Friday, July 21, 2006


Skeptical Commentary won 2001 Pulitzer

Skeptical Commentary Wins Pulitzer Prize
By Douglas E. Hill, © 2001
This is a slightly corrected version of an article originally published in the September 2001 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer.

The Pulitzer Prize Board awarded the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Commentary to Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal “for her articles on American society and culture.” Notable among the ten articles cited by the Board were five articles challenging questionable allegations of sexual abuse. (Four of the cited articles commented on the 2000 U.S. Presidential election and the remaining article discussed Rudolph Giuliani's recommending a pardon for Michael Milken.) A jury of seven journalists nominated Ms. Rabinowitz among four finalists, from which the Pulitzer Prize Board chose her as the winner. (She was nominated after the original three when the Board requested "a broader choice".)

Ms. Rabinowitz has long used her Wall Street Journal editorial page column to criticize dubious sex-abuse prosecutions and champion the falsely accused. She was previously nominated in 1996 for the Distinguished Commentary Pulitzer "for her columns effectively challenging key cases of alleged child abuse.” For “her journalistic achievements and … her writing on false sexual abuse charges” the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers awarded her its 1997 Champion of Justice Award. Ms. Rabinowitz was also nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Criticism in 1995 and 1998 for her television critiques, and in 1993 the American Society of Newspaper Editors awarded her a Distinguished Writing Award for Commentary.

Of the five skeptical columns cited by the Board, two dealt exclusively with the Fells Acres day-care prosecution of Malden, Massachusetts, for which Gerald Amirault remains imprisoned. (He has been released since this was originally published.) One dealt with the difficult aftermath of those who have been released after long struggles to prove their innocence in these dubious prosecutions of alleged sex-rings that occurred in places such as Wenatchee, Washington, and Dade County, Florida. The freedom of Violet Amirault (Gerald’s mother) was short-lived, but others had to find jobs and deal with residual legal problems on long-depleted finances. Grant Snowden required an attorney to get his name removed from a list of sex-offenders. Carol and Mark Doggett fought to have their children returned. Cheryl Amirault (Gerald’s sister) made a deal with prosecutors for her release, and so must endure the indignities of probation while forbidden to speak with television reporters. They all must face the fact that no one will be held accountable for their prosecutions, or for tenaciously fighting against their releases (even when the technique used to build the cases against them--the leading and often coercive questioning of children--was discredited).

Another column cited by the Pulitzer Board details the case of New York City doctor Patrick Griffin. A patient accused him of oral sodomy after he refused to testify in a lawsuit filed against the patient’s landlord that her medical condition was caused by her landlord’s wrongdoing. The last cited column tells the story of David Schaer, and the lack of due process he received from Brandeis University when he was accused of sexual misconduct.

Ms. Rabinowitz is the author of New Lives: Survivors of the Holocaust Living in America (1976, Alfred A. Knopf, New York) and co-author, with Yedida Nielsen, of Home Life: A Story of Old Age (1971, The Macmillan Company, New York). Her prize-winning work can be read at the website: , and her continuing work can be read at: and on the editorial and television pages of the Wall Street Journal.

When this was originally published (2001), Douglas E. Hill, was a graduate student in Logic & Philosophy of Science and president of the Students for Science and Skepticism at the University of California, Irvine.

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