LAT's prize still a talker*


The headline of David Carr's piece in today's New York Times says "highish brows" are furrowing at the thought of an auto writer winning a Pulitzer Prize for criticism. But in the story most of the voices comment that it is refreshing for a non-arts writer like Dan Neil to win. The anti-note is sounded by John Simon, theater critic of New York magazine, who says, "if you write about cars, it is reportage. It is not criticism, even though it postures as criticism." On the other side are such as Donald Forst, editor of the Village Voice, who was on the Pulitzer jury and called Neil's work "irresistible."

Neil himself has this to say:

"Los Angeles is a society that has a lover's death grip with the car, and it becomes a thing that literally suffocates you," he said, referring to the smog that sometimes blankets the city. "It really isn't even a good city to drive in, but people are willing to buy into cars as an object of prestige, a status symbol in the mechanical caste system. For them and others, cars are an object d'art.

"Criticism is about expectation and the fulfillment of expectation," he added. "I write about what kind of expectations are created and whether something meets those expectations. That's the job of a critic."

Neil joined the L.A. Times in September as the paper's first full-time automobile critic. The only other non-arts or television writer to win the Pulitzer for criticism was David Shaw, when he was the LAT's media reporter.

And: Editor & Publisher reports that, as usual, the Pulitzer-winning papers were tipped off (what else would explain why champagne and cameras are always on hand), and Washington media critic Philip Swann writes on the Providence Journal op-ed page (registration required) that the liberal fix was in for the LAT to win five prizes, though he offers no evidence (his real gripe seems to be Iraq and Lakers coverage). E&P also has a piece on Otis Chandler's reaction.

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