The P.U.-litzer Prizes recognize some of America's smelliest media achievements. Although journalists do not covet these annual awards, the competition remains fierce.
Each year, I sift through hundreds of entries with my colleague Jeff Cohen, who heads the media watch group FAIR. In 1997, many news professionals were deserving, but only an elite few walked off with a P.U.-litzer:
VULGAR EXCESS PRIZE -- Columnist Frank J. Prial
In his "Wine Talk" column published by The New York Times, Prial declared: "The $100-a-bottle wine, once an example of vulgar excess, is now an everyday occurrence." Everyday occurrence for whom? Three days later, a chart in the Times business section showed that only 3 percent of California wines retail for over $14 per bottle; 59 percent sell for under $3.
RIGHT-WING DIVERSITY AWARD -- Public Broadcasting Service
This fall, PBS moved to diversify public TV's schedule, which already includes a half-dozen weekly political shows hosted by conservatives like William F. Buckley, John McLaughlin, Ben Wattenberg and James Glassman. So, a new PBS series, "National Desk," features rotating hosts: White conservatives Fred Barnes and Morton Kondracke are joined by black conservative Larry Elder. Now that's diversity.
MEDIA McCRITIC AWARD -- Marshall Loeb
Loeb, a former editor at Fortune magazine, became the editor of Columbia Journalism Review, the most prestigious mainstream periodical of media criticism. But alarm bells went off about Loeb's standards when he told a gathering of retired journalists: "USA Today is the greatest newspaper in America today."
TABLOID TYRANT PRIZE -- Publishing magnate Mort Zuckerman
During the height of Dianamania in September, Zuckerman exercised his prerogative as owner of New York's Daily News by firing the top editor, Pete Hamill. The problem? Hamill tried to cut back on celebrity and gossip coverage. His last battle with management was over the use of a crude, revealing photo of Princess Diana exiting a car. Hamill lost the fight and the job.
ULTIMATE HEADLINE -- New York Daily News
"Princess Di Knew O.J. Would Walk"
SATANIC AMERICA PRIZE -- Rev. Sun Myung Moon and The Washington Times
Rev. Moon is the founder and funder of The Washington Times, the daily newspaper preaching conservative-style American patriotism. But Rev. Moon, leader of the Unification Church, has developed enormous contempt for the United States. In a May 1 speech, according to The Washington Post, Rev. Moon said: "The country that represents Satan's harvest is America." In another recent speech, he proclaimed that women in the United States are worse than prostitutes, that "God hates the American atmosphere" and that "Satan created this kind of Hell on the Earth." (None of these comments were reported in The Washington Times.)
OFF THE CHARTS AWARD -- The New York Times
Last September, an elaborate chart in The New York Times appeared under a somber headline: "Making War on Israelis: A Deadly Rhythm Since Arab Autonomy." The chart was filled with a list of fatal attacks on Israeli civilians during the previous three years. Omitted was any mention of the killings of 144 Palestinian civilians by Israeli police and soldiers in the same time period.
"SERVICES NO LONGER NEEDED" PRIZE -- Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
From 1993 through early 1997, British correspondent Evans-Pritchard was known as one of the wildest Clinton-bashing journalists in Washington. His reporting for the London Sunday Telegraph -- widely circulated in the United States via the Internet and conservative talk radio -- sought to link Bill Clinton to every imaginable conspiracy, from Arkansas drug dealing to Vincent Foster's "mysterious death." When Evans-Pritchard headed home to England last spring, he gave this reason for leaving Washington: "Bill Clinton has become such a right-wing president that my services are no longer needed."
"YOU CAN'T SAY THAT ON TV" AWARD -- CBS, NBC and ABC Networks
Thanks to thousands of ads urging consumers to buy this or that, TV networks are hugely profitable. But even a single ad urging people not to buy is apparently one too many. That is what anti-consumerism activist Kalle Lasn learned when he offered $15,000 for a network ad promoting "Buy Nothing Day," a 24-hour shopping moratorium on the day after Thanksgiving. The ad points out that "the average North American consumes 30 times more than a person from India." NBC rejected the ad, saying it doesn t "take any advertising that's inimical to our legitimate business interests." CBS's rejection letter said that Buy Nothing Day is "in opposition to the current economic policy in the United States."
Well, the sixth annual P.U.-litzer Prizes are now history. But more competition will soon be underway. And contestants begin 1998 with a clean slate.