Immerse Yourself in Anne Hull's Words
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist exposed Walter Reed
By Rod Machen, 2:30PM, Wed. Oct. 2, 2013
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anne Hull spoke Tuesday night at the University of Texas, discussing the state of modern journalism and her work documenting the human side of the biggest stories of our day.
From 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina, Hull has been sent by The Washington Post to do old-fashioned, boots-on-the-ground journalism about major events, getting to know the people directly affected and to tell their stories. It has made her one of the best in the business.
She opened with a heartwrenching story from New Orleans, just a couple of days after Katrina hit. Hull found a grandmother and a small boy walking around deserted streets, trying to find a ride to Houston. Hull abandoned her assistants and walked with them for hours, capturing the tragedy and resilience of the pair. The woman was so sure her grandson would die that she wrote his date of birth on his shirt with a marker so he could be identified. These kind of details tell a deeper story.
After Hull filed her piece, the lady asked for help getting out of the city. Hull had to refuse; her job was to report, not "be a Red Cross worker," as her editor so bluntly put it. The decision wasn't easy, but it comes with the job. Eventually a medical truck drove by, and the woman and her grandson got that ride to Houston. Hull stayed and continued reporting.
Hull's most important work happened in 2007 when she and colleague Dana Priest documented the broken-down state of affairs at Walter Reed Medical Center. She gave Tuesday's audience a behind-the-scenes account of the work that went into this reporting, which eventually incited massive change in the way veterans are treated – and earned Hull and Priest the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
A reader tip led Priest and Hull to begin quietly investigating the nation’s largest veterans hospital. They also decided to go around the Army’s office of public affairs, getting on base without using official channels but also without ever lying about who they were. Hull spent days hanging around a bar on base before she finally began talking with the wives and girlfriends of the mistreated soldiers. After cultivating these sources, she eventually got to the soldiers themselves. Hull immersed herself in their world, witnessing conditions for herself.
The fallout was massive. People were fired, treatment was improved, and the nation raged at the way their soldiers had been treated in the aftermath of war.
Hull’s message to young journalists was short and sweet: You won’t get paid much, so find a place to write that shares your values. She has spent a lifetime living this out, and her readers are better for it.