Sidebar to Neil's Pulitzer*


Dan Neil mugAn email correspondent to Romenesko passes along some backstory in the career of Dan Neil, the LAT automobile critic who won a Pulitzer Prize yesterday. Writes Todd Morman:

I'm sure I'm not the only North Carolinian who laughed out loud after reading that Dan Neil won a Pulitzer for the "offbeat humor" in his car columns. It was apparently that very sense of humor that got him fired from the Raleigh News & Observer back in 1997, after he included a description of having sex with his fiancee in the back seat as part of a review of the Ford Expedition. Here's how Laurance Yap, now a car reviewer for the Toronto Star, described the incident (PDF file) in a 1998 paper about the "Painful Symbiosis" between the auto industry, consumers and the car press:

When a writer doesn't please an advertiser, "justice" can be swift and harsh. Dan Neil, a former writer for the Raleigh News & Observer, was shown the trap door a week after he "described sexual congress with his fiancee in the back of Ford's largest sport utility on New Yearís Eve." Careful readers of what became known as the "F*** in a Truck" story found out that he liked the Expedition pretty well, too. Positive review or not, readers were offended (though given Neil's previous writings, they shouldn't have been surprised), but more importantly, so were local dealers who were advertising the hot-selling Expedition. Pull him, they told the N&O's advertising guys, or we'll pull out. Dan got the boot.

To my knowledge, the N&O has never commented on the charge, which Dan made again in a Jan 2001 column in the Durham Independent, claiming he was fired "for refusing to have my column vetted by the classified advertising department."

The Pulitzer board praised Neil "for his one-of-a-kind reviews of automobiles, blending technical expertise with offbeat humor and astute cultural observations."

*And: Romenesko has added a postscript:[A News & Observer exec e-mails: Dan was an employee of the advertising department when he wrote the auto stories here. Auto is an "advertorial" section. So the suggestion that advertisers pressured news into firing Dan is off point.] Also, a Reuters profile of Neil as the first auto critic to win a Pulitzer.

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