Irish American writers are ten-a-penny. Irish-American Pulitzers are no different. They range from born newshounds like Patrick Farrell and Frank O’Brien, to journalists-cum-political-stars like Kennedy and Samantha Power. There’s professional controversialists like Maureen Dowd and the rough-’round-the-edges (and racist-down-the-middle) Jimmy Breslin. And then there’s Jack Kelley. Read on ...
In 2009, Patrick Farrell of The Miami Herald won a Pulitzer for his “provocative, impeccably composed images of despair after Hurricane Ike and other lethal storms caused a humanitarian disaster in Haiti.” Farrell is a second-generation Irish American, his grandfather having come to America in 1906 from Co Cork to settle in Brooklyn and, surprise, surprise, set up a pub. Farrell told Irish America magazine that year that, “I believe I’m a photojournalist (like many photojournalists) who tries to capture moments and tell stories and make them visually compelling. The photographs and experience in Haiti during last year’s hurricane season were the most devastating and important pictures I have shot during my career. Haiti had been relentlessly battered by those storms, and the destruction of homes and the incredible loss of life were stories that had to be told.” But Farrell very nearly didn’t make it as a photographer. “I think my appreciation for everything visual came from an accident on Halloween in 1971 when I was shot in the right eye by a BB-gun and spent a week in the dark behind eye-bandages, and the rest of the month with one eye still bandaged. I believe subconsciously I spent a little more time looking at things, which led me to want to see how I could capture images on film.”
Maureen Bridgid Dowd, born the last of five to a police officer and a housewife – what could be more Irish? In 1999, Dowd of The New York Times won for her “fresh and insightful columns on the impact of President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky.” Dowd had already come close to a Pulitzer in 1992, for national reporting, but the award for her series on Bill Clinton is far more Maureen. A sharp and insightful – but mostly provocative – commentator on U.S. politics, she once said of Al Gore that he is “so feminized and diversified and ecologically correct that he's practically lactating.” But it’s not all been plain sailing for Maureen. In May 2009 it was suggested that her May 17, 2009 Times column contained some unsettling similarities to a blog post by another journalist. Dowd, who had excoriated other for plagiarism in the past (Joe Biden, for ripping off Neil Kinnock), claimed she’d heard the offending line from a friend and not from the blog.
Jimmy Breslin, of the New York Daily News, won his Pulitzer in 1986 for “columns which consistently champion ordinary citizens.” Breslin grew up in Jamaica, Queens, and was a salty old investigative hack, rubbing shoulders with Mafia members to get his stories (which led to a bad beating in 1970). In 1963 he wrote one of his most famous columns, about the man who dug John F Kennedy’s grave. His famous line, with which he closed the piece, was, “I tried to go over to see the grave," he said. "But it was so crowded a soldier told me I couldn't get through. So I just stayed here and worked, sir. But I'll get over there later a little bit. Just sort of look around and see how it is, you know. Like I told you, it's an honor.” In 1990, Breslin, after being accused of writing a sexist article, told fellow Newsday columnist Ji-Yeon Mary Yuh she was “slant-eyed cunt” and a “yellow cur,” stating that “the fucking bitch doesn't know her place.”
McNamara wrote ‘The Parting Glass: A Toast to the Traditional Pubs of Ireland’, but is anything but journalist of twee paddywhackery. Her Pulitzer came in 1997 for “many-sided columns on Massachusetts people and issues.” A professor of journalism at Brandeis University, she has covered the police beat, the U.S. Congress, the State House Bureau, and as a columnist. In that time she has covered some weighty issues – not least of which was her contribution to the Boston Globe’s coverage of clerical child sex abuse cases in Boston (which itself won a Pulitzer). As well as ‘The Parting Glass,’ McNamara wrote ‘Breakdown: Sex, Suicide and the Harvard Psychiatrist,’ based on an investigation into a high profile suicide at Harvard.
In 1922, Frank M. O'Brien of the New York Herald wrote, ‘The Unknown Soldier.’ The Unknown Soldier had been buried on November 11, 1921, at Arlington Cemetary. As O’Brien put it, “That which happens at the National Cemetery at Arlington today is a symbol, a mystery and a tribute. It is an entombment only in the physical sense. It is rather the enthronement of duty and honor.” Born in 1875 in Dunkirk, New York to Michael O’Brien and Ann Cryan, O’Brien began his career in journalism in 1893 at the Buffalo Courier. Within three years he was the city editor of the Buffalo Express. Jobs as reporters with the New York Sun, New York Herald, New York Press, and New York Evening Sun in a variety of editorial and reportorial roles were broken only by a brief spell as secretary to Mayor McLellan between 1906 and 1910. By 1926, four years after his win, he was editor of the New York Evening Sun.
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.
JOHN F KENNEDY
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.