Paul Gigot, Wall Street Journal editorial page editor since 2001, was named chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board on Monday. Under Gigot, the Journal editorial page has had several ethical lapses and has been a regular source of misinformation on climate science, health care, the Iraq War, and a host of other issues.
Pulitzer administrator Mike Pride told Media Matters a new board chair is chosen annually and the board member or members who have served nine years of their 10-year term normally get the post.
Gigot, who is going into his 10th and final year on the board, was the only member in that position this year, Pride said.
“It is really relatively automatic and nine years on the board give you a greater understanding in the way things work.”
Pride, a former board member from 1999 to 2008, left in April 2008 after one year as co-chair with Joann Byrd. He is also the former editor of Concord Monitor. Pride became board administrator in September 2014.
But while Gigot's appointment is fairly routine, his position is one of power and influence over the board that distributes the most coveted awards in journalism, Pride said.
“The chair has some powers for sure in deciding which things we emphasize and which things we focus on,” Pride said, later adding, “It's not a weak position at all, it's a strong position.”
“He is on all the committees and is really involved in everything.”
Gigot's appointment comes at a time when the Pulitzer Prizes have undergone sharp changes in recent years. In 2008, the categories were opened up to allow online-only entries, a major shift for the prizes that had previously been limited to newspapers.
And this year marked the first time magazine entries were allowed, in two categories. As board chair, Gigot can influence what changes are made or not, Pride said.
“The chair has a big effect on that so if the chair decides to slow down something the process will slow down,” he explained. “If the chair decides to move faster, it will move along. It is a person that helps to determine the future of the prizes.”
NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen called news of Gigot's new position “strange,” noting that the Journal's newsroom “often rolls its eyes at the editorial page's evidentiary standards.”
In 2011, Women's Wear Daily reported that the Journal's newsroom “often has objections to Paul Gigot's editorial page.” The New York Observer noted that “under editorial-page editor Paul Gigot, opinion writers freely dispute the facts reported in the rest of the paper,” while “news staffers disavow the contributions from Mr. Gigot's side.”
One staffer told the Observer in 2006 that the editorial section is “wrong all the time” and that “they lack credibility to the point that the emperor has no clothes.”
Rosen also noted it should “concern journalists” that the Journal editorial page under Gigot “has been a leader in the manufacture of doubt about climate change.” As evidence, he linked to a Journal editorial comparing modern climate research to the party dogma of the Soviet Union.
The Journal's editorial page has also been criticized for ethical lapses under Gigot. In the run-up to the 2012 election, the paper routinely failed to disclose columnist Karl Rove's ties to political organizations acting to prevent President Obama's re-election and published at least 23 different op-eds from various Mitt Romney advisers without disclosing their blatant conflict of interest. (The paper eventually added a mention of Rove's political groups to his bio.)
In addition to its climate coverage and ethical problems, Gigot's editorial page has misled on several issues over the years, including electoral politics, the labor movement, health care, and the economy.
The Journal editorial page's low point under Gigot was probably its role in furthering falsehoods in the run-up to the Iraq War. The Journal routinely promoted the idea that Saddam Hussein either had -- or was on the verge of obtaining or producing -- weapons of mass destruction. A characteristic Wall Street Journal editorial from 2003 claimed that the coalition force would find “nasty weapons and the cheering Iraqis...when it liberates the country.”