By: Peggy Andersen, Associated Press Writer
(AP) A much-lauded series on a cancer center by The Seattle Times that drew unusual criticism from a Wall Street Journal editor was passed over Monday for a Pulitzer Prize.
“On the merits, in competition with the other entries, The Seattle Times simply lost out,” said Seymour Topping, administrator of the prizes and a Pulitzer board member. He declined to address the controversy involving the two newspapers, but said complaints from both the Journal and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center did not cost the Times the prize.
The members “took account of these complaints but nevertheless nominated The Seattle Times,” Topping said.
The investigative reporting award was given to The Washington Post for an entry that originally was nominated in the public service category but was moved to investigative by the board, Topping said.
The Times‘ executive editor, Mike Fancher, congratulated the Post on its win, but also noted that his newspaper’s series was “recognized as one of the best works of investigative journalism in the country last year.”
The series on the Hutchinson center raised questions about patients’ rights and possible conflicts of interest in cancer research. It won a number of honors, including the George Polk award for medical reporting, the Associated Press Managing Editors public service award, first place in investigative reporting by the National Headliner Awards, and the Heywood Broun Award.
In an unusual move by a potential Pulitzer competitor, the Journal on March 19 published a critique of the series by assistant managing editor Laura Landro, who survived leukemia after a 1992 bone-marrow transplant at the Hutchinson center.
Landro’s column labeled the series “fundamentally false” and called it “a textbook case on how the media can convey biased and misleading information about biomedical research. It left out crucial facts, distorted others, and ignored everything that didn’t fit its sensational thesis.”
Fancher said Landro failed “to offer a single factual inaccuracy.”
Times’ spokeswoman Kerry Coughlin declined to comment on any possible role the Journal’s piece might have played in the Pulitzer board’s deliberations.
Landro was traveling Monday and did not immediately return a call to her New York office.
The five-part series alleged that cancer patients died prematurely in two clinical trials at the Hutchinson center in the 1980s. Unbeknownst to the patients, the center and some of its doctors reportedly had a potential financial interest in those experiments.
Doctors never told patients that the trials in which they were involved were failing at an alarmingly high rate, or that conventional treatment would give them a good chance of survival or at least a longer life, the Times reported.