- The Washington Times - Monday, April 22, 2019
The Pulitzer Prizes organization has been accused of being an exclusive club in which members give awards to each other, and the institution did nothing to dispel that notion last week by honoring the wife of a prominent board member.
Author Eliza Griswold won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction for Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America. Her husband is Steve Coll, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, which hosts the prizes, and a Pulitzer board member since 2012.
Pulitzer Prizes administrator Dana Canedy rejected the suggestion that connections matter when it comes to nabbing the 102-year-old award, considered the journalism establishment’s highest honor.
“That is utter nonsense,” Ms. Canedy said in an email. “For every Pulitzer winner with a connection to the board there are literally thousands without a board affiliation and yet somehow we never get inquiries about those.”
She also said that Mr. Coll, a two-time Pulitzer winner, was not involved this year in voting for the books. Board members vote for the winners among finalists selected by panels of jurors.
“He recused himself not only from this category but all of the books categories this year,” Ms. Canedy said.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that Amity and Prosperity would have won no matter who sat on the 18-member board, but it’s also true that the decision to honor a board member’s spouse suffered from bad timing, 
A week before the prizes were announced, journalist Kiran Somvanshi created a stir for her research in The Federalist that found “a dozen publications that have predominantly won their Pulitzers during a period when a current or former editor or publisher was serving on the Pulitzer board.”
For example, the Tampa Bay Times won four of its 12 Pulitzers from 2006-14, when chairman and CEO Paul Tash served on the board. The newspaper received nothing in 2015, after he left, but won again in 2016 when former editor Neil Brown was named to the board.
There was more overlap in 2019. Among this year’s 14 journalism winners were the Associated Press, New York Times, ProPublica, and Washington Post, and all four had either an editor or columnist on the board.
Despite safeguards to ensure the integrity of the process, “questions about objectivity of the awards, which have haunted the prizes since their inception, linger to this day,” said Ms. Somvanshi in her April 4 report.
“The Pulitzers have attracted a variety of criticisms, ranging from arbitrary selection of awards to board errors,” she said. “There’s obviously room for improvement.”