Los Angeles Times reporters Chuck Philips and Michael A. Hiltzik won the Pulitzer Prize for beat reporting Monday for their stories on corruption in the entertainment industry. The Pulitzer Prize Board cited their work on three major projects--"a charity sham sponsored by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, illegal detoxification programs for wealthy celebrities and a resurgence of radio payola.”
The prize was The Times’ 23rd Pulitzer, and Mark Saylor, entertainment editor in the business section of the paper, said it was especially rewarding because it recognized “aggressive reporting on the hometown industry . . . where The Times has long labored under a cloud, the misperception that we’re soft on the entertainment industry.”
The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press each won two Pulitzers, and the Washington Post won the single most prestigious of the annual awards, the Pulitzer Gold Medal for public service for a series of articles on reckless gunplay by city police officers who had little training or supervision.
The Pulitzers, awarded since 1917 by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York, have long been the most coveted of all journalism awards, but they are also highly prized in literature, drama and music. Monday’s winners included Margaret Edson, in drama, for “Wit,” which had its world premiere at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa in 1995.
“Wit,” the story of a professor who is dying of ovarian cancer, grew out of Edson’s work as a clerk in a cancer and AIDS research hospital. It was her first play, and although she subsequently wrote a second--a country Western musical--it has not been produced, and she said Monday that she didn’t plan to write any more plays.
Edson, a kindergarten teacher in Atlanta, said, “We’re in the middle of studying insects, and nothing can take me away. I will continue teaching.”
Other winners in the arts included John McPhee, in general nonfiction, for “Annals of the Former World”; Michael Cunningham, in fiction, for “The Hours”; A. Scott Berg, in biography, for “Lindbergh”; Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, in history, for “Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898"; Mark Strand, in poetry, for “Blizzard of One”; and Melinda Wagner, in music, for “Concerto for Flute, Strings and Percussion.”
McPhee said he was particularly pleased to win for this book, a compendium of his work over the years on the geology of North America.
“The book weighs about three pounds,” he said, “and it’s on a subject that’s bifurcated my readers more than anything else I’ve written about. A lot of people are really interested and want me to keep writing about geology, but a lot write me and say--one man wrote me in capital letters to say--"PLEASE STOP WRITING ABOUT GEOLOGY.”
Duke Ellington Honored for Genius
The 20-person Pulitzer Prize Board also awarded a special posthumous citation to Duke Ellington, commemorating the centennial year of his birth, “in recognition of his musical genius, which evoked aesthetically the principles of democracy through the medium of jazz and thus made an indelible contribution to art and culture.”
Apart from the journalistic award for public service, which always goes to a newspaper rather than an individual, the Pulitzer board generally prefers to give its prizes to individuals. But this year, for the first time, seven of the 14 journalism awards went to the staffs of various papers; another Pulitzer, in editorial writing, went to the editorial board of the New York Daily News for its “effective campaign to rescue Harlem’s Apollo Theatre from the financial mismanagement that threatened the landmark’s survival.”
The Washington Post’s public service Pulitzer, the paper’s 32nd Pulitzer, involved five reporters in a nationwide investigation of officer-involved shootings. The investigation, triggered by questions from a researcher in the Post’s computer-assisted reporting unit, concluded that “our police department had many more fatal shootings than any other police department,” Leonard Downie Jr., executive editor of the Post, said Monday. After the Post published its findings, the police chief ordered new training on the use of firearms and on alternatives to deadly force for all 3,500 members of the D.C. police department.
Hartford Courant Also Honored
The staff of the Hartford Courant won the Pulitzer for breaking news for its “clear and detailed coverage of a shooting rampage in which a state lottery worker killed four supervisors and then himself.” Brian Toolan, editor of the Courant, said his paper deployed 31 reporters from throughout the state on the story.
“It was a full team effort,” he said, and word of the prize triggered “a half-hour of dancing around the newsroom” at the Courant, which is owned by Times Mirror Company, publisher of the Los Angeles Times.
Other team efforts that won included those by the Miami Herald, in investigative reporting, for its coverage of “pervasive voter fraud in a city mayoral election that was subsequently overturned”; the Wall Street Journal, in international reporting, for its “in-depth, analytical coverage of the Russian financial crisis”; the Associated Press, in both spot news photography (for its “portfolio of images after the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that illustrates both the horror and the humanity triggered by the event”) and in feature photography (for its “striking collection of photographs of the key players and events stemming from President Clinton’s affair with Monica S. Lewinsky and the ensuing impeachment hearings”); and the New York Times, in national reporting, “for a series of articles that disclosed the corporate sale of American technology to China, with U.S. government approval despite national security risks, prompting investigations and significant changes in policy.”
