JFK Reporter Merriman Smith’s Name Removed From Journalism Award

Troubling aspects of his past came to light

Merriman Smith
UPI White House correspondent Merriman Smith at the UPI headquarters in Washington, D.C. on March 8, 1964.
The Washington Post via Getty Im

In 1964, Merriman Smith won the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Smith spent several decades covering the White House, beginning in 1940 and ending with his death in 1970. Smith’s contributions to the field were considered significant enough that the White House Correspondents’ Association named an award in his honor, presented “for excellence in presidential news coverage under deadline pressure.”

As The Washington Post‘s Paul Farhi reports, some less-than-admirable aspects of Smith’s career have recently come to light — and it’s enough to prompt the WHCA to remove his name from the award. It will henceforth be known as the WHCA Award for Excellence in Presidential News Coverage Under Deadline Pressure.

What, exactly, did the WHCA’s investigation turn up? Evidence that Smith had — as Farhi phrases it — “upheld restrictions on Black and female journalists, excluding them from membership in the National Press Club, and from attending the correspondents’ annual dinner.” This included some cases in which Smith butted heads with Kennedy over making the membership of these organizations more inclusive.

The WHCA board’s vote was unanimous in favor of removing Smith’s name from the award.

Smith’s son Tim was quoted at length in the article about his father’s history, which suggests a complicated history with race — and a penchant for keeping his political views to himself. “I understand the rationale,” Tim Smith told the Post, “and I think [Merriman Smith] might as well.”

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