By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
Isn't a big scoop like John Edwards's extramarital affair and love child enough for Pulitzer judges?
Sex scandals win Pulitzer Prizes. Just ask the New York Times, which nabbed one for coverage of the Monica Lewinsky affair and another for stories about ex-New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's romp with a hooker in Washington's Mayflower Hotel. So what about the sordid tale of former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, who fathered a child with an aide while his wife was fighting deadly cancer?
An easy Pulitzer, right? Well, no. Not because the story was wrong. Andrew Young, the former Edwards aide who wrote a scathing tell-all about his cheating boss, The Politician, writes that the details were mostly accurate. The real issue: The paper that got the scoop is the National Enquirer.
So what? asks Editor Barry Levine. "There are so many elements of this story that make it a Pulitzer," he says.
And so many hurdles. First, the Pulitzer committee views the paper as a magazine and thus not eligible. Levine is fighting that in the paper's first-ever Pulitzer application. Second, there is mainstream media bias against the tabloid. "I will be shocked if the Enquirer wins a Pulitzer," says Tim McGuire, a former prize judge who used to edit the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "One, I am convinced there will be bias in the jury room and on the board against that particular publication. The jury and the board occasionally likes to do 'roguish' things. This one would be way outside the boundaries. There's no conspiracy there, just the reality," says McGuire, who teaches a journalism ethics course at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School. "Even in the breaking-news category, writing, depth, texture, and context are all rewarded. I can't imagine the Enquirer piece winning on those standards," he adds.
The old school is in for a fight. Bloggers like Politics Daily's Emily Miller are making a splash in leading the campaign for the tab. "She started something of a grass-roots campaign for us," says Levine. When Edwards finally confessed two weeks ago to everything the Enquirer had reported, "that was like pouring fuel on her campaign."
Levine knows it's a long shot. But, he says, "at least we should be acknowledged as a runner-up" to whoever wins.
Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR.