Rumsfeld Aides Trash New York Times Pulitzer

One aide says the piece should have won in the fiction category.

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By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers

It won the Pulitzer for investigative reporting, but now critics of the New York Times story about how retired generals were co-opted by the Pentagon to brag on the Iraq war are nominating it for another prize: fiction writing. Leading the charge are two allies of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "Does the Pulitzer give prizes for works of fiction? Perhaps they just got the wrong category," says former Pentagon Assistant Secretary Dorrance Smith. Rumsfeld's current spokesman, Keith Urbahn, cites a January 2009 Pentagon inspector general's report debunking the story: "The Times's reporting on DoD's routine outreach to military experts didn't merit a place in the paper, much less a Pulitzer."

At issue is an April 2008 story by David Barstow that was headlined "Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon's Hidden Hand." The Pulitzer Prize citation says Barstow's story "revealed how some retired generals, working as radio and television analysts, had been co-opted by the Pentagon to make its case for the war in Iraq, and how many of them also had undisclosed ties to companies that benefited from policies they defended."

 Well, no, says the inspector general's office that issued the 85-page rebuttal, subsequently dismissed as "highly flawed" by the Times's public editor. The IG said that the program under Rumsfeld was the same kind run in past years and that the results were mixed; some of those briefed still dissed the war. And the IG found no evidence that those with ties to contractors used what they learned for a competitive edge.

Which raises this question: Did the Pulitzer committee consider the Pentagon rebuttal? We'll never know, as the judges have gone radio silent. "Jury deliberations are confidential, and we don't discuss specifics of our decision making," says Pam Maples, managing editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and chair of the investigative reporting jury. "I take the promise I made seriously."

Says Urbahn: "Between the New York Times and the Pentagon's inspector general office, it's pretty clear which is a more credible and non-partisan source."

Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR

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