The Pulitzer committee is announcing its 2018 winners Monday afternoon, so now is a good time to remind you that last year, the New York Times and the Washington Post split an award for their ultimately fruitless efforts to uncover proof of illegal collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
In retrospect, maybe it was not the best idea to award newsrooms for their coverage of a story that was still ongoing. It certainly seems like a poor decision, considering that special counsel Robert Mueller’s since-shuttered two-year investigation failed to “establish that the members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” according to Attorney General William Barr.
In the Pulitzer's defense, however, everyone in the press was doing the collusion thing. It was all the rage. In fact, some are still doing it.
“For deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage in the public interest that dramatically furthered the nation’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connections to the Trump campaign, the President-elect’s transition team and his eventual administration,” the committee explained in 2017 when it announced its national reporting award for the Times and the Post.
The committee’s excellence in journalism award recognized specific reporters, including the Times’ Matt Apuzzo and Maggie Haberman as well as the Post’s Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima, and Greg Miller, which is humorous considering each of these journalists contributed in some way to the mountain of misinformation produced by the press’s reckless pursuit of the narrative alleging President Trump is a Kremlin asset.
Apuzzo, for example, bylined a report titled, “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence.” Former FBI Director James Comey personally refuted that charge during a congressional hearing, saying the story “was not true.” Haberman, meanwhile, mimicked a leftover Clinton campaign talking point in her reporting, claiming inaccurately that “all 17 intelligence agencies agreed Moscow interfered in the U.S. election to get him elected.” Further, Haberman and Apuzzo bylined a report that claimed former national security adviser Michael Flynn had said in a tweet that he is “the sole scapegoat for what happened.” But Flynn never said that — a parody account did.
Over at the Post, Nakashima co-authored a report that claimed Russian operatives hacked the Vermont Burlington Electric Department. The Post later published a separate report acknowledging that this was almost certainly false.
Nakashima, along with her Post colleagues Adam Entous and Greg Miller, also reported that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions “met with Russian envoy twice last year, encounters he later did not disclose” in security clearance forms. Their false implication was that the former lawmaker tried to conceal secret contacts with foreign entities who may or may not have conspired to steal the 2016 presidential election. What the Post did not say in that report is that Sessions was instructed specifically by the FBI officials who walked him through the application process that he did not need to list meetings he had taken as a senator.
Amazingly enough, the Pulitzer committee cited this specific Sessions report as an example of the “deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage” that earned the Post and the Times their joint national reporting award. The committee also cited a Times report alleging that the 2016 election was influenced in a really meaningful way by Russian memes.
There are additional reporting examples cited by the committee, and some of it is not as disastrously flawed, but none of it gets us away from the inescapable truth that the Times and the Post's wall-to-wall collusion coverage failed to live up to the hype.
The lesson for the Pulitzer committee is this: Maybe wait until we know the story is true before handing out reporting awards.