On what’s wrong with the Pulitzer Prize

(Read: most awards) The Baffler takes on the Pulitzers and cronyism in journalism. Huh, so you’re saying that awards don’t always go to the most deserving individuals and that the game is rigged against certain people? Never considered that here at Bookninja.

It is not an entirely new criticism. As J. Douglas Bates wrote almost thirty years ago in his book The Pulitzer Prize: The Inside Story of America’s Most Prestigious Award, the prizes are a product of cronyism and mutual benefit; the prizes elevate the publications, and vice versa. Bates noted that the Pulitzer board of directors would change from time to time, but that when there was turnover, it was usually “white, male, senior journalists” being “replaced by more white, male, senior journalists.” The board chooses the jurors for the prizes each year. And though there is more diversity on the board and among jurors (the board is led by the eminent Elizabeth Alexander, head of the Mellon Foundation) than there was when Bates wrote his book, a cursory look at the Pulitzer board reveals precisely the incestuous relationships that make it all possible. The current list includes David Remnick, editor in chief of The New Yorker and the very man who hired Taub to work at The New Yorker in 2017, two years after he finished graduate school.

Such hefty institutional backing has a relationship to truth-telling and to truth creation. It doesn’t matter that Taub, per his own admission, did not speak Arabic, that he seems to have rehashed a large chunk of his Pulitzer-winning article from an already published book, or even that he spent only a week in Mauritania where Salahi now lives. His article legitimizes a process through which the Western liberal frame is conflated with the lack of any frame at all and applied to foreign places or people through the roving foreign correspondent. Ben Taub is not the problem, of course. It’s just that the edifices of elite journalism consistently elevate the voices of those like him. In a story about how a system of silencing allowed the most shameful cruelties to happen, considering the architecture of truth and silence seems important.

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