Pulitzer food fight between ABC News and Center for Public Integrity

The Center for Public Integrity won a Pulitzer Prize for a year long investigation into the denial of black lung benefits to coal miners. But ABC News, who apparently worked in partnership with CPI on the story, is livid that CPI didn't include them in the citation for the Pulitzer, thus garnering all the laurels for themselves.

The fued has gotten nasty with both sides tossing around the word "liar" to describe the other's characterization of how the story was reported. In truth, ABC couldn't have been cited for the award themselves because Pulitzer Prizes are awarded only to the print media. But there is apparently precedent  to mention broadcast media partners in the citation.

It's a mess.


At issue is the network's contribution to a yearlong investigation, led by CPI's Chris Hamby, into how doctors, lawyers and members of the coal industry worked together to deny black lung medical benefits to miners. Johns Hopkins Medicine suspended its black lung program in the wake of the report.

In an email to POLITICO, ABC News SVP Jeffrey Schneider said CPI "showed a stunning lack of integrity and misled the Pulitzer board with its submission, which diminished our work to the point of non-existence."

"If the Pulitzers rule won't recognize our reporters work that's one thing. But as partners, we expected CPI to make a strong case for our collaboration over the past year," he said. "Instead, CPI falsely claimed that we had nothing to do with this work. It is untrue and extremely disappointing."

CPI and ABC News have shared recognition for the black lung benefits story in the past. In March, the Harvard Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting was awarded to Chris Hamby, Ronnie Greene, Jim Morris and Chris Zubak-Skees of The Center for Public Integrity and Matthew Mosk, Brian Ross and Rhonda Schwartz of ABC News. Next month, the White House Correspondents' Association will honor "The Center for Public Integrity, in partnership with ABC News." On Wednesday, they received an award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Television news organizations are excluded from the Pulitzer Prizes, which honor newspaper and digital reporting. In his email, Sherwood wrote, "There is precedent to include the broadcast partner reporters in Pulitzer submissions." That may be an imperfect example: Lowell Bergman, of PBS's "Frontline," won the award for his work for The New York Times.

Nevertheless, Buzenberg says that Sherwood and Schneider are overstating the network's role. 

I don't think ABC has a leg to stand on here. The Pulitzer was awarded to CPI for the 25,000 word report by Hamby, not the broadcast report by ABC. Buzenberg claims ABC had little to do with the investigation and nothing to do with the writing:

"We value these sorts of partnerships and were happy to work with ABC. But let’s be honest about the contributions of each party. Chris Hamby lived and breathed this investigation almost exclusively for a year. ABC dropped in periodically over the course of a few months in between work on many other stories," he wrote. "In other words, I agree with your proposal: Let’s show some integrity."

"The truth is that ABC did not join the investigation until partway through; it focused on only one part of a multipart series; and its reporting was sporadic and almost entirely geared toward the needs of television, not original content for the print series," he wrote in the draft of his response.

It could be that ABC News president Schneider is simply standing up for his reporters, making a stink so that everyone knows they worked in some capacity on the story as well. But calling Buzenberg a liar is taking things a bit far. He's acting more like a blogger who didn't get credit for breaking a story than a high ranking network news executive.

Certainly an unseemly fight over an award that carries a lot less prestige than it used to.

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