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The Boston Globe's Pulitzer

By Diogenes (articles ) | Apr 08, 2003

By February of last year, close observers were confident that office wall-space was being cleared at the Boston Globe for the inevitable Pulitzer. The only surprise in yesterday's announcement was that Donna Morrissey did not pocket an award for Best Supporting Actress. Some personal reactions to the prize:

*No one doubts that the Globe's editors are as gleeful at the (literal) mortification of the Catholic Church as they are delighted by their Pulitzer. That said, what they find repellent about the Church is her unchangeable teaching -- especially her moral teaching, and her sexual moral teaching in particular. In this, does the Globe differ greatly from the USCCB's Office of Communications? From Commonweal and America magazines?

*A necessary, though not sufficient, cause of the Pulitzer was Judge Sweeney's decision that the Archdiocese of Boston make public its records. Had she decided otherwise there would be no story, no prize, and no apostolic administrator.

*One unsatisfactory aspect of the Globe's Pulitzer is that it obscures excellent reporting on the crisis by the other Boston daily, the Herald. Journalists Eric Convey, Tom Mashberg, Maggie Mulvihill, and Robin Washington stand out in particular. Very often the same stories fuzzily written by the Globe were eminently lucid and intelligible in the Herald's telling. It should also be remembered that Kristen Lombardi of the Boston Phoenix was onto the Geoghan scandal a good ten months before the Globe's blitz in January 2002.

*The Globe should be faulted for kid-glove handling of dissenting Catholics who posed as advocates for victims but whose "crusade for reform" was politically motivated and aimed at weakening the teaching Church. Simple objectivity requires that equal skepticism and scrutiny be directed at the motives and maneuvers of all contending parties to the dispute. When the same priest that leads a campaign to sack his bishop goes public in support of gay marriage, one expects an intrepid, Pulitzer-laureate reporter to ask a couple obvious follow-up questions. Nada.

*A cardinal's red hat hanging in its trophy room was an obvious (and admitted) prize for the Globe, yet they have been strangely incurious of less sensational but equally serious aspects of the crisis. In March 2002 they reported the Jesuits' contention that accused abuser Fr. James Talbot's transfer from a high school in Boston to one in Maine was "routine," despite plausible claims that Talbot's reputation was known to officials before his move. Where's the clear-eyed, dogged, intrepid, Pulitzer-quality investigation, etc.?

*The Globe is to be commended for posting extensive (though selective) documentation on its website.

It has been noticed that winning a Nobel prize usually spells the end of the winner's creativity. It will be instructive to see whether the Pulitzer has the same effect on the Globe, such that it rests on its reportorial laurels. More interesting yet will be the forthcoming books that describe the investigation from the inside, that tell us about the stories we never saw, who spiked them, and under what pressures. The problem, of course, is that there's no Pulitzer at the end of that road.

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