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Conservative author Jonah Goldberg drops claim of two Pulitzer nominations

Penguin Group (USA)

The book jacket of Jonah Goldberg's "The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas" describes him as twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. The publisher said Tuesday it would remove the claim. He was one of thousands of entrants, not a nominated finalist.

On the dust jacket of his new book, "The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas," best-selling conservative author and commentator Jonah Goldberg is described as having "twice been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize."

In fact, as Goldberg acknowledged on Tuesday, he has never been a Pulitzer nominee, but is merely one of thousands of entrants.

When this bit of résumé inflation was pointed out by a reporter for msnbc.com, Goldberg said he hadn't meant to mislead anyone and removed the Pulitzer claim from his bio at National Review Online. (Here's the page before and now.) And he added, "I never put it in the bio in the first place."

His publisher, Penguin Group (USA), said the error was unintentional and it would remove the Pulitzer word from his book jacket when it's time for the first reprint, "just like any other innocent mistake brought to our attention." (Update: On Wednesday morning, the  publisher removed the claim from its own website.)

What's surprising in Goldberg's case is that he has been called out for the same résumé padding before, when his previous book was published.


Goldberg's "The Tyranny of Clichés" was published May 1 and is ranked in the top 100 in sales on Amazon. A fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Goldberg is the founding editor of National Review Online. He is a Fox News contributor, and has appeared as a guest on MSNBC and NBC. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of NBCUniversal and Microsoft.)

An entry form and $50
It's not uncommon for Pulitzer entrants to claim to be nominees. Here's how it works: Though there are only three nominees, known as nominated finalists, in each Pulitzer category each year, there are more than 2,000 entrants. One could say that all of them were "nominated" by someone. If all Pulitzer entrants could be called nominees, any publisher could give all its authors that honorific by submitting an entry form and a check for $50.

The Pulitzer rules make clear that the only people to be known as nominees are those finalists chosen by the Pulitzer juries. From those nominated finalists, the Pulitzer board chooses the winners. Everyone else is just an entrant. As the Pulitzer board's online list of frequently asked questions explains politely, "Work that has been submitted for Prize consideration but not chosen as either a nominated finalist or a winner is termed an entry or submission. ... We discourage someone saying he or she was 'nominated' for a Pulitzer simply because an entry was sent to us."

Besides violating the official rules, such claims mislead the public. Tell readers that you're an Academy Awards nominee, and they'll understand that you're one of the few finalists, not one of the many entrants submitted by movie studios. It's exactly the same with the Pulitzers.

And in addition to misleading the public, such false claims rob honor from the actual nominees. This year's non-winning nominees include journalists and authors revealing failure to enforce safety standards at aging nuclear power plants, exploring the heartache of dealing with a sick spouse, and capturing in photographs the chaos and exuberance of the Arab Spring.

Being a "two-time Pulitzer Prize entrant" won't sell many books. Claims to Pulitzer nominations have showed up in the bios of well-known sportswriters Bill Plaschke and Buster Olney, NPR host Michele Norris and others not listed on the Pulitzer site among the nominees, including a good number of university professors.

(See below for a version of Where's Waldo: Find your own Pulitzer fakers by comparing Wikipedia bios with the list of nominees for recent years on the Pulitzer Prizes website.)

'I don't recall'
When Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism" came out in January 2008, his employer National Review Online announced that Tribune Media Services, which carries Goldberg's opinion columns, had "nominated" Goldberg for a Pulitzer in commentary.

The liberal blog Daily Kos then pointed out that the Tribune doesn't choose Pulitzer nominees, writing about "Goldberg's faux Pulitzer."

Commenters on Amazon took up the baton, attaching to Goldberg's Amazon profile several lengthy notes pointing out the puffery. The book sold well, reaching No. 1 on the New York Times hardcover list in March 2008.

A cartoon circulated mocking Goldberg for the claim. The punch line has Goldberg saying, as he opens a sweepstakes envelope, "I was just informed I might be winning ten million dollars." Here's a link to the online cartoon, by August J. Pollak, who draws "Some Guy With a Website."

