Washington Post Wins Another Phony Pulitzer
By Rogers Cadenhead
Tuesday, April 08, 2008 at 11:11 AM
Washington Post reporter Gene Weingarten, one of the funniest journalists I've ever read, won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing yesterday, honored for a piece in which world-class violinist Joshua Bell played incognito at a DC Metro station and drew little reaction among most of the philistine passers-by. It's an entertaining piece that's completely unworthy of the Prize because Weingarten engineered the stunt.
An excerpt from the piece:
No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. ...
In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run -- for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look.
As Weingarten described on the Post web site, he came up with the idea after seeing a talented keyboardist ignored in similar circumstances.
He was quite remarkably good, and no one seemed to be noticing him. He had maybe a buck or two in change in his open case.
I walked away kind of angry. I thought, "I bet Yo Yo Ma himself, if he were in disguise, couldn't get through to these deadheads." When I got to the office, I actually tried to reach Mr. Ma's agent.
Life intervened. Time went by, but this story idea always stayed with me. It was my friend Tim Page, The Post's brilliant classical music critic, who eventually suggested Joshua Bell.
Weingarten, who stumbled upon a decent feature story in that wrongly unappreciated keyboardist, made it a better one by recruiting a classical music virtuoso, picking a better location and staging hidden cameras and reporters to better capture reactions. Journalism, meet reality TV.
His story beat two others honored as finalists. Thomas Curwen of the Los Angeles Times wrote about two victims of a grizzly bear attack and Kevin Vaughan of the Rocky Mountain News wrote a 34-part series recalling a Greeley, Colo., school bus-train accident that killed 20 children in 1961.
Curwen did not recruit the bear. Vaughan wasn't born yet in 1961.
Twenty seven years ago, another reporter at the Post, Janet Cooke, won the same prize for a feature story about an eight-year-old heroin addict. Two days after winning she admitted the entire story was phony and there was no Jimmy.
Joshua Bell exists, but in its own way, Weingarten's Pulitzer-winning feature is just as fabricated as Cooke's.
FTA: His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities -- as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?
The piece itself admits to the pre-arrangedness of the scenario and does not attempt to pass it off as something that happened that a reporter simply happened upon and reported on. That, in Spud's mind, is the most important difference between this piece and the fake heroin addict piece of days gone by. Was it worthy of a Pulitzer? Meh, it was, to me own mind, a trite, elitist, self-congratulatory bit of a wank to be perfectly honest. What did he imagine was gonna happen? Does he understand that Classical music is not preferrred by all. If a world famous rapper began doing an imprompteau acappella tune in that very spot first thing in the morning would he make more or less money, gather a bigger or smaller audience, be applauded or booed and cursed? What about an opera singer? A Chinese Opera singer? A bangra expert? A Nepalese throat singer?
Slow year fer Pulitzers that's all Spud is saying.
You're relating Weingarten's piece to one of total plagiarism, and the nearest one you could find was 26-years ago? So what your complaining about was his lack of research in finding a "real story"?
Seems to me that you could have done some research, and found a similar bit of plagiarism than one almost 3-decades ago. Additionally if writing the results to an experiment is plagiarism, you may have a horde of angry scientists to explain to.
Now before you go off the deep end and state that I'm now comparing Weingarten's drivel to actual scientific research, let me offer a response. At least his piece placed a mirror up to society, and offered us a chance to draw our own conclusions; possibly causing some silly bastard like myself to slow down, and appreciate an environment I all too often ignore.
Seems to me we need more journalism like Weingarten's. To poorly paraphrase Thompson; good journalism isn't fair and balanced, it doesn't moderate, it points to the goddamn truth.