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The Times Wins Pulitzer for FDA Investigative Stories

TIMES STAFF WRITER

David Willman, a veteran reporter in the Washington bureau of the Los Angeles Times, won a Pulitzer Prize on Monday for his investigation into Food and Drug Administration approval of seven drugs that are suspected of causing the deaths of more than 1,000 patients.

Willman’s two-year examination of the FDA--highlighted by a 12,000-word package of stories published on Dec. 20--disclosed that the agency had approved the drugs “while disregarding danger signs or blunt warnings from its own specialists” and had then been “slow to seek withdrawals” of the drugs, even after having received “reports of significant harm to patients.”

In awarding the investigative reporting prize to Willman, the Pulitzer Prize Board called Willman’s work a “pioneering expose” and cited his “analysis of the policy reforms that had reduced the agency’s effectiveness.”

Willman’s Pulitzer, which carries with it a $7,500 cash award, was the 25th won by The Times since the prizes were inaugurated in 1917 by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York.

Four other newspapers won two Pulitzers each Monday--the Oregonian of Portland, in public service and feature writing; the New York Times, in beat reporting and national reporting; the Chicago Tribune, in explanatory reporting and international reporting; and the Wall Street Journal, in commentary and international reporting, a category in which the Pulitzer Board gave two prizes this year.

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Most of Monday’s prizes went to news organizations that have won many Pulitzers in the past, such as the New York Times, which with 81 has far more than any other paper. But the Pulitzer for meritorious public service, which earns the winner a special gold medal, is generally regarded as the most prestigious of the awards, and by winning both it and the feature writing prize, the Oregonian is the big winner this year.

In announcing the public service winner, the Pulitzer Board praised the Oregonian for its “detailed and unflinching examination of systematic problems within the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, including harsh treatment of foreign nationals and other widespread abuses, which prompted various reforms.”

Some Asians in Portland have dubbed the city “Deportland” because of the treatment many encountered when arriving there.

Four reporters worked on the INS project and they produced more than two dozen stories, several of which contributed to what Sandra Mims Rowe, editor of the Oregonian, called the “forced early retirement” of the regional INS director.

Rowe said the paper filed 31 Freedom of Information Act requests with the federal government to complete just one aspect of the series--"acquiring a list of secret prisons in which the INS holds people, sometimes for months, if their documents aren’t in order.”

Tom Hallman Jr., the Oregonian’s other Pulitzer winner Monday, won for his “poignant profile of a disfigured 14-year-old boy who elects to have life-threatening surgery in an effort to improve his appearance.”

Hallman spent considerable time with the boy, Sam Lightner, and his doctors and was in the operating room when surgery was performed in July to remove the “vascular anomaly” buried beneath the L-shaped bone in his face. In the four-part series “The Boy Behind the Mask,” Hallman says he “tried to give the reader a look into a world that was foreign to them but that touched on universal themes that resonate with all of us--love, bravery and perseverance.”

On the day the last article in the series was published, Sam fell into a coma. He has since awakened, and further surgery is expected.

Hallman had been a Pulitzer finalist twice in the previous four years, but Gail Caldwell of the Boston Globe, who won the criticism prize for her “insightful observations on contemporary life and literature,” had been a nonwinning finalist three times--in 1993, 1996 and 1999.

“I’m somewhere between elated and insane,” she said Monday. “I was holding a bottle of seltzer when I got the news and I opened it and it exploded in my face just as everyone started cheering.”

Except for the public service prize, the Pulitzer board has historically preferred giving awards to individuals, rather than to large, unnamed groups of reporters, editors, photographers and artists. But this year, the board honored several team efforts, among them the staffs of the New York Times, Miami Herald and Chicago Tribune.

The Herald staff won in breaking news reporting for its “balanced and gripping on-the-scene coverage of the predawn raid by federal agents that took Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez from his Miami relatives and reunited him with his Cuban father.”

Martin Baron, editor of the Herald, said 42 reporters and at least that many photographers, editors and artists worked to produce the 33 separate stories the paper published in its first edition after the raid. “This was a tough, tense story, emotionally charged in Miami,” he said.

The Gonzalez incident also led to a Pulitzer in spot news photography for Alan Diaz of Associated Press for his dramatic photo of armed federal agents seizing the Cuban youngster from the home of his Miami relatives.

The New York Times staff won in national reporting for its “compelling and memorable series exploring racial experiences and attitudes across contemporary America.”

