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Rob Edelman: Journalism 101

Recently, a pair of comments made by Paul LePage, the governor of Maine, was much-quoted in the media. They spotlighted his disdain for journalism and journalists. LePage’s opening salvo was: “I just love to sit in my office and make up ways so they’ll write these stupid stories because they are just so stupid...” In a follow-up comment, LePage noted: “The sooner the print press goes away, the better society will be.”

Well, one might suggest that LePage take a long hard look at and ponder the content of THE PULITZER AT 100, an enlightening new documentary which has just been released theatrically. Now of course, Pulitzer prizes are not just handed out to journalists. Winners include novelists, poets, playwrights, biographers, musicians, photographers... and THE PULITZER AT 100 is crammed with insightful comments from a range of prizewinners in a variety of categories. One of the many illuminating observations is made by Robert Caro, a two-time winner for biography. “...what the Pulitzer is supposed to encourage and inculcate are some very noble aims,” Caro observes. And they are “the highest aims in writing and journalism.”

Additionally, in THE PULITZER AT 100, director Kirk Simon offers a rainbow of facts relating to the honor. He touches on a range of subjects, from the history of the prize and the sheer honor of winning one to the reactions of individuals upon learning that they have been chosen and the impact the prize has on their careers. He charts the manner in which the prizewinners are selected to the feelings of journalists as they report on the difficult, controversial events of their times. Mixed in is a mini-biography of Joseph Pulitzer, the Hungarian immigrant and newspaper publisher who initiated the prize and also founded the School of Journalism at Columbia University. Plus, a host of high-end talent recites selections from prizewinning writing. The first is John Lithgow, who poignantly reads an excerpt of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” which earned the Pulitzer for poetry in 1924.

However, given the present-day trashing of the media by a certain segment of the power-elite and the coining of what has come to be known as “fake news” and “alternative truth,” what primarily interested me are the journalists who earned the Pulitzer, and the stories they covered. Plus, it cannot be overstated that the honorees are not just reporters from the Washington Post and New York Times. Publications from the Arkansas Gazette to the New Orleans Times-Picayune also have earned Pulitzers. 

And in relation to the role of journalism in a free society, the bottom line in THE PULITZER AT 100 is the importance of the free press and the fact that, at its core, investigative journalists hold individuals accountable for their actions. For after all, in the film, news reportage is correctly described as “the first rough drafts of history.” To again quote Robert Caro, journalism may be directly connected to getting at the truth. “The only remedy for injustice,” he observes, “is to expose it...”

Rob Edelman has authored or edited several dozen books on film, television, and baseball. He has taught film history courses at several universities and his writing has appeared in many newspapers, magazines, and journals. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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