A nationwide group of prominent journalists known as the Ed Kennedy Project is challenging another prominent group of journalists known as the Pulitzer Board to an open discussion on why its decision process for awarding special citations is shrouded in secrecy.
In question is the Pulitzer Board’s silence following the recent announcement of this year’s winners and finalists for excellence in journalism. The awards did not include a special citation for the late Ed Kennedy, the Associated Press bureau chief in Paris who – contesting and defeating political censorship – broke the story of the Nazi surrender that ended World War II. Kennedy was ultimately fired, his career and reputation ruined.
Supporters of Kennedy, who believe he was unjustly punished for what reporters are supposed to do, believe his vindication – with a Pulitzer Prize – is long overdue. This is especially true when the Associated Press last year apologized for its role in what led to his being banished by the military from further reporting from the European front.
At issue is the Pulitzer Board’s self-imposed policy of secrecy – a policy the Ed Kennedy followers argue runs counter to the precepts of a free press in this country – especially when that veil of confidentiality is imposed on one of the most dramatic and symbolic examples in the history of U.S. journalism.
When journalists ask questions, they expect answers. When answers are not forthcoming, they suspect.
In the case of the Ed Kennedy Project, they ask, What could be a greater example of excellence in journalism than Kennedy’s decision to justifiably defy political censorship and be the first to tell the world that the war against Nazi Germany had ended?
The Pulitzer Board’s answer to that question has been one of silence even though it was Kennedy alone who showed moral courage at a time when the military, led by Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, was a hero to everyone.
Ed Kennedy Project members, with a few dissenters, argue that the Kennedy case is an exception. Whereas all other Pulitzer Prizes are decided among competitors and deliberations may warrant confidentiality, special Pulitzer citations are not based on competition but apparently on the taste and whim of the Pulitzer Board.
In the last 50 years the Pulitzer Board, without explanation, has doled out 22 special citations, according to its website. Only five of those coveted awards went to journalists. Pulitzer administrators are fond of saying it’s rare for a special citation to be made, and in one respect they are accurate: It’s extremely rare for a special award from the very body representing the nation’s highest honor in journalism to go to an actual journalist.
So along comes a one-of-a-kind application from the Ed Kennedy Project seeking a special Pulitzer on behalf of the late Ed Kennedy, and the application is met with silence.
The Pulitzer Board’s policy of secrecy effectively stifles any open discussion of government censorship issues at the Pulitzer level, and casts a skeptical eye back to 1944 – when Kennedy was knocking heads with military censors as he covered the war from North Africa to the Nazi surrender in France – when it gave a special Pulitzer to the director of the U.S. Office of Censorship.
In the instance of Ed Kennedy, taking refuge behind a wall of secrecy is hardly an endorsement of the principles the Pulitzer Board professes to follow in the awards it gives under its revered name.