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Enquiring Minds Ask About the Tabloid's Snub

I'm going to fire off a follow-up to Tuesday's item in this place on the Pulitzer Prize, and more specifically, the fact that the black sheep The National Enquirer didn't collect one for its continued breaking coverage of John Edwards' extramarital romp in 2009.

Right up front I'll say that my contention is that no matter where a story like this comes from, it is no less a story. If the Enquirer, in fact, did not pay sources for the stories in its 2009 reporting as it claims, then it deserved careful consideration for the award.

I don't like the idea of paying sources for information, by the way, but I am still reasoning through that one, too. Is an accurate (emphasis on accurate) story no less a story because sources were paid to help report it?

Again, I think paying sources might be a slippery slope, but I am not as high-minded about that as I used to be. But I digress ...

It needs to be pointed out that the meatiest, and in fact, most important revelations of the ongoing Edwards story, were reported in the tabloid in 2007 and 2008. The Pulitzers were awarded this year for work done in 2009. So the Enquirer submitted two pieces done during that time.

The Los Angeles Times' James Rainey gets into this Wednesday in his very good piece on the Pulitzers and the Enquirer.

Rainey has been in touch with some of the award's jurors, one of of whom told him that, "the Enquirer's stories about Edwards did not even make the top 10."

Rainey then types:

"The tabloid had first revealed Edwards' relationship with his campaign videographer, Rielle Hunter, in the fall of 2007 and continued to push the story forward through 2008. The Pulitzers announced this week were for work in 2009."

In Rainey's opinion, and I concur, the more notorious stories surrounding the Edwards' flap were printed in 2007 and 2008. As Rainey says:

"The Enquirer had broken news during the contest period, but not blockbuster stuff: It revealed a federal grand jury had convened to consider whether the one-time North Carolina senator committed campaign finance violations. It also reported details of Hunter's support demands, which the paper said amounted to nearly $18,000 a month."

Finally, Rainey suggests (and he's not the first person in the industry I've heard this from) that there should be another category included in the Pulitzers for situations like the Enquirer's.

His suggestion is that it be called the "Muffin Choker" award.

"... the "Muffin Choker, Rainey typed, "could become a regular award, presented in the spirit of the editor who demanded reporters produce stories that would so stun readers they would choke on their breakfast (a phrase coined by former Boston Globe investigative editor Walter Robinson)."

One person who, not surprisingly, is having some trouble taking the tabloid's snub in a softer stride is Emily Miller.

Miller started a one-person crusade earlier last year to get the tabloid the recognition she believes it deserves. In fact The National Enquirer's Executive Editor Barry Levine credits Miller for even getting the tabloid on the Pulitzer's radar screen.

Says Levine in Rainey's column about Miller's involvement: "I had mostly thought we were the rebels who would never be taken seriously."

In a column in the Washington Times Wednesday, Miller didn't pull punches and types in her lead:

"When the 2010 Pulitzer Prizes were announced Monday, the outlet most deserving of the prestigious journalism award was glaringly absent from the list: The National Enquirer."

Again, I am not sure that what the tabloid reported in 2009 was as strong as what it turned around in 2007 and 2008, but will argue strenuously that when stitched together as a whole it would be hard to find a more important story in the past two or three years.

Miller is right when she says that the Enquirer's "dogged pursuit of the Edwards scandal closely scrutinized the conduct of a man who could easily have become president, vice president or attorney general."

I can't argue with that.

What if Edwards had become president and all of this came out after the fact? Or more likely, what if Edwards had been tabbed to be Barack Obama's running mate?

With the economy in the toilet, health-care reform looming, and two wars being fought, all the country would have needed was this type of blockbuster story to come out.

And a blockbuster it was, which is why I hope the Enquirer's stories were taken very seriously by the Pulitzer committee, and other stories like it will get the recognition they deserve in the future.

The same can be said for the mainstream media that ignored the story to its peril.

(Got a tip, a gripe, or some kudos? Send 'em along.)