L.A. Times Wins Pulitzer for Corruption Story
Monday, April 18, 2011
Ruben Vives, Jeff Gottlieb Uncovered Outrageous Salaries;
Winner Was Undocumented Through High School
The Los Angeles Times won the Pulitzer Prize for public service on Monday "for its exposure of corruption in the small California city of Bell where officials tapped the treasury to pay themselves exorbitant salaries, resulting in arrests and reforms," the judges announced.
"The Times' award-winning coverage of the Bell scandal began with the decision by reporters Ruben Vives and Jeff Gottlieb to look into how Maywood, a neighboring city, voted to outsource police and other public services and jobs to Bell," Geraldine Baum and Hector Becerra reported for the Times.
Vives, 32, a Hispanic journalist, covers the hard-pressed southeastern part of the Los Angeles county, including Bell, a densely packed city of 36,000 people, mostly Mexican Americans with a smattering of Lebanese immigrants, David Folkenflik told NPR listeners in September, explaining "How The L.A. Times Broke The Bell Corruption Story."
Vives, originally from Guatemala, told Journal-isms he had unknowingly been in the United States illegally until his senior year in high school.
"I assumed I was here legally. It wasn't until my mother told me during my senior year of high school that I realized I was not," he said by email.
"At the time, my mother, a housekeeper, was able to get her boss, Shawn Hubler, who is a former Los Angeles Times columnist, to help us. Hubler knew an immigration lawyer and eventually I was able to get a green card before my 18th birthday, I think it was March 1997. I graduated from La Serna High School 1998."
Another journalist of color among the awardees was John J. Kim, a Chicago Sun-Times photographer who, with Frank Main and Mark Konkol won in the local reporting category "for their immersive documentation of violence in Chicago neighborhoods, probing the lives of victims, criminals and detectives as a widespread code of silence impedes solutions."
Kim, who is Asian American, was on vacation as the awards were announced Monday but later made it back to the newspaper.
Nikki Kahn was part of a three-person photographic team (the others were Carol Guzy and Ricky Carioti) at the Washington Post that won in the breaking news category "for their up-close portrait of grief and desperation after a catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti." [Guzy's remarks in Comments section below.]
Kahn was born in Georgetown, Guyana, and joined the Post in 2005 after working at the Indianapolis Star and Knight-Ridder Tribune Photo Service. She is married to Michel duCille, the Post's director of photography and a three-time Pulitzer winner.
The Denver Post won its second consecutive Pulitzer under editor Greg Moore: Mike Peters was honored for his cartoons.
Baum's and Becerra's account of the corruption coverage continued: "The Times' reporting led to criminal charges against former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo, who, with his $800,000 salary, became the face of the scandal. Rizzo and seven other current or former city officials were charged with multiple felonies and have been ordered to stand trial.
"After finding out that Bell's part-time council members made about $100,000 a year, Gottlieb and Vives requested records showing the pay of other top Bell administrators. Last July, they reported that Robert Rizzo, then city administrator for Bell, was making nearly $800,000 a year in salary.
"The Times later reported that, when other benefits were counted, Rizzo took home about $1.5 million a year. Other officials in Bell, including the police chief, also boasted salaries that dwarfed those of administrators in most other cities, including Los Angeles. The revelations caused outrage in the working-class city and provoked calls for legislation both locally and in Sacramento.
"Eight Bell officials, including Rizzo, were eventually arrested and charged with public fraud.
"The Times' Bell coverage, which grew to include the work of more than 20 reporters and editors, has been awarded the Selden Ring Award for investigative reporting from USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the American Society of Newspaper Editors' distinguished writing award for local accountability reporting, the Investigative Reporters and Editors' top honor and the George Polk Award for local reporting."
- List of Pulitzer winners
- Pulitzer finalists
- Chicago Sun-Times: Sun-Times reporters, photographer win Pulitzer for local reporting
- John J. Kim multimedia presentation for Chicago Sun-Times
- Washington Post Pulitzer Prize winners: Conversations
- Dan Zak, Washington Post: Los Angeles Times wins public service Pulitzer; Washington Post earns award for breaking news photography
It's a rare event that touches so many of the topics discussed in Journal-isms: from the relationships among various people of color — think Unity — to the images of those groups portrayed in the media, to whether public broadcasting serves its intended purpose.
