The Pulitzer Prize: No Conservatives Need Apply

FrontPage Magazine
April 7 2004

The Pulitzer Prize: No Conservatives Need Apply

By George Shadroui | April 7, 2004

The Pulitzer Prizes announced this week demonstrate again the
stranglehold that liberals and leftists enjoy when it comes to
garnering recognition from those who bestow honors for outstanding
journalism and writing.

While it is laudable that Anne Applebaum, who serves on the liberal
Washington Post editorial board, won for documenting the terrors of
the Soviet Gulag, it should be recalled that Solzhenitsyn’s
monumental work on the same subject appeared in the 1970s. Likewise,
the award given to William Taubman for his Khrushchev biography comes
long after the Soviet Union itself had admitted to the crimes and
repression documented. It has apparently taken the liberal and
leftist establishment decades to accept and document crimes that many
anti-communists were assailed for daring to mention back in 1940s and

The rest of the awards, however, went pretty much as expected, with
liberal and left-driven journalism taking the honors. In the category
for commentary, the winner and all those nominated were liberals. The
public service writing award went to two PBS leftists. The
investigative reporting award went for a series about American
atrocities in Vietnam, which is standard fare in the awards business.
The national reporting award went to a series attacking Wal-Mart — a
favorite bete noir of the Left. The international reporting award
went to the Washington Post for a series on the reactions of Iraqis
to the American invasion, much of it casting U.S. efforts in a
negative light. The beat reporting award went to a story on college
admissions preferences for the wealthy (not one of the extraordinary
investigations into race preference admissions has ever won). The
drama award went to a play whose lone character is a transvestite.
The non-fiction book award went to a book by a leftist about race

In short, like many national awards of this kind, the Pulitzer is a
political prize bestowed almost exclusively on writers, journalists
and thinkers who cater to suitably liberal or left-wing points of
view. It wasn’t always thus, but since the 1960s that’s been the
case. Writers Peter Collier and David Horowitz, for example, were
nominated for a National Book Award for the first of their four
best-selling biographies of American dynastic families. That was when
they were on the Left. Although their book on the Kennedys earned
them the sobriquet “the premier chroniclers of American dynastic
tragedy” and the New York Times described their book on the Fords as
an “irresistible epic,” they were never nominated for an award again.

Having spent more than 20 years working as a journalist or with
journalists, I can attest to what even internal surveys by academics
and journalists have shown: most journalists are either liberal/Left
or so cynical that they resist easy characterization. In fact, in
nearly a decade of working as a local reporter, I do not recall
stumbling across another conservative. So do liberals dominate the
reporting awards? The answer is obvious. And it’s not because the few
conservative journalists don’t write worthy stories. Heather
MacDonald, Michael Fumento, William Tucker, Bill Gertz and the late
Mike Kelly have produced prize-worthy work by any standard, but none
of them have been rewarded by the Pulitzer Board.

Still, many of the awards honor legitimate feats of journalism and
many focus on local news coverage that defies easy ideological
characterization, so let us put aside the journalism categories for
now and look instead at the major book or commentary awards, which
are more high profile and often more slanted. For the purposes of
this analysis, four categories – general non-fiction, commentary,
autobiography/biography and history – are relevant. A review of
winners over 40 years shows that conservatives are basically

The category for commentary is an exception. Since 1970, when
commentary was first singled out for recognition as part of the
Pulitzer Prizes, several prominent conservatives have won, including
George Will, William Safire, Charles Krauthammer, Vermont Royster and
Paul Gigot.

But liberals have still dominated, with winners including Mike Royko,
David Broder, Mary McGrory, Ellen Goodman, Russell Baker, Art
Buchwald, Claude Sitton, Murray Kempton, Jimmy Breslin, Clarence
Page, Jimmie Hoagland, Anna Quindlen, Colbert King, Thomas Friedman,
Maureen Dowd and William Raspberry. William F. Buckley, Irving
Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, and Thomas Sowell, to mention just four
obvious conservatives whose work is impressive in scope and quality,
have never won.

