By: Joe Strupp
Was it just a coincidence that five of The Washington Post’s six Pulitzer Prize winners had lunch together Monday, hours before official word of their victory was released?
“I’m not saying why,” reporter James Grimaldi said with a laugh hours later, after official word came out that he and colleagues Susan Schmidt and R. Jeffrey Smith took the prize for investigative reporting. “It was pure happenstance.”
Along with those three, staffer Dana Priest, who later won for beat reporting, and reporter David Finkel, who took the explanatory reporting prize, held their own Pulitzer luncheon at Tony and Joe’s, a waterfront seafood eatery in D.C.
“It was a nice, calm lunch,” is all Schmidt would say later, declining much comment on what advance word the reporters had gotten about their pending victories. “I can’t get into that, we had some inklings.” Added Finkel, “I got early word from a couple of different sources, but they asked me to keep it quiet.”
Donald Graham, chairman of The Washington Post and the paper’s only representative on the Pulitzer board, did not return calls seeking comment.
While leaks about the Pulitzer winners have not reached the level of the finalists revelations, which have become a regular occurrence and sparked an underground network of information, they appear to be more common than in the past. Although only the winners themselves usually receive the early word, the leaks still represented a breach of the Pulitzer secrecy rules.
“The proceedings are confidential,” Pulitzer Administrator Sig Gissler said Tuesday when asked about the leaking of winners by the 18-person Pulitzer Board. “We hope they remain that way.”
The Post is not the only place where early information was getting out. At The New York Times, which won three Pulitzers Monday, leaks were flowing early Monday that turned out to be completely accurate. Columnist Nicholas Kristof, who won the commentary award, said he was getting congratulated in the Times lunchroom when he went down at noon for a salad.
“Several people came up to me and congratulated me for winning,” Kristof said about the early accolades. “I really don’t want to say when I learned, but things do tend to get out earlier.” Thomas Friedman, Kristof’s fellow columnist and the Times’ lone Pulitzer board member, could not be reached for comment.
Kristof, who previously won an international reporting Pulitzer in 1990 during his time as Beijing correspondent, said he received advance word that year as well, in a 3 a.m. phone call from then-Executive Editor Max Frankel. “That was the only way we had a clue that we were entered,” he said (his wife, Sheryl Wu Dunn, shared the award). “People seem to know more now, that they were entered and they know they are a finalist thanks to Editor & Publisher.”
Mike Luckovich, editorial cartoonist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and winner of his second Pulitzer this week, said he was tipped off on Sunday. “I knew I was going to win, but I was still really nervous,” he said late Monday afternoon. “I didn’t drink any champagne until my name actually came up. I didn’t want to jinx it.”
At The Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss., which shared the prestigious Public Service Award with the Times-Picayune of New Orleans, Editor Stan Tiner gathered his staff together to watch as the winners were revealed online. He said he never got a direct leak, but heard several second-hand reports that they would win.
“There were a lot of hints, people who had two or three people removed from me saying that there would be two [public service winners],” Tiner said. “But I am one of those guys who, until the horse passes the finish line, I don’t declare a winner.”
– Dave Astor contributed to this report.