The 13-part series, to be published in book form later this month, examined among other situations and institutions an integrated church in Atlanta, race relations in the military and a pork processing plant in North Carolina.

“We wanted to go into the silence, to talk about race in ways that people are usually unwilling to talk about it across racial lines,” said Gerald Boyd, a deputy managing editor who helped supervise the project. “We wanted to examine why those conversations don’t happen and what the impact is of the inability to have those kinds of conversations.”

David Cay Johnston won the New York Times’ second Pulitzer, in beat reporting, for his “penetrating and enterprising reporting that exposed loopholes and inequities in the U.S. tax code, which was instrumental in bringing about reforms.”

The staff of the Chicago Tribune won in explanatory reporting for its “clear and compelling profile of the chaotic American air traffic system.”

The Tribune also shared the Pulitzer for international reporting. Paul Salopek, who won in explanatory reporting in 1998, won this time for his coverage of “the political strife and disease epidemics ravaging Africa, witnessed firsthand,” the Pulitzer board noted, “as he traveled, sometimes by canoe, through rebel-controlled regions of the Congo.”

Ian Johnson of the Wall Street Journal was the other winner in international reporting, honored for his “revealing stories about victims of the Chinese government’s often brutal suppression of the Falun Gong movement and the implications of that campaign for the future.” Dorothy Rabinowitz won the Journal’s second Pulitzer, in commentary, for her articles on American society and culture. She had previously been a nonwinning finalist three times--in 1995, ’96 and ’98.

Other Pulitzer winners included:

* David Moats of the Rutland (Vt.) Herald, in editorial writing, for his “even-handed and influential series of editorials commenting on the divisive issues arising from civil unions for same-sex couples.”

* Ann Telnaes of the Los Angeles Times Syndicate in editorial cartooning. Telnaes entered her own work in the competition, according to Tribune Media Services, which took over the Times syndicate when Tribune Publishing Co. acquired Times Mirror last year. Self-entries are not unusual in the Pulitzers, but Pulitzer officials said this was the first winning self-entry they could remember since 1990 and one of the relatively few in Pulitzer history.

* Matt Rainey of the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger in feature photography, for his “emotional photographs that illustrate the care and recovery of two students critically burned in a dormitory fire at Seton Hall University” that killed three students and injured 58.

The Los Angeles Times had six finalists, more than any other paper, but Willman was the paper’s only winner. He spoke of how he started working on his prize-winning series in 1997, using the diabetes drug Rezulin as “a potential window into a process that was obviously being overhauled at warp speed.”

Willman, 44, said his excitement over winning was tempered “in a very sobering way by the fact that I’ve gotten to know quite a few families who have lost loved ones to [Rezulin] and can’t be brought back by this.”

After Willman’s stories prompted the withdrawal of Rezulin from the market in March of last year, he focused on other drugs. He wrote about how, in the aftermath of demands for quicker approval of AIDS drugs, “Congress told the FDA to work closely with pharmaceutical firms in getting new medicines to market more swiftly.”

As Willman wrote, “The FDA achieved its new goals, but now the human cost is becoming clear.” The seven drugs whose histories he examined were “cited as suspects in 1,002 deaths,” he wrote, and, “Because the deaths are reported by doctors, hospitals and others on a voluntary basis, the true number of fatalities could be far higher, according to epidemiologists.”

John S. Carroll, editor of The Times, praised Willman’s “tenacious, meticulous work . . . on a subject that’s very important to everyone.” He also praised by name 16 editors, photographers and artists who worked on the project with Willman and said that was “only a partial list of all those who helped.”

David Willman’s investigative series on the FDA is on The Times’ Web site at https://www.latimes.com/fda.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Winners and Finalists

Journalism

*

Public Service: The Oregonian of Portland for its examination of problems within the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Finalists: Associated Press for its coverage of the 2000 presidential election; the Washington Post for its series on AIDS in Africa.

*

Breaking News Reporting: The Miami Herald staff for coverage of the Elian Gonzalez raid.

Finalists: The Los Angeles Times staff for its coverage of the crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261; and the staff of the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., for its coverage of a deadly fire at Seton Hall University.

*

Investigative Reporting: David Willman of the Los Angeles Times for his expose of seven unsafe prescription drugs that had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and an analysis of the policy reforms that had reduced the agency’s effectiveness.

