices evident in these cherished awards. None dare call it bias – but bias it is.