That event is Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s four-hour "Black in Latin America" series, debuting on PBS Tuesday night.
Even Barack Obama figures in the series. Gates shows us that south of the border, there were "Barack Obamas" — black leaders of multiracial countries — long before 2008.
"Imagine if George Washington and John Adams had been African American," Gates says at one point, discussing Mexico after its war of independence. He tells a Mexican counterpart, "You had your Barack Obama in 1830."
The series confirms that those who are accused of "obsessing" about race were right all along: There is much to obsess about and too much that has been left unsaid or suppressed, too much history that still affects us in ways we have hardly thought about.
And "Black in Latin America" makes clear that this is not just a United States issue.
"I conceived of this as a trilogy of documentary series that would mimic the patterns of the triangle trade. There would be a series on Africa which was called 'Wonders of the African World' in 1999. And then there would be a series on black America called 'America Behind the Color Line' in 2004. And then the third part of the triangle trade was, of course, South America and the Caribbean. The triangle trade was Africa, South America, and the continental United States and Europe. That’s how I conceived of it.
"I’ve been thinking about it since before 1999. But the first two were easier to get funding for. Everyone knows about black people from Africa, everyone knows about the black American community. But surprisingly, and this is why the series is so important, not many people realize how 'black' South America is. So of all the things I’ve done it was the most difficult to get funded and it is one of the most rewarding because it is so counter-intuitive, it’s so full of surprises."
He also mentions how recent media coverage affected his course of action.
". . . Haiti just had the earthquake, it was very much in the news. Every night for months I would watch Anderson Cooper talking about the earthquake. But never did Anderson Cooper or anyone else talk about the history of Haiti. They’d talk about voodoo as if it was lunatic superstitions rather than one of the world’s old religions. Most journalists didn’t write anything sophisticated about the history of the revolution.
"And no one talked about the fact that it was at the western end of an island with another country, the Dominican Republic, and that the two of them had created their identities together and in opposition to each other. So it’s like Jacob and Esau, Yin and Yang. They’re both there on that island, separated by a river, and they’re very different countries. One is Spanish, Catholic and white, as it’s fond of saying. The other is African, black and voodoon. So we’re going to lead off the airing of the series with the Haiti & Dominican Republic program."
Later, Gates says:
". . . each country except for Haiti went through a period of whitening, when they wanted to obliterate or bury or blend in their black roots. Each then, had a period when they celebrated their cultural heritage but as part of a multi-cultural mix and in that multi-cultural mix, somehow the blackness got diluted, blended.
"So, Mexico, Brazil, they wanted their national culture to be 'blackish' — really brown, a beautiful brown blend. And finally, I discovered that in each of these societies the people at the bottom are the darkest skinned with the most African features. In other words, the poverty in each of these countries has been socially constructed as black. The upper class in Brazil is virtually all white, a tiny group of black people in the upper-middle class. And that’s true in Peru, that’s true in the Dominican Republic. Haiti’s obviously an exception because it’s a country of mulatto and black people but there’s been a long tension between mulatto and black people in Haiti. So even Haiti has its racial problems."
One detractor argued on the PBS website that indigenous people receive short shrift in the tale of the African slaves, their colonizers and the descendants of both groups. The detractor is correct, but confirms the broader point: There is so much more to talk about.
Black print journalists, by the way, undertook a similar project in 2003 and 2004 for the Institute of Advanced Journalism Studies at North Carolina A&T State University, led by DeWayne Wickham, USA Today and Gannett News Service columnist.
"Home Away from Home: Africans in the Americas" reported from Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica, Colombia, Panama, Brazil and Grenada.
Participating were Wickham, Larry Muhammad, Tonyaa J. Weathersbee, Betty Winston Bayé, Toni Marshall, Clarence Page, David Person, Lonnae O’Neal Parker, Stan Simpson, Courtland Milloy, Elmer Smith and Gregory P. Kane. Their reports are here and here.
In 2007, the Miami Herald produced a five-part series, "A Rising Voice: Afro-Latin Americans."
- Sam Allis, Boston Globe: Gates looks at black experience throughout Latin America
- Even Journalists Learn From "Sugar Changed the World" (March 14)
- Glenn Garvin, Miami Herald: A PBS series grapples with Latin America’s subtle, slippery racial distinctions
- Marc B. Haefele, Los Angeles Times: Will Latin America tolerate a free press?
