Pulitzer Board Withdraws Post Reporter's Prize [excerpts]
April 16, 1981, Thursday, Final Edition
BYLINE: By David A. Maraniss, Washington Post Staff Writer
The Pulitzer Prize Committee withdrew its feature-writing prize from Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke yesterday after she admitted that her award-winning story was a fabrication.
Cooke's story, "Jimmy's World," was about an alleged 8-year-old heroin addict in the District of Columbia. It was said to be based on interviews with the boy, his mother and his mother's boyfriend. Cooke now acknowledges that she
never met or interviewed any of those people and that she made up the story of Jimmy based on a composite of information about heroin addiction in Washington gleaned from various social workers and other sources.
Her admission followed revelations that certain statements she had made in an autobiographical report to the Pulitzer authorities also were false. Cooke had said that she was a magna cum laude graduate of Vassar College and held a master's degree from the University of Toledo. In fact, she attended Vassar for her freshman year and received a bachelor of arts from the University of Toledo.
Cooke resigned from The Washington Post yesterday.
"It is tragedy that someone as talented and promising as Janet Cooke, with everything going for her, felt that she had to falsify the facts," said Benjamin C. Bradlee, executive editor of The Washington Post. "The credibility of a newspaper is its most precious asset, and it depends almost entirely on the integrity of its reporters. When that integrity is questioned and found wanting, the wounds are grievous, and there is nothing to do but come clean with our readers, apologize to the Advisory Board of the Pulitzer Prizes, and begin immediately on the uphill task of regaining our credibility. This we are doing."....
In a statement yesterday, Cooke, 26, said: "The [article] was a serious misrepresentation which I deeply regret. I apologize to my newspaper, my profession, the Pulitzer board and all seekers of the truth."....
Upon publication, the Jimmy article prompted a strong and immediate response in the city. Mayor Marion Barry and Chief of Police Burtell Jefferson assigned a task force of police and social workers to locate the 8-year-old cited in the city and to obtain medical treatment for him. When the child could not be located, Barry and Jefferson voiced deep skepticism about the validity of the story. Barry said he believed "Jimmy" did not exist, or was a composite of several different youngsters.
Barry and Jefferson were informed of the true circumstances of the story early yesterday afternoon by Bradlee, who apologized to both men....
The Post learned that irregularities might exist in Cooke's autobiographical submission to the Pulitzer board early Tuesday afternoon, when officials at Vassar College called Bradlee and told him that Cooke had not graduated magna cum laude, but in fact had only attended the school for her freshman year. At the same time, the Associated Press called Post Managing Editor Howard Simons to report the AP staffers in Ohio were being told that Cooke had not received a master's degree from the University of Toledo....
William Green, The Post's ombudsman, who handles readers' complaints as well as internal problems, has undertaken an investigation of the entire incident. Bradlee has directed that all Post staff members disclose all information relevant to the incident to Green, and Bradlee said Green's findings will be published when they are completed.