Pulitzer Prizes. Nobel Prizes. Academy Awards. These are just a handful of examples of the many, many “prestigious” prizes and awards out there, given out supposedly to award achievement and excellence at the highest level in fields like journalism, literature, science, and film.
Or are most of these awards just completely fake scams that are really given out without regard to merit or fact-checking to those who produce work that most perfectly channels the favored progressive groupthink of the moment? I’ll let you be the judge. But consider some recent events.
On December 19 an outlet called Medium published a long article with the headline “Der Spiegel journalist messed with the wrong small town.” The authors of the Medium piece are Michele Anderson and Jake Krohn, two residents of the small town of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. It seems that the German magazine Der Spiegel — the largest circulation current-affairs magazine in Europe — published a major piece in 2017 by a guy named Claas Relotius on the subject of Fergus Falls, with the headline “Where they pray for Trump on Sundays” (probably behind pay wall). The gist of Relotius’s Spiegel piece was that the residents of Fergus Falls are stupid small-town yokels, thus of course explaining their overwhelming support for Trump in the 2016 election. Anderson and Krohn took their time putting together what is one of the most incredible take-downs of a piece of journalism that I have ever seen. The result is an article organized as a “top eleven” list of total whoppers and demonstrably false statements from the Relotius piece — everything from whether Fergus Falls is in “a dark forest that looks like dragons live in it” (it’s actually on the prairie), to whether the City Administrator is a “virgin” who has “never [been] together with a woman” and “never seen the ocean” (Anderson/Krohn include a picture of the guy with his girlfriend at the ocean), to whether a certain guy has hands that are “always black” from working on a farm next to a coal power plant (the guy in question, identified by Relotius by the wrong name, actually works for UPS and does not have black hands), and on and on. Anderson and Krohn conclude:
Not only did Relotius’ “exposé” on Fergus Falls make unrecognizable movie-like characters out of the people in my town that I interact with on a daily basis, but its very basic lack of truth and its bizarrely bleak portrayal of the place I love left a very sick, unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach. . . . Relotius has received accolades for his daring quest to live among us for several weeks. And yet, he reported on very little actual truth about Fergus Falls life.
OK, so one reporter screwed up one story about one small town. Actually, no. Just before the Anderson/Krohn piece appeared in Medium, Der Spiegel had fired Relotius for what they describe as “fabrication on a grand scale.” According to a New York Times story that appeared on the same day as the Anderson/Krohn piece in Medium, Spiegel had issued a statement admitting that Relotius had committed his fraud “intentionally” and “methodically,” in at least some 14 articles (out of 60 or more that he had produced during several years at the magazine). Two additional things are notable about the Relotius deception: his fake stories regularly supported favored progressive and/or anti-American narratives (for example, his Fergus Falls piece, or this one from 2016 about a prisoner supposedly wrongfully detained at Guantanamo); and he was regularly nominated for and/or given various prestigious awards. According to this December 20 New York Times piece, Relotius had just returned some four journalism awards that he had gotten from something called Reporter Forum, and had separately been stripped by CNN of two “Journalist of the Year” awards that the network had given him.
This is pretty bad. But is there really some kind of systematic pattern of seemingly prestigious awards going to work of highly dubious merit or accuracy whose only notable feature is supporting some progressive narrative of the moment? Well, as the next example, there were this year’s Pulitzer Prizes, previously covered at MC here when they came out back in April. From the New York Times article reporting on the winners:
The national reporting prize went to The Times and The Washington Post for their coverage of Mr. Trump’s possible ties to Russia — a recognition of two journalism stalwarts that exposed the hidden activities of the Trump White House while withstanding much presidential ire.
As my April post noted, the Pulitzer Prize for this work was awarded long after the “Trump/Russia collusion” story had blown up in the faces of those who had pushed it, and also after it had been revealed that the FBI had used Clinton campaign opposition research (the Steele dossier) as a pretext to spy on the adversary presidential campaign. But the Trump/Russia story was single most important rallying cry of the progressive coalition after Trump’s victory. Of course that’s where the Pulitzer Prize would go.
Another aberration? You could look at the 2017 Pulitzer Prizes, where this time you will find that the big journalism award went to the New York Daily News for a series on how the New York Police Department evicts people from public housing over complaints of drug dealing. Now, of course, I’m no fan of the drug war. But the drug war’s adverse effects on the poor wasn’t the narrative here. Instead the narrative was the “widespread abuse of eviction rules by the police to oust hundreds of people, most of them poor minorities.” In other words, the usual.
Go back in time with the Pulitzer Prizes, and it’s only a question of how egregious an instance of the same phenomenon you want to find. For example, the big journalism prize for 1981 went to Janet Cooke of the Washington Post for a lengthy series of stories supposedly about the sufferings of an 8 year old heroin addict. The stories were completely fictitious. And even that pales next to the 1932 Pulitzer Prize awarded to Walter Duranty of the New York Times for his on-the-scene work heaping praise on Stalin for the forced industrialization of the Soviet Union (sample headline: “"Industrial Success Emboldens Soviet in New World Policy.")
Or perhaps we should consider some recent recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. For example, the 2009 prize went to Barack Obama, then in office as President for well less than a year. What had he done in that short period to earn the prize? Supposedly, the prize was “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” Or, in other words, if you are a progressive icon, mere advocacy for our favored principles is enough to get the prize. In 2007 the Peace Prize went to the IPCC and to Al Gore, supposedly “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.” In other words, the IPCC and Gore got the prize for evangelizing about the “need” to reduce CO2 emissions to stave off supposedly catastrophic climate change. Of course, that didn’t happen. Since 2007, world emissions of CO2 are up about 25%. I guess the IPCC and Gore didn’t do too much to accomplish their big mission of reducing emissions. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that they were on the right team, and pushed the narrative of the moment.
Have you ever heard of one of these prizes going to someone who exposes the failures of socialism? There are no examples that I can find. I guess I won’t be expecting a Pulitzer or Nobel Prize any time soon. The message here is, if you want to get one of these big awards, the most important thing is not actual achievement, but rather the demonstration of loyalty to our team.
UPDATE, December 26: Commenter hkguy correctly points out that the Nobel Prize in Economics has from time to time gone to free-market-oriented economists, not the least of them being Hayek in 1974. Another example is Milton Friedman in 1976. On the other hand, other winners include Paul Samuelson in 1970, Joseph Stiglitz in 2001, Paul Krugman in 2008, and William Nordhaus just this year. (Nordhaus’s contributions are something related to “climate.”).