- Jared McCallister, New York Daily News: PBS turns focus of the lens on centuries-old culture clash
- News release: Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Uncovers Latin America's African Roots in New Four-Part Series, Black in Latin America, Premiering Tuesday, April 19 at 8 p.m. on PBS
"FRONTLINE reveals a little-known chapter of the Catholic Church sex abuse story: decades of abuse of Native Americans by priests and other church workers in Alaska," the public television show announces.
In 'The Silence,' the first of two magazine segments airing Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on PBS, "FRONTLINE producer Tom Curran and reporter Mark Trahant examine the legacy of abuse by a number of men who worked for the Catholic Church along Alaska's far west coast in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They would leave behind a trail of hundreds of claims of abuse, making this one of the hardest hit regions in the country.
"'I was just a kid,' Ben Andrews tells FRONTLINE of the years of abuse he suffered at the hands of Father George Endal and Joseph Lundowski, a layman who was training to be a deacon. 'Father Endal and Joseph Lundowski, they couldn't stop molesting me once they started. It was almost an everyday thing. Father Endal kept telling me that it would make me closer to God.'
" 'I'm still having nightmares of Joseph Lundowski molesting, having sex with me,' says Peter 'Packy' Kobuk. 'I get up sweating, angry, feel like I could hurt somebody, but I never meaned [sic] to get angry at my children, but the anger went on my children also.' "
Trahant is board chair of the Maynard Institute.
First lady Michelle Obama, left; Dr. Jill Biden, wife of the vice president; President Obama. (Credit: White House)
"It may be a stretch to say that President Barack Obama has crafted a 'black agenda' for America, but this much is clear: One week after announcing his re-election campaign for 2012, Obama has dispatched senior black White House advisors to black communities across the country to share stories about how the administration is working to improve the quality of life for African-Americans," Michael H. Cottman wrote Friday for BlackAmericaWeb.com.
"The Obama administration’s goal is ambitious: To connect with one million African-Americans and host 100 events in black communities across the country throughout 2011. Obama, America’s first black president, is sending out a resounding battle cry to his African-American base at a time when his approval ratings among blacks is slipping.
"This charge-the-hill approach to African-American outreach is unprecedented for the Obama administration, and it signals that Obama is leaving nothing to chance and has listened — and responded — to critics who claim that Obama needs a black agenda moving forward."
Since these appearances are not campaign events, they are not likely to affect media coffers, except as they relate to coverage.
- Charles M. Blow, New York Times: The Pirates of Capitol Hill
- Michael H. Cottman, BlackAmericaWeb.com: Analysis: Cornel West an Unabashed Obama Foe
- Derrick Z. Jackson, Boston Globe: Surprise, surprise: rich get richer
- Colbert I. King, Washington Post: Could D.C. officials have prevented the budget deal’s local bullying?
- Dwight Lewis, Nashville Tennessean: Bills amount to 'subtle intimidation'
- Askia Muhammad, Washington Informer: The GOP Sham-A-Lamma-Ding-Dong-Budget
- Ruben Navarrette Jr., Washington Post Writers Group: AWOL on Immigration
- Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune: Obama's re-election budget
- Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald: [Here are] the winners of the lying contest
- Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: In budget wars, the GOP demands the impossible
- Paul Schwartzman and Nikita Stewart, Washington Post: D.C. voting rights proponents’ faith in Obama sinks
- Gregory Stanford blog: A tightly guarded secret: Dems do better on economy
- David Squires, Daily Press, Newport News, Va.: Urban League's bone to Obama
- Marisa Treviño, Latina Lista blog: Advocates for undocumented immigrants rate White House poor on fulfilling 2008 campaign promises
- Marisa Treviño, Latina Lista blog: Guest Voz: Wherever federal budgets cuts are made, Latinos bound to feel cuts the deepest
- Jack White, theRoot.com: RightWatch: Why Did Paul Ryan Become a Hero?
- Armstrong Williams blog: Understanding the Debt Ceiling
- Joe Williams, Politico: D.C. angry at budget deal — and President Obama
"In the halls of American power, the Arab Spring has brought Al-Jazeera in from the cold," Keach Hagey and Byron Tau wrote Sunday for Politico.
