Off the Record

On West 43rd Street, the 2004 Pulitzer Prize announcement might as well have been delivered by the late Bob Hope. The word came down hours before the start of Passover and as with Mr. Hope’s old joke about the Oscars, it was a double entendre: The newspaper of record, two years removed from its seven-Pulitzer binge, came away with one lonesome prize.

That put The Times in the same weight class as the Blade of Toledo, Ohio, or The Journal News of White Plains, N.Y. The journalistic center of gravity had shifted some 2,500 miles-to the newsroom of The Los Angeles Times , where editor John Carroll and his managing editor, ex– New York Times national editor Dean Baquet, had nabbed five Pulitzers.

The West Coast Times magnanimously noted that the East Coast Times had won the Public Service award-the most highly regarded of the Pulitzers-in the first sentence of its own Pulitzer story. And Mr. Carroll was gracious in victory.

“We don’t have any illusions about dominating any conversations, but we want to be part of the national conversation,” he said.

But the five-prize performance-which raised The Los Angeles Times ‘ two-year Pulitzer haul to eight-was all about dominance. It was the second-biggest tally in Pulitzer history, and the biggest ever by a paper that hadn’t witnessed a terrorist attack on its doorstep.

The Angelenos won on their home turf (for brush-fire coverage), they won nationally (for Wal-Mart coverage) and they won overseas (for photos from Liberia). They won on the news side and on the editorial side. And in the final triumph of the Southern California lifestyle, an architecture critic from the paper lost in the final round of the “distinguished criticism” competition-beaten out by the paper’s car columnist.

“He was made for L.A.,” Mr. Carroll said.

Still, the New Yorkers are finding good news of their own in the Pulitzer results. True, when the Times delegation treks up to Columbia’s Low Library in May, it will only have that one prize to pick up. But Public Service winners David Barstow and Lowell Bergman will be making their second trip to the auditorium.

Back in January, the two were part of a team picking up a duPont-Columbia broadcast-journalism award-for the same project that led to the Pulitzer. Their investigation of safety violations at the McWane sewer-pipe company was part of a multimedia partnership between The Times , PBS’s Frontline and the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, which raked in Polk, Goldsmith and IRE awards for the televised part of its output.

The combined TV, newsprint and Web work on the McWane investigation is a model for the kind of “platform-agnostic” work that publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. has been pushing, in a broader effort to make The Times a 21st-century media colossus.

“I’m a print reporter through and through,” Mr. Barstow said. But in working with TV producer David Rummel, he says, he discovered that video could convey things that eluded newsprint. “You could judge [interview subjects],” he said, “see how they looked and sounded.”

The ability of different media to bring out different parts of the story, Mr. Barstow said, helped give the whole project legs. “This was not necessarily a subject that was screaming out to be covered in 2002 and 2003,” he said.

So while The L.A. Times collects its laurels as the newspaper of today, Mr. Sulzberger is burnishing his credentials as the newspaperman of tomorrow.

“It’s very cool that way,” he added.

Some of the television and Internet aspects of the project got waylaid by Pulitzer procedure, as it turned out. The Times originally nominated the project in both the public-service and investigative categories. The former category allows bulkier submission packets, with up to 20 items; investigative entries are half that size.

But it was the leaner investigative presentation, Pulitzer administrator Sig Gissler said, that was passed along to the Pulitzer board. The board then decided to move that entry into the public-service competition. The original entry, with testimony about the Web work and the TV documentary, never made the cut.

Still, The Times is confident that the message got through. “Pulitzers are wonderful and we love them, but they tend to look back,” Mr. Sulzberger said.

“In this case, in this particular Pulitzer, I think this one was looking forward.”

In the current issue of Philadelphia Magazine , 23-year-old Sasha Issenberg accuses David Brooks of being sloppy and glib with his facts. For instance, Mr. Issenberg notes, the cheerfully righty pundit did an extended riff in The Atlantic Monthly in 2001 describing how he tried and tried, without success, to find a meal for more than $20 in Franklin County, Penn.

Brooks’ point was to illustrate the difference between Bush’s down-home America and Gore’s hoity-toity America-but in fact, Mr. Issenberg reports, the Bush-voting residents of Franklin County have abundant opportunities to drop a double sawbuck on dinner.

Opinion is split about whether Mr. Issenberg’s revelations are a damning exposé or mere nitpicking. Fans of Mr. Brooks chalk the irregularities up to comic license. “We don’t intend to review Brooks’ wonderful piece,” Atlantic spokesperson Julia Rothwax declared. Mr. Brooks said he hasn’t gotten around to reading the Philadelphia piece yet.

The demand for Mr. Brooks’ rim-shot sociology is as strong as ever. This past Sunday, The New York Times Magazine ran a meditation on sprawl excerpted from his upcoming On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense . “[T]here are no people so conformist as those who fault the supposed conformity of the suburbs,” Mr. Brooks mused. “They regurgitate the same critiques decade after decade.”

Speaking of regurgitating critiques, here’s Mr. Brooks in The Weekly Standard , in 2002: “There is no group in America more conformist than the people who rail against suburbanites for being conformist-they always make the same critiques, decade after decade.”

Given that the Times piece is an excerpt from a book, and the book draws from Mr. Brooks’ earlier writings, the recycled bon mot doesn’t count as self-plagiarism. Still, Times Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati says he’s not thrilled by the overlap. “But of course I don’t read everything he writes for every place,” Mr. Marzorati said.

Then there’s Mr. Brooks on Trader Joe’s groceries, where “all the snack food is especially designed for kids who come home from school screaming, ‘Mom, I want a snack that will prevent colorectal cancer!'”

That ought to have rung a bell. Eleven months ago, Mr. Brooks wrote that Trader Joe’s “stocks baked pea-pod chips and Veggie Booty with kale, for kids who come home from school screaming, ‘Mom, I want a snack that will prevent colon-rectal cancer!'”

And that one was in The Times Magazine .

“That’s our bad,” Mr. Marzorati said. “We should have caught that.”

“I was sort of aware that I’d drawn on some of the work I’d done,” Mr. Brooks said.

The pea-pod chips in question, which can also be found at Asian groceries under the name Saya Snow Pea Crisps, have a crisp, faintly oily mouth feel, not unlike that of Andy Capp’s Hot Fries. Half their calories come from fat. Overall, their nutritional profile aligns fairly closely with that of Fritos.

“They wouldn’t be what a nutrition-minded consumer should be searching for,” said Dr. Stephen Havas, a professor of epidemiology, preventive medicine and medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Mr. Brooks confessed that he hasn’t actually tried the snack. “I usually get the Veggie Booty with kale,” he said.

Novelist and American Scholar Nicholson Baker wrote Off the Record to explain that not everybody who writes for American Scholar is paid $500 per contribution. He notes that he, and others who write on a regular schedule, are paid $1,000. Off the Record