- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 10, 2002

One flag and three firefighters have created a media hubbub.
"Was it the American flag that spooked the current gaggle of Pulitzer committee members? Or was it that the firemen were all white guys?" Andrea Peyser asked in the New York Post yesterday.
She accused the Columbia University-based Pulitzer Prize committee of snubbing "Firefighters at Ground Zero," a photograph taken by Thomas Franklin of New Jersey's Bergen Record newspaper at 5:09 p.m. September 11 awarding honors Monday to what Miss Peyser described as the "dependably politically correct" New York Times instead.
"Absolutely not," Pulitzer Chairman Seymour Topping said yesterday. "The editors who were judges in the breaking news photography category knew what to look for. There was no discussion of politics or anything of that nature. The Times won by the quality of its photos. That's the long and the short of it."
The image of weary Brooklyn firefighters raising the American flag at the World Trade Center was a finalist in the Pulitzer competition, pitted against two separate New York Times photo portfolios from ground zero and the war in Afghanistan. The Times' ground zero images which included an explosion, a dust-coated tea service and horrified onlookers was given the Pulitzer by a five-member judging committee.
The firefighter photo has become an icon in recent months, often compared to Joe Rosenthal's 1945 shot of U.S. Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima, which won the Pulitzer that year. Many, including Newseum Director Joe Urschel, predicted the firefighter image would win in 2002.
The Bergen Record has distanced itself from the dust-up.
"Our photo has already won numerous awards and the hearts of Americans. We couldn't ask for anything more. We are proud to have Tom Franklin on staff and to have helped the American public find a focal point for uniting in response to terrorism," said Jon Markey, president of the North Jersey Media Group, which publishes the Record.
Fervent global interest and unauthorized use of the photo prompted the company to form Ground Zero Spirit, a marketing group meant to handle requests for such "licensed products" as reprints and posters, to date contributing $1.2 million to September 11 charities.
The visceral photo was made into a U.S. postage stamp and a stained-glass window, and was destined to become a memorial statue. The project was scrapped by the New York Fire Department in January after a prototype depicted the three original white firefighters as white, Hispanic and black. Various critics claimed the proposed statue had been "historically altered" or reflected "lack of diversity" among firefighters themselves.
Meanwhile, Miss Peyser of the New York Post was under fire at the Poynter Institute's Web site, a media studies group, from journalists who found her "logic confounding" or felt the Pulitzer committee was not "dissing Mom, apple pie and the American flag."
Miss Peyser countered: "The Pulitzers today represent the best politically correct and left-leaning journalism. It so happens that the best newspaper photograph of the year features an American flag and three white male firefighters. By Pulitzer's standards, that made it a loser."
"Their decision was a hard call, and I can understand judges picking a portfolio over a single image. Most of this is overreaction," said Poynter's George Rorick. "But I hope it had nothing to do with the 'white guys' thing. That would be hard to prove, but very unfortunate."
Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.

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