NEW YORK - The New York Daily News’ Editorial Board won the Pulitzer Prize Monday for its groundbreaking series of editorials, “9-11: The Forgotten Victims,” which documented the growing medical fallout from the World Trade Center attacks.
In riveting, persuasive prose, the five-month series established how breathing the atomized air of the World Trade Center after 9-11 had sickened more than 12,000 emergency responders, at least five of them fatally.
The series also forced all levels of government to reexamine their initial medical response to the attacks, and in many cases react with a range of new benefits and services for rescuers, volunteers or their surviving family members.
“Our greatest satisfaction is that these editorials became a force that helped thousands of ailing men and women after 9-11,” said Daily News Editorial Page Editor Arthur Browne. “And we are very proud that the Pulitzer board has recognized our work. We remain committed to advocating on behalf of the Ground Zero responders.”
Many of the editorials were written almost as profiles of rescuers - men like retired firefighter Stephen Johnson, whose lungs had turned to scar tissue but whose death had never been acknowledged by the city as 9-11-related; Vito Valenti, a Ground Zero volunteer who had to live on donated oxygen because workers’ comp had denied him coverage, and Detective James Zadroga, who left behind a 4-year-old daughter when he died in January 2006 from his service at Ground Zero.
“What gave the series its power is that we marshaled medical evidence and married that with very painful stories of suffering by individuals who had come forth for the country and New York after an act of war,” Browne added.
In awarding the prize, the Pulitzer board commended The Daily News “for its compassionate and compelling editorials on behalf of Ground Zero workers, whose health problems were neglected by the city and the nation.”
As a result of the series, the federal Department of Health and Human Services released $75 million to monitor and provide health care to 9-11 volunteers exposed to deadly toxins - the first federal funds dedicated explicitly to 9-11 health problems.
Gov. George Pataki signed a bill to provide line-of-duty death benefits to responders’ families; Mayor Michael Bloomberg committed more than $37 million to monitor and treat victims; and Congress filed legislation seeking an additional $1.9 billion over five years.
As the fifth anniversary of 9-11 approached, President Bush added another $25 million to the federal budget - with a White House promise of more to come.
The prize was celebrated by The Daily News with champagne and toasts Monday afternoon beneath the wooden clock that has stood sentry over the paper’s newsroom for decades.
Daily News Chairman and Publisher Mortimer B. Zuckerman said the series continued the paper’s proud tradition of defending the interests of the city’s working people.
“This is a great honor for the Daily News, and it reaffirms my belief that this newspaper fights for people who too often have no voice in this city,” Zuckerman said.
The editorials were written by Browne and News staffers Beverly Weintraub and Heidi Evans, who detailed the enormous and growing medical toll paid by 9-11 responders in 13 separate pieces.
In the end, the paper’s submission to the Pulitzer board was supported by 11 members of Congress, as well as doctors at the Mount Sinai Medical Center’s World Trade Center screening program and the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, a nonprofit coalition of 200 local unions.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. - two key advocates in Washington for 9-11 health funding - both congratulated The Daily News Monday for the paper’s 10th Pulitzer Prize in its 88-year history.
“The Daily News’ powerfully written editorials helped change public policy to help thousands of Americans suffering as a result of 9-11,” said Maloney.
Added Clinton: “Through their eloquent and moving account of the 9-11 health crisis and the relative failure to confront it, the editorials helped to demonstrate the immediate and vital necessity of addressing this emergency.”