Finalists: Mike McIntire and Jack Dolan of the Hartford (Conn.) Courant on the secrecy surrounding doctors who have been subjected to disciplinary actions; and Fredric N. Tulsky of the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News for his reporting on the political asylum system.

*

Explanatory Reporting: The Chicago Tribune staff for a profile of the air traffic system.

Finalists: Louise Kiernan of the Chicago Tribune for her portrait of a mother killed by a falling skyscraper window; the New York Times staff for coverage of the human genome.

*

Beat Reporting: David Cay Johnston of the New York Times for his reporting on the U.S. tax code.

Finalists: Virginia Ellis of the Los Angeles Times for her reporting that exposed financial improprieties by a state insurance commissioner, who later resigned; Rebecca Smith of the Wall Street Journal for her reporting on the electricity shortage in the United States.

*

National Reporting: The New York Times staff for its series exploring racial experiences and attitudes in the U.S.

Finalists: Frank Fitzpatrick and Gilbert M. Gaul of the Philadelphia Inquirer for a series on college sports; and the Chicago Tribune staff for a review of death penalty cases.

*

International Reporting: Ian Johnson of the Wall Street Journal for his stories on victims of China’s suppression of the Falun Gong movement; and Paul Salopek of the Chicago Tribune for his reporting on Africa.

Finalist: Maura Reynolds of the Los Angeles Times for her reporting of the aftermath of the war in Chechnya.

*

Feature Writing: Tom Hallman Jr. of the Oregonian of Portland, for his profile of a disfigured boy.

Finalists: Robin Gaby Fisher of the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., for her stories chronicling the care and recovery of two students burned at Seton Hall; Richard E. Meyer of the Los Angeles Times for his portrait of a Tennessee family whose son shot three people at his high school.

*

Commentary: Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal for her articles on American society and culture.

Finalists: Karen Heller of the Philadelphia Inquirer for her humorous columns on modern life; Derrick Z. Jackson of the Boston Globe for columns on such subjects as politics, education and race; Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer for her columns on the Middle East.

*

Criticism: Gail Caldwell of the Boston Globe for observations on life and literature.

Finalists: Christopher Knight of the Los Angeles Times for his art criticism; and Jerry Saltz of the Village Voice for his views on contemporary art.

*

Editorial Writing: David Moats of the Rutland (Vt.) Herald for editorials on civil unions for same-sex couples.

Finalists: Laurie Roberts of the Arizona Republic for her series urging reform in the drawing of legislative and congressional districts; Tina Rosenberg of the New York Times for her editorials on international and human rights issues.

*

Editorial Cartooning: Ann Telnaes of the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

Finalists: Clay Bennett of the Christian Science Monitor; and Ben Sargent of the Austin American-Statesman.

*

Breaking News Photography: Alan Diaz of Associated Press for his photograph of agents seizing Elian Gonzalez.

*

Feature photography: Matt Rainey of the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., for photos on the recovery of two students burned in the Seton Hall fire.

Finalists: David Guttenfelder of Associated Press for photos of reunions between North and South Korean relatives; and Marc Piscotty of the Denver Rocky Mountain News for images of high-school students facing adulthood.

*

The Arts

*

Fiction: “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” by Michael Chabon.

Finalists: “Blonde” by Joyce Carol Oates; and “The Quick and the Dead” by Joy Williams.

*

Drama: “Proof” by David Auburn.

Finalists: “The Play About the Baby” by Edward Albee; and “The Waverly Gallery” by Kenneth Lonergan.

*

History: “Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation” by Joseph J. Ellis.

Finalists: “Way Out There in the Blue” by Frances FitzGerald; and “The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States” by Alexander Keyssar.

*

Biography: “W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963" by David Levering Lewis.

Finalists: “The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin” by H.W. Brands; and “Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician” by Christoph Wolff.

*

Poetry: “Different Hours” by Stephen Dunn.

Finalists: “Pursuit of a Wound” by Sydney Lea; and “The Other Lover” by Bruce Smith.

*

General Non-Fiction: “Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan” by Herbert P. Bix.

Finalists: “Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing” by Ted Conover; and “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” by Dave Eggers.

*

Music: “Symphony No. 2 for String Orchestra” by John Corigliano.

Finalists: “Tituli” by Stephen Hartke; and “Time After Time” by Fred Lerdahl.

*

Source: The Associated Press


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