Pulitzer Committee Says National Enquirer 'Ineligible' for Top Journalism Prize

In August 2008, a year after the Enquirer's first story on the affair, Edwards admitted to ABC News that he'd cheated on his cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth Edwards, but continued to deny allegations that he had fathered a baby with Hunter.

He dismissed the Enquirer account as "published in a supermarket tabloid. That is absolutely not true."

On Thursday, Levine said the Enquirer would submit stories by the tabloid's investigative team and entertainment reporter Rick Egusquiza, who first broke the story in October 2007, before the prize deadline Feb. 1.

If the Enquirer is dismissed on a technicality, the initial debate it spawned will continue to brew. Kevin Smith, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, said no paper that pays for information should be eligible for the prize.

"Paying sources is a dangerous practice. What are you really getting for your money?" asked Smith. "Do you get a certain truth for a certain price? Do you get more truth for money? Or will sources feel compelled to embellish for a higher price tag?"

"The National Enquirer has a serious credibility issue. The one time they landed a big fish does not diminish ... that they have a credibility issue," he said.

The Enquirer defends paying sources, comparing it to when law enforcement pays informants for information that proves to be credible.

"We practice checkbook journalism," Levine said. "We pay for tips that pay out. What we do different is no different than law enforcement. We don't pay an individual if the story can't be corroborated by independent sources.

"You can't just get a story like this by writing someone a check," he said. "This wasn't about paying a tipster. This was the result of a great team effort by editors, reporters and the photo department. This was good, old-fashioned reporting: knocking on doors, cultivating sources, surveillance, photographic evidence, late-night meetings with sources," he said. "Whether they feel we deserve the prize remains to be seen. But it doesn't really matter. Our info was correct. John Edwards admitted the full story today. We know we got him."

Before the committee checked its eligibility rules, one former member of the Pulitzer board said the tabloid's reputation and its practices, particularly paying sources for information, would lead some of the jurors who review submissions to disqualify the paper from winning a prize.

"The paper's reputation would probably raise serious questions," said Richard Oppel, the former editor of the Austin American-Statesman, who sat on last year's prize board, the committee that picks the Pulitzer winners.

Twenty-one jurors, mainly journalists, review submissions in 14 categories. They each send three finalists to the prize board, composed last year of 16 members, to pick the winner.

"The board members and juries tend to be people who look at the quality and impact of work. ... But there is some opportunity for discussion of ethics and practices," said Oppel. "If they paid for material, would that rule it out? If I was on the board, I would have a hard time with that."

Similar scandals have earned mainstream papers the prize. In 2008, The New York Times won a breaking news Pulitzer for revealing that New York governor Eliot Spitzer was paying for high priced escorts.

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