Fifty years ago when the Pulitzer Prizes were awarded, politics — not merit — kept Harrison Salisbury from winning the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting.
This week’s announcement (see below) of the latest prizes brings this sad tale to mind.
Salisbury was a reporter and editor for the New York Times who already had one Pulitzer to his credit.
With the war in Vietnam building to a rage in 1966, Salisbury applied to North Vietnam to visit Hanoi and file reports from there. North Vietnam was at that time considered the enemy, and the U.S. was conducting a brutal bombing campaign against the country and particularly its cities.
The U.S. government, with Lyndon Johnson as president, assured the country that the bombs were hitting only military targets.
When Salisbury arrived in Hanoi in December and began filing his reports on Christmas Day, he told the American public quite a different story. The bombs were falling everywhere, and civilians and civilian targets were taking a beating. The bombing was not, as the administration liked to say, “surgical.”
Salisbury reported what he saw and what he heard as people talked to him. His reports were full of descriptions and people and had the ring of authenticity. Many in America accused Salisbury of being stage-managed and manipulated.
Salisbury returned to the United States and may have wished he had stayed in Hanoi. He was subjected to scurrilous attacks from fellow journalists who were being supported by “leaks” from the Pentagon. The Pulitzer Prize jury voted to award Salisbury a Pulitzer that April, but it was overruled by an advisory board of mostly publishers. The award went to someone else, whom we don’t remember.
We do remember Harrison Salisbury.
Harrison Salisbury is an important background character in my forthcoming novel Point Spread.
The novel is set in 1967 at the time when Salisbury was sending back his reports. The protagonist, a high school girl, wants to be a journalist, and one of her models is Harrison Salisbury.
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Pulitzer Prize announcement
Watch a live stream of Pulitzer Prize Administrator Mike Pride announcing the 2017 Pulitzer Prizes on April 10, 2017 at 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
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