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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Pulitzer awards eagerly awaited

Print journalism's ugly standards on display
The Oregonian expects at least one of three nominees to win

If Tom Hallman - The Oregonian's Pulitzer-prize winning reporter - didn't immediately see the line that he crossed by accepting bribes from Oregon's own nationally notorious union pension fraud criminal, that was nobody's fault but that of longtime publisher Fred Stickel. Hot-shot reporters in one-paper, news-monopoly cities have always danced on that line.

Hallman is the whitewasher who helped put a smiley face on the Andrew Wiederhorn story, leaving a lot of obvious places unexplored due to the abundance of union/mob connections. He is the paper's original Pulitzer-winner, suddenly disgraced on the eve of this year's award selections. The Oregonian has three nominations, thanks to over-representation on nominating committees.

It is hard to remember now what a powerful force Pulitzer prizes once were in the nation's newsrooms. Winners were named among of the 25 Most Influential People in America. They were inducted into the National Reporters Hall of Fame. You don't have to read very much in any American city before you can grasp the Pulitzers' importance. It goes far beyond hypocrisy, double standards, and the crude treatment of wealthy Republicans, conservative Democrats and manly-men.

Remember The New York Times award-winning reporter who, it turns out, made it all up? And the same with a reporter from The Washington Post? Both were pushing make-believe, bleeding-heart, union-planted stories and angles.

The Oregonians' defenders will cry that it's unfair to tar them with any of those outrageous journalistic stunts, which played out back east under the nose of its out-of-state owner, the Manhattan media magnate billionaire, Si Newhouse. Maybe it is, but it was his father Sam Newhouse and the other original one-paper monopolists who have so gleefully extracted hundreds of millions in profits from "unregulated tollbooths" in communities far from their own homes, unconcerned about what was acceptable, and what was not.

Over 50 years, Newhouse has shrewdly created a media empire of low humor and high-brow talk, usually with politicians looking for exposure, of any kind, and media celebrities who seemed to think it makes them look cool to talk trash with high-fashion celebs. Lately, his glitz-and glamor magazines like Vogue, Vanity Fair and GQ aren't as edgy, smart and popular with audiences and advertisers as they used to be. If they were, what difference would Pulitzer prizes make to him now?

We can only hope the Pulitzer award committee doesn't go too far and reward The Oregonian for its string of ethical lapses, circulation declines, and nauseating editorial stridency. American culture has changed, and Tom Hallman and The Oregonian couldn't resist reaching back in time, to a pre-internet era of under-the-table journalism. Hallman got away with journalistic 'murder' by accepting bribes from his subject, and escaped censure except for a couple of sensitivity sessions with Therese Bottomly.

Now that Hallman has been kicked off the company softball team, the Pulitzer award committee must realize that it's serious. However, Newhouse will be stunned if his profitable jewel of the west is denied at least one Pulitzer to crow over amidst its devastating troubles. He doesn't realize that people don't want to hear that kind of stuff anymore. But alert Oregonians know not to bet against Si Newhouse. So now it's our turn to be shocked. We'd better get used to it.

The Oregonian, Apr. 14, OPINION By THE EDITORS

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