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Pulitzer Center Update January 12, 2021

What an Attack on Democracy Says About Journalism and Education for Public Good

Rioters rush the front steps of the U.S. Capitol building with the dome in the background.
Rioters storm the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Image by Shutterstock. United States.

"Lessons From the Mob"

In recent years the rise of authoritarian movements has been an increasing focus of Pulitzer Center journalism. From China and India to Brazil, Israel, and Hungary, our grantees have reported on political leaders consolidating power via the ugly tools of misinformation, media manipulation, and the repression or marginalization of vulnerable groups.

In the first week of 2021 we saw those same forces unleashed on the United States Capitol—a mob incited by a defeated American president with the aim of disrupting the peaceful transfer of political power.

That such a mob, overwhelmingly white, could so easily access and trash one of our most hallowed buildings was horrific. As was the contrast between the government’s response to this mob and the very different treatment of Black Lives Matter protesters that we all witnessed in 2020. Horrific, as well, is the daily evidence in a dreadful pandemic year that race and socio-economic status too often make the difference between the inconvenience of disrupted routines and the actual loss of jobs, health, and life.

Over the course of 2020 we supported dozens of projects aimed at exposing these and similar divides, here at home and across the globe. We have put a premium, in the grants we make, on reporting that is trustworthy and fair. We have devoted equal energy to bringing important issues into schools and colleges, promoting robust engagement with the roots—in history, culture, climate, and race—of the challenges we face.

This remains a difficult, conflicted time. We don’t pretend that there is an easy path to bridging our many divides. Our hope is to be on the side of the light, making use of the resources we have to promote greater understanding, justice, mutual respect, and equal opportunities for all.

We are so grateful to all of you, to the journalists, educators, supporters, and readers who have been such vital parts of our own journey. We look forward to the road ahead.

In the meantime please stay safe—and take best care of yourself, your families, and this nation we love.

Jon Sawyer's signature



In the wake of the publication of the Pulitzer Center-supported Bangor Daily News series Lawmen off Limits, several Maine legislators have announced forthcoming bills reforming oversight of law enforcement officers. The bills propose to expand the authority of the state’s police overseer, to establish thorough background checks on prospective officers, and to provide judges with the ability to place law enforcement officers on administrative leave amid a misconduct investigation. Senator Lisa Keim, who introduced the last bill, commented, "I think everyone probably recognizes how important it is that we have in-depth investigations by journalists. The final point to this whole thing ends up being that the press can be powerful and good."


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This commentary first appeared in the January 12, 2021, edition of the Pulitzer Center weekly newsletter. Subscribe today.


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Democracy and Authoritarianism

Democracy and Authoritarianism