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Washington Post leads pack with 6 Pulitzers

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Times Staff Writer

The Washington Post dominated the 92nd Pulitzer Prizes for journalism Monday, winning six, including the prestigious public service award for its series exposing substandard conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The Post received honors for coverage of topics including private security contractors in Iraq, a violin virtuoso’s incongruous (and mostly overlooked) performance in a Washington subway station, and Vice President Dick Cheney’s sub rosa exercise of executive power.

The only newspaper to have won more of the awards in a single year was the New York Times, which in 2002 took home seven Pulitzers, most of them for coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and their aftermath.

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With the newspaper industry obsessing over lost revenue and readers’ shift to the Internet, Post journalists saw the newspaper’s multiple prizes as confirmation of the continuing value of dogged reporting and artful writing.

“Original reporting still matters,” Post staff writer and blogger Joel Achenbach wrote on the paper’s website Monday. “It’s probably our best gimmick. It’s what we do (imperfectly to be sure) better than anyone else in the news business. It also can’t be easily replaced on the cheap by some other information-delivery system.”

Among the other winners were the New York Times -- which took prizes for investigative reporting on foreign imports and for explanatory journalism about DNA -- and Investor’s Business Daily. The financial paper, based near Marina del Rey, took its first Pulitzer, for the editorial cartooning of Michael Ramirez.

The Post’s public service award came for its vivid accounts of the poor treatment suffered by wounded soldiers at what was supposed to be a premier medical facility. Reporters Dana Priest and Anne Hull and photographer Michel du Cille depicted a hospital littered with mouse droppings, broken-down furniture and an inattentive staff.

The stories provoked widespread outrage, leading Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to fire Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) recalled Monday how the Post’s stories “turned my stomach.” She said the Post’s reporting gave a lot of “oomph” to stalled legislation to improve treatment for active-duty military and veterans.

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“I worry that some papers are really chipping away at this kind of good, investigative journalism,” said McCaskill, a member of the Armed Services Committee, which reviewed the hospital’s shortcomings. “It keeps us honest. It keeps our democracy honest. And, in this case, it protected literally hundreds of good, patriotic Americans who obviously deserved a lot, lot better.”

The Post won the national reporting prize for its four-part series about how Cheney has wielded power and policy influence like no previous vice president.

Reporters Barton Gellman and Jo Becker spent a year and interviewed more than 200 people in their research on Cheney.

Gellman said Monday that the Cheney story was such a “tough nut to crack” that he had ducked it for some time and worried that months of reporting might lead to nothing.

A breakthrough came one day when three key interviews helped confirm how Cheney slipped a proposal for military commissions through the White House bureaucracy to Bush for his signature, with little review by others.

In a decidedly more whimsical vein, the Post’s Gene Weingarten won the feature writing award for his account of violinist Joshua Bell’s encounter with the masses commuting through the Metro station at L’Enfant Plaza.

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Weingarten asked: “In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?” It did not. Hundreds of commuters paid little heed to Bell’s soaring artistry.

The Post’s three other Pulitzers were: for breaking news reporting, for its “multifaceted coverage of the deadly shooting rampage at Virginia Tech,” told with numerous online updates; for foreign reporting, for Steve Fainaru’s accounts showing how private security contractors in Iraq operate outside most laws governing U.S. forces; and for commentary, for Steven Pearlstein’s “insightful columns that explore the nation’s complex economic ills with masterful clarity.”

The investigative reporting prize was shared by the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune for stories that led to substantial policy changes. The Times story exposed how medicine and other imports from China included toxic ingredients. The Tribune investigation showed poor government regulation of toys, car seats and cribs, and led to a recall of hazardous products.

The Boston Globe’s Mark Feeney won the criticism award for his review of a range of arts, from painting to film; the breaking news photography award went to Adrees Latif of Reuters for his picture of a Japanese videographer fatally wounded during a street demonstration in Myanmar.

In a year when most prizes went to big-name news institutions, there were a couple of exceptions. Preston Gannaway of the Concord (N.H.) Monitor won the feature photography prize for her chronicle of a family coping with the mother’s terminal illness. And David Umhoefer of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel won the local reporting award for stories about the padding of pensions for county employees.

The Los Angeles Times had finalists in two categories: feature writing, where reporter Thomas Curwen was recognized for his account of a grizzly bear attack and its two victims’ recovery; and breaking news photography, where The Times staff was cited for “its powerful and often unpredictable” pictures of last year’s Southern California wildfires.

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Ramirez, who won his second Pulitzer Prize, was dropped as the Los Angeles Times’ regular editorial cartoonist in 2005. Like many newspapers, The Times no longer employs a regular cartoonist.

Ramirez, 46, said Monday that he was “sad” to no longer be at The Times and that he hoped the ranks of editorial cartoonists would one day be replenished.

He added that he was proud to bring the first Pulitzer to Investor’s Business Daily, which he said was filled with “very smart people . . . and the best editorial page in the country.”

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james.rainey@latimes.com

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