Donald Trump has again demanded the Pulitzer prize board rescind the prize for national reporting awarded to the New York Times and Washington Post in 2018, for exposing Russian election interference and links between Trump and Moscow.
The award was shared by the two organisations for “deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage in the public interest” which judges said “dramatically furthered the nation’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election”.
Both organisations have stood by stories which unearthed detailed revelations about Russian election interference and the Trump administration’s efforts to interfere in investigations.
Alleging “false reporting of a non-existent link between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign” and calling the papers’ work “a politically motivated farce”, Trump, whose administration never managed to stop a stream of leaks, also complained about anonymous sourcing.
In spring 2019, after a near-two-year investigation, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, reported no prosecutable evidence of a conspiracy between Trump and Russia.
But Mueller did lay out extensive evidence of links between Trump aides and Kremlin-linked Russians and said he was not exonerating Trump of attempting to obstruct justice.
Trump’s second attorney general, William Barr, chose not to act, allowing Trump to claim exoneration. Mueller protested against Barr’s representation of his work.
Cases arising from Mueller’s work resulted in multiple indictments or guilty pleas, six Trump advisers among them.
Only one Pulitzer prize has ever been withdrawn: that given to Janet Cooke, a Post reporter who in 1981 fabricated a feature about an eight-year-old heroin addict. Cooke’s autobiographical report was also found to contain inaccuracies.
At the time, the executive editor of the Post, Ben Bradlee, said: “The credibility of a newspaper is its most precious asset, and it depends almost entirely on the integrity of its reporters.
“When that integrity is questioned and found wanting, the wounds are grievous, and there is nothing to do but come clean … and begin immediately on the uphill task of regaining our credibility. This we are doing.”
In 2003, the Pulitzer prize board at Columbia University decided for a second time not to withdraw a prize given to Walter Duranty, a Times columnist, in 1932. His subject: famine and repression in Stalin’s Russia.
Duranty “relied on official sources as his primary source of information”, the Times has said, “accounting for the most significant flaw in his coverage – his consistent underestimation of Stalin’s brutality”.
Last year, the Times withdrew the story and podcast Caliphate as a Pulitzer finalist, over problems with its reporting.
Trump’s new letter dwelt at length on an indictment handed down by John Durham, a justice department investigator who recently charged Michael Sussmann, a lawyer with links to Hillary Clinton, of lying to the FBI during investigations of a purported link between Trump and a Russian bank. Sussmann has pleaded not guilty.
Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI regarding links to Russia. Trump pardoned him last November.
Trump concluded his letter by saying Post and Times reporters should “voluntarily surrender this award” or be stripped of it. The Pulitzer prize board did not comment. Nor did the Times or the Post.
In 2019, responding to the same demand, the Times stood by its reporting while the Post did not comment.
The then Pulitzer prize administrator, Dana Canedy, said: “This criticism is fake marketing. We stand behind the Pulitzer selection process, which has endured for 103 years. And the winning work speaks for itself.”