After the hubbub, Goldberg's speaker's bureau removed the Pulitzer claim from his online bio, as documented by Daily Kos.

Goldberg told msnbc.com on Tuesday that he didn't recall any of this. "In all honesty, I don't recall ever being 'called' on this."

When contacted on Tuesday by email, Goldberg replied at first, "Nominated by the Tribune syndicate. Never said I was a finalist. There's a distinction."

When told that he's not a nominee either, and isn't listed among the nominees on the Pulitzer website, Goldberg replied, "I'll check it out and have 'em remove it if you're right. Happily. If it's not kosher, I shouldn't have it in there. Period."

Two hours later, after appearing on a radio show about the Tuesday primary voting, Goldberg sent a longer answer in email, but insisted that it be off the record. He was asked to provide a comment on the record, but declined.

'Just like any other innocent mistake'
Then, later Tuesday, his publisher issued a strong defense of Goldberg's integrity. Adrian Zackheim, president and publisher of Sentinel, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), sent over this statement:

Penguin Group (USA)

The cover of Jonah Goldberg's "The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas."

"There's no conspiracy here, just an innocent mistake at worst. In casual conversation, whenever a news organization submits one of their writers for a prize, people say that person was nominated. By that standard Jonah Goldberg 'has twice been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.' You've brought it to our attention that the Pulitzer authorities don't approve of that usage, and that technically Jonah was 'entered' but not 'nominated.'

"We appreciate the notice, and we will treat it just like any other innocent mistake brought to our attention, such as a misspelled name or factual error. Specifically, Sentinel will correct the reference on future printings of The Tyranny of Clichés, and we will submit the correction to online retailers like Amazon and Barnesandnoble.com, which use our flap copy for their descriptive copy. Jonah is also correcting any other bios that have the error.

"However, it would be completely inaccurate for you to conclude that there was any intent to inflate Jonah's credentials or deceive anyone. His credentials are extremely impressive already and don't require any extra hype."

Attached to the publisher's statement was an internal note from the Penguin publicist, cautioning author Goldberg not to say another word.

And there was a note from Goldberg himself to the publisher, an internal email forwarded by mistake: "I think it's great," Goldberg said, apparently referring to Zackheim's statement. "It's a bull@!$%# story and I think this walks the line between acting in good faith and making that clear."

Goldberg, 43, is a son of literary agent Lucianne Goldberg, who became known after she advised Linda Tripp to secretly tape record Monica Lewinsky's conversations about sex with President Bill Clinton. She now has her own website, Lucianne.com. Jonah Goldberg got his start as an aide to commentator Ben J. Wattenberg at the American Enterprise Institute. Goldberg's columns are syndicated to newspapers nationally. For $2,000 to $7,500 per person, one can accompany the "Pulitzer-nominated columnist" and others from the National Review on a cruise to the Bahamas and Grand Cayman. His many liberal targets have included former Vice President Al Gore, whom he derided as a "serial exaggerator."

Find your own non-nominee nominees
Readers, here's a link to people whose Wikipedia biographies contain the word "Pulitzer" and "nominee" or "nominated."

Which ones aren't real nominees?

Here's a search form for actual winners and nominated finalists at the Pulitzer Prizes site.

It can be tricky to tell who's fibbing. A group of newspaper reporters, even an entire staff of a newspaper, could be nominated finalists in a category, without being named individually on the Pulitzer site. And nominees have been announced only since 1980.

The key questions to be put to a claimant are these: In what year were you a Pulitzer Prize nominee, and in what category? 

N.B. A couple of readers asked how this story got started, whether I was tipped off by some political opponent of Goldberg's. No, I was looking at the Amazon list of top-selling books, and wasn't sure if I recognized Goldberg's name. I clicked through, and saw his bio. As soon as I saw in the bio that he was a two-time Pulitzer nominee, I doubted it. -- Bill Dedman