"Seven years after then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called the broadcaster’s reporting 'vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable' and President George W. Bush joked about bombing it, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised it as 'real news' in her recent Senate testimony.
" 'Not only that, her staffers, as well as those of the CIA and the Obama White House, were attending the Congressional Correspondents’ Dinner as Al-Jazeera’s guests.
" 'They are a really important media entity, and we have a really great relationship with them,' said Dana Shell Smith, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for international media engagement, who speaks Arabic and has frequently appeared on the channel. 'This administration has empowered those of us who actually do the communicating to be in a close relationship with Al-Jazeera. They understand that the relationship can’t consist of complaining to each other about the differences we have.'
"The differences also have shrunk as the big story in the Middle East has shifted from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the democratic movements sweeping the region. In the recent uprisings, U.S. interests tended to line up with Al-Jazeera’s, and President Barack Obama alluded to both the network’s influence and its pro-democracy bent in remarks caught on an open mic during a closed-door fundraiser last week.
" 'The emir of Qatar [came] by the Oval Office today, and he owns Al-Jazeera basically,' Obama said in remarks recorded by CBS News’s Mark Knoller. 'Pretty influential guy. He is a big booster, big promoter of democracy all throughout the Middle East. Reform, reform, reform. You’re seeing it on Al-Jazeera.' "
- William Douglas, McClatchy Newspapers: As Mideast roils, Al Jazeera finds its 'CNN moment' (March 22)
"When I began writing for the Daily News, my goal was to break down barriers rather than build them up, to find common ground rather than exploit differences, to present a portrait of my community that was honest and whole," he wrote.
"I'm proud that I was able to do that. Readers of every stripe grabbed hold of my stories about parenthood; stories that reached a place inside them where love is boundless, and family matters, and hope is alive.
"There were those who believed such stories had no place in media where venom is valued over veracity. Sadly, they missed the point.
"The point of my stories about getting my daughter ready for school or helping my son with his homework or taking a road trip with my family was simply this: There are legions of men like me who love their families and want the best for them. Men who work hard, just like you do. Just like all of us should — no matter where we live, no matter how much money we make, and no matter what we look like.
"In telling those stories, I said things that statistics never could. I opened minds that had been closed and sparked conversations that needed to take place. I made a difference, not only in these pages or on the Internet, but in our community. Through literacy programs like Words on the Street, I was able to take the Daily News to places where it impacted young people. I'm proud to have done that, because the legacy of those connections will live on."
Neither Jones nor Larry Platt, the former Philadelphia magazine editor who was named editor of the Daily News in January, could be reached for comment.
[Jones replied on April 20, "I'm working on something that will allow those stories to live on. As far as other writing projects go, I will be published in Essence in June, and I have a new novel coming out in October."]
John W. Fountain a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, confessed to readers that "Over the years, as a reporter, I have cried after witnessing human loss and suffering. I’ve shed tears more times than I can count as I have experienced the triumphs and also sufferings that accompany this thing called life."
Fountain made the statement Thursday in a column headlined, "Sons need to know that real men cry."
He continued, "And I have come to believe that my ability to cry, in some ways, has been my salvation, that thing that has kept me connected, not to my 'feminine side' — whatever that means — but to the emotional barometer that exists in us as human beings, even men."
Fountain is promoting his new anthology, "Dear Dad: Reflections on Fatherhood."
"National Public Radio dodged the first wave of attacks last week, but the 'all clear' whistle can't sound just yet," David Hinckley wrote Monday in the New York Daily News.
"The compromise temporary budget approved by Congress last week gives the Corporation for Public Broadcasting about the same funding it got last year: $445 million.
"That's $445 million more than some of the hard-line public radio and public television critics wanted.
"Equally important, the allocation doesn't restrict the way public radio stations can spend the money.
"Some critics wanted to stipulate that individual public radio stations couldn't spend their government money to buy programs from NPR.
"That would have cut off NPR's single largest source of revenue."
Still, Karen Everhart and Mike Janssen wrote last month in Current magazine, "NPR is facing the most serious political crisis in its history with no chief executive to speak for it, no chief fundraiser to make sure its new building can be finished, and no chief journalist to rebuff or heed criticism of its newsroom."
Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site BugMeNot.com provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.
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