To the editor:
A cheap shot in the April 22 Hot Type ought not go unanswered. The column discussed Pulitzer Prizes awarded to two Chicago Tribune staffers: Ronald Kotulak for explanatory journalism, and R. Bruce Dold for editorial writing. Dold’s 10 pieces on the death of 3-year-old Joseph Wallace ran concurrently with the Tribune’s year-long “Killing Our Children” series. “Dold graciously acknowledged ‘piggybacking’ on ‘Killing Our Children,'” wrote Hot Type. “The Tribune’s second Pulitzer was for work that did more than that.” Subsequent sentences aptly praised Kotulak’s work.
That dismissal of Dold’s efforts–because he’s my friend, I follow his work–overlooks three points: (1) Bruce Dold has been writing about the disastrous Illinois child welfare system for eight years. (2) In 1986, with Hanke Gratteau and Tim Franklin, Dold co-authored a piercing DCFS series that the Tribune nominated for a Pulitzer. (3) Having read all there is to read about Joseph Wallace as preparation for my magazine’s coverage of the family preservation debate, I’d submit that the editorials reflect a fair amount of original reporting.
Ron Kotulak earned his Pulitzer the hard way. He wasn’t alone.
Chicago Bureau Chief
The April 29 Hot Type creates the false impression that La Raza’s Jorge Oclander supplied the Tribune with documents that were used in our reports on the Board of Education building at 5151 W. Madison St.
That simply isn’t true, and Michael Miner knew it. Mr. Oclander may be the rock-steady, dogged investigator that Miner says he is, but his records weren’t a source for the Tribune’s articles. I know because I co-reported our stories, which were based on interviews, land records, court and government files and board documents the Tribune obtained pursuant to Freedom of Information requests filed last year.
Michael Miner replies:
I ask the authors of both the above letters to reread the columns they criticize. As a friend, John McCormick may think Bruce Dold’s efforts deserved more space than I gave them, but it is not a “shot,” let alone a “cheap shot,” to take Dold’s modesty at face value, or to prefer to discuss one Pulitzer rather than another. Exercising this preference is not tantamount to a dismissal. Dold’s editorials were a distinguished component of a distinguished yearlong exercise that involved original reporting by a number of hands. Kotulak’s series was not such a component. Kotulak explored (among other things) the lasting biochemical effects of a brutalized childhood on the human mind. Therefore, without being part of “Killing Our Children,” this reporting expanded on it.
The “false impression” that Jackson writes of consists of two elements: (1) Oclander supplying the Tribune with certain documents, and (2) the Tribune using them. Oclander told me he gave documents to the Tribune’s education writer, Jacquelyn Heard, and Heard acknowledges this. The question then is, did the Tribune use those documents and break Heard’s promise to give La Raza credit, which is what Oclander believes, or did Jackson come up with other copies of the same documents on his own? In a conversation before I wrote the column, Jackson told me that he had come up with his own copies.
But what of Heard’s promise, if any? Heard wouldn’t discuss it; she referred me to her boss, Maury Possley. Possley said the following–and I am quoting from the column Jackson criticizes: “I am unaware of any promises she may have made. What I am aware of is that the information he gave her we already had.”
I might have reinforced Possley’s denial with Jackson’s, and added his assertion that the information came from him. Since I believed what Jackson had told me, I’m sorry I didn’t step in and speak on my own authority. But even then, the question of a broken promise, which is all Oclander was concerned about, would have been left hanging. Letting both sides speak for themselves is not the same as printing as truth something I knew wasn’t.