Several readers have written to ask about the Pulitzer jury that awarded the prize to the AP in the category of breaking news. Yesterday we received a message from D. Gorton regarding one of the jurors — J. Ross Baughman. (A list of the jurors is available on the Pulitzer site.) Mr. Gorton was the White House Photographer for the New York Times during part of the Carter and Reagan administrations, and was himself nominated on a number of occasions for the Pulitzer by the Times.
Mr. Gorton is from Greenville, Mississippi, and joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in 1963 while at Ole Miss. He later went on to the Philadelphia Inquirer as Chief Photographer. From the Inquirer he joined the Times and was transferred to the White House beat. He is currently photographing the “social landscape of agriculture: cotton, tobacco and corn.” For more, click here and here.
In his message Mr. Gorton observed that neither this year’s awards nor the people who made up the Committee were unusual, with one exception:
You will see, for instance, that the President of the Associated Press Photo Managers, Larry Nylund of the Journal News, is one of the judges. You will see that both Denis Finley, an editor at the Virginia Pilot, and Janet Reeves have been awarded prizes at the same venues for their respective papers. It is a clubby world.
But the most remarkable member of the judging committee has got to be J. Ross Baughman who won the Pulitzer Prize for the AP in 1978. If my memory serves me correctly, I believe he was also a “stringer” at the time. But that’s not the most interesting thing. Baughman won the prize by accompanying the Selous Scouts, the counter insurgency force in Rhodesia that was fighting the terrorists headed by Robert Mugabe.
Baughman successfully made photos of the Scouts allegedly committing atrocities on the insurgents. Baughman had represented himself as one of the troops, wearing their garb (I’ve sent along a photo of Ross in his outfit), carrying weapons and apparently engaging in their
fights…It raised ethical questions at the time which dog Baughman to this day. It was clear that Baughman did not inform the Scouts of his intentions, or he’d never have had the opportunity.
Below is a photo of Baughman in his full Scout regalia, taken from the Newseum Photojournalist of the Month feature on Baughman. Baughman now works for the Washington Times.
Baughman discussed his work with the Scouts with Deni Elliot in a 1990 piece that is archived here, and commented on by the past president of the National Press Photographers Association here. This is from Elliot’s piece:
Dressed like the soldiers so that he could be inconspicuous, Baughman photographed the 25-man unit while they burned down homes and tortured men, women and children. His photos won a Pulitzer Prize. His choice not to intervene won him international disfavor.
Baughman says that he could have stopped some of the atrocities, if he had been so inclined. “I would have been able to make the soldiers feel inhibited. I could have said, ‘Gee, fellows, do you think this is necessary?'”
Or he could have protected the victims. “It would have been possible for me to poke my head into the next hut and shoo the people out the back, giving them a few extra seconds,” Baughman said.
But he knew that style of reporting would have offered no more than what people already knew. It’s no surprise that military units use threats to achieve their ends. “If you’re going to find out if they’re really going to pull the trigger, you have to wait,” Baughman said.
Mr. Gorton graciously exempted the other breaking news jurors from his implicit critique of Baughman. We wonder, however, whether Baughman’s ethos might not be shared by Baughman’s fellow jurors and explain the jury’s apparent lack of concern over the AP’s collaborative relationship with the subjects of the photograph about which we have written.