ten Irish American Pulitzer Prize winners


In 1991, Caryle Murphy of The Washington Post won the award for international reporting for “her dispatches from occupied Kuwait, some of which she filed while in hiding from Iraqi authorities.” Murphy, the oldest of six Irish Catholic children in Boston, has reported from Africa and the Middle East covered wars and becoming an expert on Islam, the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Born in New York, raised in Limerick, and caught between the two forevermore, Frank McCourt – other than John F. Kennedy – is probably the most recognizable person on this list. Angela’s Ashes – despite the hype and the rubbish movie – reeked of life as a dirt-poor, grubby, urchin from Limerick, ‘with eyes like pissholes in the snow.’ Who cares if it wasn’t all strictly true? It was true in spirit, and certainly not far from the truth of life in Limerick when McCourt was a boy. McCourt soon escaped Ireland to become a teacher in New York, but it was many years before his literary dreams and ambitions coalesced into his first book. Thereafter, however, there was no stopping him. His 1997 Pulitzer Prize was merely.

Like almost every other entrant here, there’s more than a touch of controversy about Jack Kennedy. (Though he comes a distant second to Jack Kelley – more of which anon.) Did JFK really write Profiles in Courage, which won its awards in 1957?  Does it really matter? The book was about five different senators who, Kennedy felt, had behaved bravely by doing what they felt was right, regardless of the electoral consequences. A fine book, for sure, but cracks started to appear soon after the award. Journalist Drew Pearson first suggested in an appearance on the Mike Wallace Show that the book had been ghostwritten for Kennedy by his speechwriter, Ted Sorensen. An apology was forthcoming after Robert Kennedy stormed the station, threatening legal hell, but, tellingly, the apology came from the station, not from either Wallace or Pearson. The debate raged on, with Kennedy becoming the butt of jokes in the Senate (colleagues wished he had a little less profile and a little more courage). In 2008, Sorensen, in his autobiography, claimed that he had indeed written first drafts of most chapters and was paid handsomely for it. Does this render the Pulitzer null and void? You decide.

Feared for her intellect, a big dumb blunder nearly cost her a political career. Calling Hillary Clinton a monster was a stupid thing for a smart person to say. But Samantha Power probably doesn’t worry about it. She’s got many more strings to her bow, as her 2003 Pulitzer for ‘A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide’ shows. Born in Dungarvan, Waterford, she graduated from Yale, worked as a journalist in the mid-1990s, during which time she wrote for a variety of outlets, including The Boston Globe, The Economist, US News & World Report, and The New Republic. But it was in her role as senior advisor to then candidate, now president, Barack Obama that got her most attention. Even so, she’ll probably be remembered as much for an ill-judged remark as she is for a carefully crafted piece of journalism.

Many of the figures on this list are controversial. Some courted it, some are just natural lightning rods. But few can match Jack Kelley of USA Today. Kelley never won a Pulitzer, but in the grand scheme of things that can be overlooked. After all, to make it as a finalist (in 2002) when a pile of your stories are entirely fabricated … well, that takes talent. Kelley was selected as a finalist “for his wide-ranging and prescient reporting on centers of foreign terrorism, often conducted at personal risk.” Wide-ranging, for sure. Prescient, maybe. Often conducted at personal risk. Only to his reputation, as it turned out. The Pulitzer panel later found out that, “four of the articles in this 2002 entry contained false information.” After a seven-week investigation conducted in-house by USA Today, it turned out that Kelley had “fabricated substantial portions of at least eight major stories, lifted nearly two dozen quotes or other material from competing publications, lied in speeches he gave for the newspaper and conspired to mislead those investigating his work.” For his amazing story, click here.