“He Got So Classically Screwed”: Carreyrou on Theranos? The
March 22, 2019 3:00 pm
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Journalists prepare their brackets for April Madness.

April madness is around the corner, which means that newsrooms around the country are buzzing about which of their entries may or may not have advanced to the final judging round for journalism’s version of the Oscars: the Pulitzer Prizes, scheduled for Monday, April 15. It’s a system that’s tailor-made for the kind of navel-gazing and self-investigation and gossip that journalists adore, in that a very small group of people are holding precious pieces of information. The juries that initially screen entries generally meet and decide on several finalists in each of the nearly two dozen journalism and literary categories in late February or early March. Then, the juries submit the finalists to the 18-member Pulitzer board, which spends a few weeks poring over the entries before gathering to decide the winners in the days before the prizes are announced in mid-April.

Only board members know the full list of finalists. Pulitzer officials have managed to keep a tighter lid on the selection process in recent years, and various judges politely bit their tongues when I hit them up to vet the tips I’d gotten about entries that are believed to have been moved along to the board. At this stage, it’s difficult to determine what’s true and what’s table talk. But here are some potential contenders in a few of the major categories that people are whispering about: The Washington Post’s Jamal Khashoggi coverage, possibly for public service, which is seen as the crown jewel of the Pulitzers; Rukmini Callimachi’s ISIS coverage for The New York Times and the A.P.’s dispatches out of Yemen for the international-reporting category; The Wall Street Journal’s series on “Trump’s Hush Money,” The New York Times’s Facebook reporting, and ProPublica’s immigration coverage for national reporting; The New York Times on Trump’s taxes, the Tampa Bay Times on a fatally negligent children’s hospital, and the Los Angeles Times on a University of Southern California #MeToo doctor in the investigative-reporting category; The Washington Post on school shootings, the Center for Investigative Reporting on redlining, and The Miami Herald on gold-smuggling for explanatory reporting; and Carlos Lozada, Manohla Dargis, and Jill Lepore in criticism.

I also hear that John Carreyrou’s best-selling Bad Blood, about the sham blood-testing company Theranos, is a strong candidate for nonfiction books. Several sources pointed out that Carreyrou’s Theranos reporting for the Journal wasn’t previously eligible, because it didn’t fall within a single calendar year. “He got so classically screwed by their bureaucratic rules, and now they have an opportunity to fix it,” one prominent journalist told me.

Other entries that could potentially be in the mix? The Miami Herald’s stunning Jeffrey Epstein sex-abuse investigation was a mega-blockbuster last year, and Epstein is now back in court as a result. Also, as another source suggested of the international category, “How can it not be Reuters for Myanmar?” Two reporters behind an acclaimed Reuters’s special report, about the killing of 10 Rohingya men in a remote village, were arrested two months before their story ran in February 2018. They were subsequently convicted and sentenced to seven years on dubious charges of breaching state secrets, and their case has become an international rallying cry for press freedom. As for digital outlets storming the gates, BuzzFeed has been a finalist both of the past two years, and I’m told the Web site submitted numerous entries for the 2019 contest, including its reporting on the Trump World Tower Moscow negotiations in the investigative category, and its exposé of murderous nuns for feature writing. (Representatives for the Pulitzers didn’t have any comment for this story.)

In the old days, or at least as recently as the late aughts, media gossips made a sport out of sniffing out the finalists. The likely finalists would inevitably leak to inside-baseball publications like Romenesko and Editor & Publisher, where industry reporter Joe Strupp “helped create a media version of March Madness,” as Poynter once put it. The other person old-timers remember as always having the scoop in advance was Deborah Howell, former Washington bureau chief for the Newhouse newspapers, who died in 2010 after she was struck by a car in New Zealand.

These days, there’s less hype in the run-up, which is ironic because the Pulitzers are arguably more interesting. Part of that has to do with the widening of eligibility to include magazines and Web sites, which didn’t used to have a shot at the historically newspaper-centric glory. But it’s also simply a product of how wild the news cycle has become, and the manner in which our platform-driven media ecosystem now enables stories to travel in ways that the ink-stained wretches of yesterday couldn’t have fathomed.

In addition to welcoming new-media players into the club, the Pulitzers, which are overseen by Columbia University, are modernizing in other ways. Last year, almost as if to shake up their reputation as some stodgy, ancient journalism ritual, Columbia threw a boozy Pulitzer party at Michael’s that was attended by a wide array of media big shots and was covered in Page Six.

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