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Editor & Publisher Magazine

Before Tom Hanks Movie, Charlie Wilson Aided Paper's Pulitzer
By Joe Strupp

Published: December 28, 2007


NEW YORK Before former Congressman Charlie Wilson got involved in a covert CIA operation in
Afghanistan, depicted in the current film, "Charlie Wilson's War," he played a major role in
helping a small Texas newspaper garner attention that led to its winning the Pulitzer Prize for
public service.

The Lufkin (Tex.) News took home the coveted Gold Medal prize in 1977 for its probe into the
death of a local Marine who died during training. The investigation actually began after the
paper ran an obituary of Private Lynn "Bubba" McClure, who died from injuries during training at
a San Diego base, according to Roy J. Harris, author of the new book, "Pulitzer's Gold: Behind
the Prize for Public Service Journalism."

After the News broke the story of McClure's death and the questionable training practices that
went into it, Wilson, whose congressional district included Lufkin, launched a congressional
investigation into such training practices that eventually led to changes in recruiting
policies.


"The Pulitzer citation said that the Lufkin News had achieved changes in training," Harris said.
"I would think that Charlie Wilson's campaign in Washington was the way that they got those
changes made. Charlie Wilson is a star in the movie theater and it turns out he had a role in
this prize."

Ken Herman, the lead reporter on the Lufkin News stories at the time and currently a White House
correspondent for Cox Newspapers, also credited Wilson.

"He had an important role in this for a couple of reasons," Herman said. "Because a constituent
was involved and there was a concept involved that Charlie was interested in."

Herman said Wilson had long questioned the change to an all-volunteer military and, although the
Marines had always been a volunteer force, he saw the McClure case as an example of why
recruitment and training practices needed to be examined.

"He was concerned about recruiting and here was a case that raised questions about it," Herman
recalled. "Clearly, the feeling was that the stories had impact on recruiting and training
techniques.

"He is the one who made the changes happen, he carried the congressional ball on this."


Upcoming Book on Pulitzers Reveals 2006 Jury 'Struggle' Over 'Katrina'
By Joe Strupp

Published: December 04, 2007 10:55 AM ET


NEW YORK When the 2006 Pulitzer Prize finalists were leaked shortly after jurors chose them
nearly two years ago, the coveted Public Service nominations caused a stir because The Sun
Herald of Biloxi, Miss. got the nod -- and the Times-Picayune in New Orleans did not.

Just six moths after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, many expected that both papers
would be up for the award given their heroic work on the story. Although both papers eventually
shared that Gold Medal award when the Pulitzer Board chose winners that April, the Public
Service jury was criticized by many for initially excluding the New Orleans paper as some
wondered how they could choose one paper without the other.

Well, a soon-to-be published book about the award, "Pulitzer's Gold" by Roy J. Harris Jr. (2008,
University of Missouri Press) reveals that the Public Service jury actually considered
nominating both papers for the award, and even asked if they could combine them into a joint
nomination. They discarded the idea after Pulitzer Administrator Sig Gissler informed them that
such a move was against the rules.


"The jury was reluctant to give two of its three finalist selections to coverage of one event,
even an event like America's worst hurricane ever," Harris writes in the book, due out next
month.

The jury had agreed on the other two finalists -- The Washington Post for coverage of the U.S.
war on terror and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, for reporting on the "Coingate" scandal -- but
remained stuck on which of the two Katrina papers would get the third spot.

"So a query was sent to…Gissler. Could the jury simply make a joint entry, nominating both gulf
papers…?" Harris writes. He quotes legendary editor Eugene Roberts, one of that jury's members
as saying, "Basically, [Gissler] said no, it wasn't possible….We should come up with a total of
three and if the board wants to award two Gold Medals, then that was their prerogative, but not
ours."

Roberts confirmed the story to E&P on Monday, adding, "if left to our own devices, we would have
nominated both papers." Asked why the jury did not simply make the Sun Herald and the
Times-Picayune two of the three finalists, Roberts said the jury did not want to exclude other
work of a different nature: "We tried to have our cake and eat it too."

Janet Coats, editor of The Tampa Tribune and chair of that jury, echoed that view. "We just kept
getting hung up on the whole idea that they should both be considered, but we wanted other
subjects to be considered," she told E&P.

Coats added that the jury spent about half a day debating which of the Katrina papers to choose:
"Our notes to the board reflected our struggle with all of that."

In the end, Coats and Roberts said the Sun Herald got the finalist nod for several reasons. One,
according to Harris' book, was that the paper had published every day after the hurricane and
had "pulled off a near-miracle of publishing."

Coats also pointed to the Sun Herald's online work. "This was a smaller paper, with a newsroom
that was a victim of the disaster as much as its community had been, and you saw the
completeness of their voice," Coats told Harris. "Its editorial image got stronger and stronger
and stronger." Roberts adds in the book, "they were everywhere for a staff of their size."

Then there was the fact that the Times-Picayune was also going to be a finalist in another
category, Breaking News, for the Katrina coverage -- a prize it eventually won. Roberts said the
Breaking News jury was at the table next to the Public Service jury during deliberations, so his
group knew the New Orleans' paper would get another chance. "We knew the board would see it
anyway."

Still, the Public Service jurors took an extra step to ensure the Times-Picayune was not
completely left out of the running, writes Harris: "Jurors…prepared a note to the board
elaborating on their thinking and listing the Times-Picayune among its three 'alternates' for
the Public Service prize."

Harris writes that "the jury sent the signal that both gulf coast papers were worthy."

 

 
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