Author’s note: On May 24th, the start of the Memorial Day weekend, I sent the protest reproduced below to the Pulitzer Prize Committee. If Boycott NYT readers also find this award outrageous, the Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism is Nicholas Lemann (firstname.lastname@example.org). The address: Columbia School of Journalism, 2950 Broadway, NY, NY 10027.
My journalistic colleagues (and there really are some good ones though most are even older than me!) characterize the Pulitzer Committee as “stubborn as mules and dumber than rocks.” The reason: the committee never acknowledges a mistake or rescinds an award, no matter how egregious their failure later turns out to have been. So our protests may be in vain: but doesn’t D-Day seem like a reasonable time to make our voices heard?
I formally protest the Pulitzer Prize for 2009 awarded to the New York Times (NYT) for its April 20, 2008 story, “Behind Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand.” That protest is based on precisely the same reasons presented in my statement to the Federal Communications Commission, one of three separate Federal investigations resulting from this article.
Among other things, I informed the FCC that the NYT article was badly slanted, probably defamatory but especially dubious as the basis for any governmental action — let alone three of them. Also included with my FCC statement are three syndicated articles I wrote in 2008. The July 11, 2008 column pointed out that the NYT piece had been a one-day sensation which no other major media organization followed up. I also quoted liberal activist Arianna Huffington, “If the NYT is going to imply that people carried water for the Pentagon, they damn well better prove it. In my evaluation they did not…”
While both the NYT and the Pulitzer Committee are entitled to their own opinions as to whether this story was biased, it is inexplicable that you could have ignored a critical fact which appeared in several of the enclosed columns — all of which were published nationally. By his own verbal admission, the author of the NYT article requested my help during roughly five hours of detailed telephonic conversations — and for two reasons. I was not only one of those military analysts but I had also written a book, WARHEADS: Cable News and the Fog of War (Annapolis, U.S. Naval Inst. Press, 2006) published almost two years before the NYT article appeared. Because it was drawn from my decade of experience as an NBC News “talking head,” WARHEADS provided context and personal insights conspicuously absent from the NYT article. But when that 7,800-word article was published, it deliberately concealed any mention of WARHEADS, never once mentioning that the book even existed, let alone pre-dated the alleged Times‘ expose. In short: the NYT “scoop” was not a scoop at all but instead concealed material facts that might have led readers to radically different conclusions.
Even worse: these deliberate omissions by both author and publisher raise the most profound ethical questions — just as they would in any undergraduate college with an Honor Code worthy of that name. Those issues become especially challenging when they involve an organization like the New York Times, where even more egregious shortcomings have not been unknown. To repeat my FCC statement: I will leave it to others to judge if the conduct of the NYT in this incident is simple plagiarism or just an appalling professional lapse.
But what is beyond any possible controversy is that your Committee failed its most basic professional responsibility: to ensure that the Pulitzer Prize was awarded to a recipient who epitomized the highest standards of journalistic integrity. You either knew or — by conducting a simple Google search — should have known about that criticism and the more serious questions surrounding this NYT article. At no point, however, did you make any attempt to contact me or my colleagues to resolve those issues — or even to verify them. Thanks to you, the familiar oxymoron of “military intelligence” has now been retired, replaced by “objective journalist” (although “liberal intellectual” cannot be far behind). Because the integrity of the Pulitzer Prize Committee has been so decisively compromised, I suggest that Columbia empanel an outside body to assess institutional culpability — and likely counter-measures.
Finally, you cannot be held responsible for the procedural excesses and gratuitous insults of roughly 40 congress-persons who have relied upon the NYT article to advance a clearly partisan agenda. But I find it shocking that you never even raised the slightest question before awarding the Pulitzer for an article that degraded 70 distinguished military officers who deserve honor and gratitude rather than calumny. As the least of my brethren, it is inconceivable to me that anyone would seek to demean a man like General Barry McCaffrey (NBC), one of the great heroes of the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars; or the late General Wayne Downing, (NBC) the father of America’s Green berets, an unsung hero of America’s secret wars and our informal spiritual leader; or Major General Don Shepperd, (CNN) whose unlikely survival over the Ho Chi Minh trail proves only that God protects fighter pilots crazy enough to fly into triple-canopy jungles rather than over them.
Because battlefield outcomes are in far greater hands, the soldier’s responsibility is simply to fight. I will therefore not stop fighting until the New York Times and its author acknowledge their distortions and dishonesty; until the congressional excesses outlined above are reversed; and until the Pulitzer Committee rescinds its 2009 award with appropriate apologies. My friend and NBC colleague Jack Jacobs concluded one of our appearances by reminding the audience of some famous words that are appropriate here as well: If not me, then who? And if not now, then when?
C. Kenneth Allard
Colonel, U.S. Army (Ret.)
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Colonel (Ret.) Ken Allard is an executive-in-residence at UTSA and the author of Warheads: Cable News and the Fog of War. Email him at Warheads6@aol.com. Earlier versions of this column appeared at FamilySecurityMatters.org and in the San Antonio Express-News.
Guest columns do not necessarily reflect the views of Accuracy in Media or its staff.