A 4 to 1 ratio is actually a victory of sorts for conservatives when
compared to most other categories or awards. Not a single discernible
conservative has won in the other three major categories being
considered here. Not one. There is a long list of leftists and
liberals, however. Among those honored for their work in history, we
find Dean Acheson, James MacGregor Burns, Leon Litwack, Taylor
Branch, Joseph Ellis, Robert Caro, Stanley Karnow, Gordon Wood, Louis
Menand, and Doris Kearns Goodwin.

In the general non-fiction category, winners have included Barbara
Tuchman, David McCullough, Tina Rosenberg, Garry Wills, Richard
Hofstader, Theodore White, Norman Mailer, Frances Fitzgerald, Annie
Dillard, James Lelyveld, J. Anthony Lukas, Neil Sheehan, Jonathan
Weiner, John Dower, John McPhee, Samantha Power and David Remnick. In
the biography and auto-biography category we have W.A. Swanberg,
Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Robert Caro, Joseph Lash, George Kennan,
Edmund Morris, Russell Baker, Katherine Graham, David McCullough,

Some of these awardees wrote great books and their work deserved
recognition, irrespective of ideological pedigree. It cannot be
ignored, however, that conservative authors are totally overlooked
(or snubbed) going back to the 1960s. No awards for Allan Bloom (The
Closing of the American Mind), George Gilder (Wealth and Poverty),
Charles Murray (Losing Ground), Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom
(America in Black and White), whose books helped set the terms of
national discussion and policy.

Why? For starters, Joseph Pulitzer was a crusader who coined a
much-cited definition of journalistic excellence: to afflict the
comfortable and comfort the afflicted. By this standard, documenting
the defects in society is a priority, often with the goal of
stimulating government activism to redress specific issues. When not
pushing for more government to solve seemingly intractable social
problems, the press is routinely focused on corporate malfeasance.
Finding victims and documenting failure is the paradigm through which
journalists practice their craft — except, alas, when it might cut
against the liberal grain. There will be no Pulitzers for exposing
the destructive effects of liberal programs like welfare, for
example, or the political subversion of the public health system by
the AIDS lobby.

To show just how prevalent this bias is, consider for a moment John
Stossel, the Emmy-winning television reporter, who recently published
a book, Give Us a Break, in which he documents how he was ostracized
by the journalism community when he turned his reporting talents from
major corporations to big government. Once a touted and celebrated
reporter, suddenly he was on the outside among the liberal elite.
Bernard Goldberg, in his books, Bias and Arrogance, also documents
the liberal slant of major news organizations.

This political culture within the profession discourages journalists
from tackling certain stories that would provide a more balanced view
of public policy and international issues. How is it, for example,
that the media have gladly focused on the victims of American and
corporate power, yet done so little to document the suffering of
victims of Ba’athist tyranny in Iraq? Could it be that the media is
reluctant to give moral credence to what is an unpopular war among
leftists and Democrats? Prisons were emptied, mass graves uncovered,
and yet coverage that has explored these issues in depth or
interviewed families or victims at length has been scarce since
Saddam was toppled. Certainly, compared to the coverage given Richard
Clarke’s attacks on the Bush policy in Iraq, efforts to document the
atrocities uncovered by our troops has been miniscule. It is as if we
had defeated the Germans and then no one bothered to document the
concentration camps or the Nazi killing machine, but rather focused
on the imperfections of D-Day.

This bias is evident in coverage of Cold War issues, as well. Again,
it took decades before liberals finally documented atrocities
perpetrated by communism. Yet, their work was quickly recognized.
Meanwhile, the work of Richard Pipes, Robert Conquest and Martin
Malia has never received a Pulitzer. As this year shows again, there
is no shortage of honored books or authors who “dare” to report on
American “crimes” in Southeast Asia or Central America – among them
Frances Fitzgerald, Neil Sheehan, Norman Mailer, Tina Rosenberg and
Gloria Emerson – or for work that takes the traditional liberal slant
on our nation’s race problems. The result is that even well-intended
and more fair-minded journalists or historians often seem to view
issues through the paradigms constructed by anti-American critics
like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn.