The national reporting prize was awarded to the staff of the Times, but the citation singled out Jeff Gerth, the lead reporter on the project.
The New York Times won its second Pulitzer of the day--and its 79th overall, far more than any other news organization--when Maureen Dowd was given the commentary award for her “fresh and insightful columns on the impact of President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky.”
When she learned of her award, Dowd said she wanted to paraphrase “Monica Lewinsky’s favorite poet, T.S. Eliot . . . April is the coolest month.” She said she was grateful to Clinton for not having told Lewinsky, “Young lady, pull down that jacket and get back to the typing pool.”
The Wall Street Journal’s second Pulitzer of the day (and 21st overall) was won by Angelo B. Henderson in feature writing for “his portrait of a druggist who is driven to violence by his encounters with armed robbery.” The Pulitzer board said this story illustrated “the lasting effects of crime.”
Asian Economic Crisis Coverage Honored
Richard Read of the Portland Oregonian won in explanatory reporting for “vividly illustrating the domestic impact of the Asian economic crisis by profiling the local industry that exports frozen French fries.”
Read followed one lot of potatoes from a processing plant in Oregon back to the growers and then on to Singapore, where it went to a McDonald’s. The potatoes were originally destined for Indonesia, so Read went there too--"and I got there in time to cover people there moving another lot of French fries through the riots in Jakarta.” The Oregnonian staff celebrated Monday with the traditional champagne--and 300 orders of French fries from the nearby McDonald’s
Other Pulitzer Prize winners in journalism were Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune, in criticism, for his “lucid coverage of city architecture, including an influential series supporting the development of Chicago’s lakefront area”; and David Horsey of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, in editorial cartooning.
The two reporters who shared the Los Angeles Times Pulitzer for their aggressive coverage of the entertainment industry followed dramatically different paths to their current jobs.
Michael Hiltzik, 46, has a master’s degree from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and has been a reporter for The Times since 1981, working in Orange County, Los Angeles, New York, Nairobi and Moscow. He has been in the business section, where he previously worked, since 1994.
Chuck Philips, also 46, worked as a silk-screener until his business folded in 1985, then returned to college and chose journalism only, he says, because he was told that was “the quickest way to get a degree.”
He also loved music, though, so when he graduated, he wrote a letter to Robert Hilburn, longtime pop music critic for The Times, and asked for a job.
“Hilburn wrote me back in two days and said he didn’t have a job for me, but he’d like me to come in and talk.” Philips was a freelance contributor to Calendar for five years before joining the business section as a fulltime reporter in 1995.
Philips and Hiltzik both praised their editor, Saylor, and his superiors at The Times for, in Hiltzik’s words, “encouraging us to go full-bore every step of the way, delving into organizations that have a lot of influence.” Saylor, Editor Michael Parks and Publisher Mark Willes praised Philips and Hiltzik for their hard work. Parks called their victory “a celebration of hard-nosed reporting.”
One set of their stories showed that widely trumpeted charities sponsored by the Grammys and controlled by chief executive C. Michael Greene actually spent only pennies of each dollar on their stated goal of helping infirm, disabled and unemployed musicians.
Their Sept. 27 “Sunday Report” on “hotel detoxes"--Westside luxury hotels used for drug “treatment"--disclosed that one reason powerful figures in the entertainment industry are unable to kick the drug habit is that they rely on untested therapies designed more to gratify their expensive tastes and desire for comfort than to subject them to the grueling regimen of legitimate treatment.
Philips’ and Hiltzik’s third project in their prize-winning entry exposed the reemergence of payola, illicit payments for radio airplay of new recordings. Payola was outlawed after a series of scandals in the 1960s, but they showed that it had returned under a new guise--radio conglomerates forcing performers to appear for free at promotional concerts in return for airplay.
Runners-Up Also Cited
In addition to announcing the winners, the Pulitzer office Monday announced two runners-up--finalists--in each category. Several newspapers that won Pulitzers also had finalists in other categories. The Washington Post had five runners-up--one each in beat reporting, feature writing, international reporting, criticism and editorial writing.
Lawrence C. Levy of Newsday on Long Island, another Times Mirror newspaper, was a finalist in editorial writing. Newsday’s music critic, Justin Davidson, was a finalist in criticism for his “fresh and vivid writing on classical music and its makers.” And Daniel A. Anderson of the Orange County Register was a finalist in feature photography.
Each Pulitzer, except the one for public service, carries with it a $5,000 cash award. The awards will be presented May 24 in New York.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning stories by staff writers Chuck Philips and Michael Hiltzik are available on The Times’ Web site: https://www.latimes.com/pulitzers