Pulitzer Label Problem? Journalists Will Fix that For You. Pt I

Not long after the release of Ross Gelbspan’s 1997 “The Heat is On” book, words in its book jacket sleeve about him being a ‘Pulitzer-winning journalist exposing industry efforts to confuse the public about global warming’ drew a response from skeptic climate scientist Dr S. Fred Singer, who categorically denied any quid pro quo arrangement with ‘big coal & oil’, while also directly saying Gelbspan was not a Pulitzer winner. In my June 19, 2013 blog post, I noted Gelbspan’s subsequent odd reliance on wording about being a “co-recipient“, particularly when the Pulitzer label problem resurfaced later in 2004.  But let’s have a look at a 1997 journalist’s effort to prop up Gelbspan’s Pulitzer label.

I had originally planned to write a blog post about the irony of the Society of Environmental Journalists’ (SEJ) labeling him in 2004 as a Pulitzer winner when one of its founders was walking that label back dancing around the label* at the same time. Journalists are in awe of peers receiving a Pulitzer, thus Gelbspan presents an acute problem, particularly for environmental journalists. Remember, these SEJ guys have no other source than Gelbspan for the accusation that skeptic climate scientists are paid industry money to lie about global warming. But, this will have to wait for a Pt II blog post installment [* 3/12/14 author’s note: Pt II will also explain the above line-out & correction.]

Among all the references I’ve copied on the smear of skeptic climate scientists, I had just the briefest note on the 1997 effort to prop up Gelbspan / tear down Dr Singer and his SEPP organization, but I hadn’t found the original news alert about it until just a couple of days ago when I was digging into the SEJ problem. The article is dated August 22, 1997, “This Just In: Media Industry cheerleaders turn up the Pulitzer heat”. First, we have this problem (bold emphasis mine)

SEPP is trying to discredit Gelbspan, whose bio describes him as “a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.” It issued a press release pointing out that the Globe’s 1984 Pulitzer citation, for a series on race relations in the city that Gelbspan supervised as special-projects editor, does not specifically mention Gelbspan’s name.

“Only individuals specifically named in an award citation by the Pulitzer Prize Board are recognized by this office as Pulitzer Prize winners,” Pulitzer administrator Seymour Topping wrote recently in response to a letter from SEPP. The group, in turn, issued a press release referring to Topping’s letter as “a definitive ruling in the controversy surrounding … Gelbspan.”

Yet Topping, in an interview with the Phoenix, criticized SEPP’s statement as “a distortion of my letter. My letter made no reference in any way to this individual.

Topping’s lack of a direct reference Gelbspan is irrelevant. When a basic question is asked whether individuals associated with a news story which won a Pulitzer for seven journalists are also entitled to the “Pulitzer winner” label, the answer is still no despite whatever additional names might or might not be asked about. What Kennedy did not bother to tell his readers is what Topping said beyond his article’s quote:  “Where an award is made to the staff of a newspaper without designation of individuals, the editors may informally name those who collaborated to bring about the award. But this office would not consider any one of these latter individuals as entitled to designate self as a Pulitzer Prize winner since the designation would only apply to the newspaper.”

I have a copy of Topping’s letter to SEPP organization, that’s all he said. When Kennedy claims SEPP distorted what Topping said, we are left wondering what possible distortion can be gleaned from the letter. When Gelbspan is not named by the Pulitzer organization as a Pulitzer winner, he cannot call himself one in any fashion, and problems arise for him anytime he knowingly allows that label to stand without making an effort to correct it.

And that is where Kennedy’s and Gelbspan’s second problem is seen, in the last line of Kennedy’s piece,

“[SEPP is] playing Dungeons and Dragons with my résumé,” says Gelbspan, who adds that he’ll revise his bio for the next edition of The Heat Is On. “I’m happy to identify myself as a person who conceived and edited a series that won the Pulitzer Prize.”

The next edition of his book was his 1998 paperback. Paperbacks don’t have book jackets where ‘bios’ appear. There is not one word of any kind about “Pulitzer” on his paperback’s front cover, back cover, or anywhere inside it.

According to a December 1997 Media Research Center piece (incorrectly dated 12-1), mere months after being happy to mention just a connection with a Pulitzer-winning news report series, Gelbspan was introduced to a nationwide ABC News Nightline December 9, 1997 TV audience as “Ross Gelbspan, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author

Accolades of him as such are plentiful, including the re-eruption of this problem regarding what is clearly seen on his 2004 Boiling Point book jacket’s cover. This also includes an amateur interview as recent as December 2012 (starting at the 19 second spot here):

Gelbspan: …I sorta lucked out because I conjured [??] a project about, I don’t know, in the mid ’80s that won a Pulitzer Prize, so they always [inaudible]
SciPope: Put it on your resumé and it’s all .. have all the meetings you want.
Gelbspan: Yeah, it also felt like it really made a difference to Boston [inaudible], so that felt good…

For that particular interviewer, the thing for Gelbspan to put on his resumé was not a line about an association with an award-winning project. It’s one saying outright he was a Pulitzer winner, because that is exactly what the interviewer interpreted it to mean when he wrote his blog post account of the interview.

This Pulitzer label problem was a credibility destroyer for Gelbspan from the start, but Dan Kennedy’s 1997 article was just a reactive effort. Pt II will detail a much more questionable proactive effort by one of the founders of the Society of Environmental Journalists.