Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Claims about Pulitzer Prize Story Draw Fire in New York

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Claims about Pulitzer Prize Story Draw Fire in New York

Article excerpt

Wolper is a professor of journalism at the Newark, N.J., campus of Rutgers University

All-news cable TV station New York 1 charges the New York Daily News with making false claims about its coverage of the Abner Louima police torture coverage.

A NEW YORK City all-news cable station charges the New York Daily News is falsely claiming credit for exposing an alleged police torture scandal the TV station broke first.

Newspaper brawls over bragging rights are common in scoop-happy New York City, but this one is noteworthy because Daily News columnist Mike McAlary won the Pulitzer Prize on April 14 for his commentary on the case.

The story involves Abner Louima, a Haitian security guard, who was arrested last August during a brawl outside a Brooklyn nightclub.

A federal grand jury has charged four white police officers with beating Louima in a squad car, then attacking him again in a jail cell by shoving a stick up his rectum and then ramming it in his mouth.

All-news cable TV station New York I says that it was the first to report the details of that event on Aug. 12 - 12 hours before the Daily News informed the public about the same event in its Aug. 13 edition.

After McAlary won his Pulitzer for his columns on the Louima affair, the Daily News trumpeted his achievement on its news pages and published ads applauding the columnist for "exposing the Abner Louima police torture scandal"

McAlary, who succeeded Jimmy Breslin as the featured Daily News columnist, insists his work on the Louima case broke it open.

"I was the first person to interview Abner Louima," McAlary told New York magazine when the flap first flared. "I was the only one with him in that hospital room.

McAlary, who is undergoing treatment for colon cancer, was unavailable for interviews, according to Debby Krenek, the editor in chief of the Daily News.

New York 1 and the Louima family say the Daily News' post-Pulitzer ads and statements about exposing" the alleged police scandal - one of the worst in New York City history - misrepresents the facts.

"Mike McAlary did a great job," said Steve Paulus, senior vice president of New York 1. "But the basic premise of journalism is that you don't take credit for someone else's work. And that is what the Daily News is doing. We broke that story."

Debby Krenek, editor in chief of the News, disagreed. "There were a number of television stations that reported the story the night before we did" Krenek said. "We are a morning newspaper. We had to wait to publish it during our news cycle."

Krenek said that "McAlary was responsible for bringing the story to the forefront."

The Louima torture story ultimately made all the front pages in New York, was picked up by the networks, chronicled for two nights on ABC's Nightline and was the focus of a 21-page long article in Vanity Fair magazine.

TIME LINE RECONSTRUCTED

The contentious exchange between New York I and the Daily News had as much to do with who got where first as it does with who got the word out first.

E&P was able to reconstruct some of that helter-skelter of news-gathering activity through interviews with reporters and news executives.

Sam Nicholas, a cousin of Abner Louima, said the family first called the Daily News and other newspapers on Monday morning, Aug. 11. "But nobody believed us," he said. "Most of them told us to put it in writing."

Krenek says she did not know anything about the telephone calls the Louima family said they made to the Daily News or why the newspaper might have ignored them. …

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