Take as one example recent Pulitzer winner Samantha Power. In her
book on genocide, A Problem from Hell, she documents what she calls
the reluctance of the United States to take any action to thwart the
genocidal policies of other governments. Power, it should be noted,
reviewed Chomsky’s recent book, Hegemony or Survival, for the New
York Times. The book is another in a long line of his anti-American
fulminations. Though Power concedes that Chomsky can be one-sided,
her own work is in some ways a testimony to his influence.

Power, like many critics of American foreign policy on the Left,
views American decision-making outside of historical context. She
judges our action or inaction against some unachievable ideal rather
than against what other nations or governments were doing. If our
record is less than satisfactory, it seems fair to ask how it
compares with the action or inaction of others? To attack the United
States because it has neither the capacity nor the will to right
every horrific wrong being committed across the globe is to hold our
nation to a standard unmatched in history. As we are finding in Iraq
today, the choices are not painless or uncomplicated, but these
factors often are forgotten over time.

For example, what would she have had the American government do to
stop the Holocaust or the Armenian genocide beyond exercising our
maximum military and diplomatic might against the regimes
perpetrating these crimes, which we did once involved in both World
War I and World War II? We lost almost a million men in both wars and
it was not a given that we would triumph. Nor is it a given we will
win in Iraq against a clearly fascist enemy, but our harshest critics
for acting against a tyrannical regime are on the Left.

Back in the 1980s, J. Douglas Bates, a former newspaper editor,
offered some criticism of the Pulitzers in his book, The Pulitzer
Prize. He documented a bias evident in the Pulitzers, not against
conservatives, but against those who worked in the heartland or out
West. His argument was that Easterners had the advantage. Bates also
documented the lobbying effort by leftists on behalf of the work of
Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. When a group of leftist writers took
out an ad in the New York Review of Books arguing that Morrison
should win in the fiction category, the Pulitzer Board a few weeks
later honored her novel Beloved. You can rest assured that those
writers never organized on behalf of black author Shelby Steele,
known for his rejection of politically correct views.

Bates has plenty of sympathy for liberals he feels have been
overlooked by the Pulitzers, including I.F. Stone, Leonard Bernstein
and Neil Sheehan for his reporting on the Vietnam war (though Sheehan
would later win for his history of Vietnam). Yet, not once in his
250-page book did Bates explore the issue of bias against
conservative writers or journalists who cut against the liberal

The awards, of course, are administered by the Columbia Journalism
School, which is itself a bastion of liberal/Left attitudes. One
Columbia University student once reportedly remarked – all my
professors come from The Nation and the Village Voice. There is not a
single identifiable conservative on the Columbia Journalism faculty.
Bernard Goldberg, in his most recent book, Arrogance, reports that a
blue ribbon panel was established a few years ago to review the
school’s operations in an effort to improve its performance and the
practice of good journalism. Goldberg notes that the panel consisted
almost entirely of known leftists and liberals, while prominent and
respected conservatives were not invited to contribute.

Awards are symbolic but also important. They are the trademark of
excellence and they often make or break careers. They should be based
on the quality of the work being considered, not on the political
prejudices of judges or the industry as a whole. Most conservatives,
I am confident, want fair and balanced reporting even when it cuts
against the grain of their own ideology. This is the bulwark of a
free society. What they can’t accept as easily is the kind of
spectacle witnessed over the past couple of weeks, when Richard
Clarke was given unprecedented air time, during a time of war, to
espouse views at odds with those of conservative administration
trying to win that war.

A self critical journalism community must ask itself why such noted
conservative writers and authors as William F. Buckley Jr., David
Horowitz, Peter Collier, Michael Novak, George Gilder, Charles
Murray, Allen Bloom, William Gertz, Gerald Posner, Dinesh D’Souza,
Thomas Sowell, Florence King and many others have been overlooked by
so many contests that honor writing or letters.

However difficult it might be for liberal elites to acknowledge it,
every major award given for writing or public affairs reporting is
dominated or controlled by the leftist or liberal intelligentsia. Is
it an accident that Jimmy Carter was given the Nobel Prize precisely
when a conservative president whose policies Carter detests was
trying to mobilize the international community against worldwide

Those who would claim to be the standard-bearers of excellence and
the defenders of the marketplace of ideas should be embarrassed by
the discriminatory practices evident in these cherished awards. None
dare call it bias – but bias it is.