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The Pulitzer farce.

The odious ritual of self-congratulation by the Fourth Estate known as the Pulitzer Prizes for journalism was as silly as ever.

The prize for commentary went to The Washington Post's Jim Hoagland, his second Pulitzer. Hoagland is a frightful ass. Sample: A week of war has established a position of American even-handedness and involvement absent from two decades of the `peace process: " This kind of prose has carried Hoagland into the cud-chewers' pantheon. If a Pulitzer Prize for commentary and reporting has to be given, it should be awarded (and then retired) to Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle, who has just celebrated his 75th birthday, still peppy after all these years-unlike David Shaw of the Los Angeles Times, whose perennial lust for a Pulitzer has finally been slaked, though a decent press critic should expect nothing better from a Pulitzer jury than a bullet in the neck.

The Pulitzer for international reporting went to Caryle Murphy of The Washington Post and also to Serge Schmemann of The New York Times. Murphy happened to be in Kuwait when Iraq invaded and remitted dispatches to her newspaper for a month until her "escape," which seems too strong a word for a journey thousands accomplished without such fanfare.

Though she was in the right place at the right time, Murphy put her good fortune to no profitable use so far as readers were concerned. Her stories were dull and uninformative. Here's a bit of her August 11 report: A week after the Iraqi invasion, there is no sign of any civil administration-Kuwaiti or Iraqi-in this occupied country of 1.7 million people, where residents nervously await their fate."

If the Pulitzer board and jury were honest, they would have announced that no prize for international reporting would be given this year, in recognition of the cowardly performance of U.S. journalists, editors and publishers in colluding in the mass flight from Baghdad on the eve of the war. This abdication of responsibility, which left only one U.S. unit-that of CNN-in Baghdad surely ranks as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of American journalism.

Serge Schmemann was cited for his reporting on East Germany's collapse and ultimate unification with the West. In my column for April 23 of last year, I quoted Schmemann as saying, in answer to the question, What next for the East German psyche? that "there are potent arguments that the road to finding their footing lies with East Germans' confronting the past under Communism and under Nazism, an era that the leaders of East Germany have previously dismissed as something for which Communists bore no responsibility." I then raised the question of Schmemann confronting his own past and that of his father, Alexander Schmemann, who as head of the Russian Orthodox Church in America joined forces with the fascist Bishop Valerian Trifa in the 1950s, helping the latter wrest control of the Romanian Orthodox Church and forming with him an alliance to create the Orthodox Church of America, under which all Orthodox factions in the country would be subordinated.

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Title Annotation:Beat the Devil; Pulitzer Prizes for journalism
Author:Cockburn, Alexander
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:column
Date:Apr 29, 1991
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