Pulitzer Prize Award News: Twitter Was Journalist’s Secret Weapon For Winning Prestigious Prize

A Washington Post journalist who fact-checked president Donald Trump’s charitable activities through Twitter has won a Pulitzer Prize award for national reporting.

David Fahrenthold, who the media dubbed as Trump’s “archnemesis” and who the president called “a really nasty guy,” was cited as a winner for “his pioneering work” on investigating the disconnect between Trump’s philanthropy and the paper trail. He involved his Twitter followers while looking into—and proving—Trump’s misuse of his foundation’s money, and the truth as to whether he was as generous as he had claimed.

Through the help of his Twitter followers, Fahrenthold back-tracked Trump’s charity gift-giving history, as well as instances in which the president used his foundation’s money for personal purchases. He posted a blow-by-blow account of his progress on Twitter in the form of photographs, which showed a list of the charities he contacted. He had called each charitable organization to verify a donation from the president.

Fahrenthold also noted that he would mention president Donald Trump’s handle from time to time on Twitter to get his attention. “I spent a day searching for Trump’s money on Twitter, asking vets’ organizations if they’d gotten any of it. I used Trump’s Twitter handle, @realdonaldtrump because I wanted Trump to see me searching,” he wrote in a column last December.

When asked by Nieman Labs why he relied “heavily” on social media, particularly Twitter, Fahrenthold said he wanted to make the process “interesting.” He said,

“Trump lives in Twitter, the media world lives on Twitter. I think I knew there was going to be a lot of futility to the process. I was looking for a way to make the futility look interesting and give people something to follow.”

His approach received mixed reactions. Some accused him of being a “commie,” and thought his approach was too old-school. His company’s social media team, in fact, was doubtful that his Twitter initiatives would be successful. But he also received compliments for his efforts.

But for Fahrenthold, the engagement generated by his posts—regardless of whether they were positive or negative—was exactly the point. He also explained that his approach lent his research more credibility and offered his audience better transparency in terms of his information-gathering process. He tells Nieman Lab in a previous interview,

“What I wanted to do with this was give people a way to see what I did. I’m not trying to conceal anything about what I’ve tried and I’m open to people suggestions…If Trump has a suggestion of where I should look, I’ll look. I just want to be transparent about why I called these groups and who I called and what I learned. I’m hoping that people who come in with that degree of distrust see that and appreciate it.”

Fahrenthold stumbled upon the story while covering the Iowa caucus at the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center. Speaking to veterans in the audience that day, Trump pledged $100,000—as symbolized by a giant check—to their cause. Trump also claimed that there was more where that came from—$6 million, in fact, including $1 million out of his pocket. He added that he would give the eyebrow-raising amount, little by little, to charities across America.

But months after making that promise, the veterans had yet to receive the donation. As Fahrenthold dug deeper for evidence that Trump was just “sitting” on the money, he finally received a call from the now-president. Trump told him over the phone that he had just donated $1 million. That was in May (Trump made his pledge in February).

Following a suggestion from his editor, Fahrenthold continued his research on Trump’s questionable philanthropic activities to find out whether he was really giving away tens of millions to charity as he had claimed. Fahrenthold’s research showed otherwise.

As of this writing, journalists and social media users are rediscovering David Fahrenthold’s work. Riding on Fahrenholdt’s recent surge in popularity, the Post‘s social media team has tweeted an article containing a laundry list of charities in the United States, and the real score about the donations they allegedly received from Trump.

As you know by now, thanks to Fahrenholdt’s research, Donald Trump’s own donations do not compare with the amount coming from his foundation’s accounts. What was ironic was that, despite Trump’s net worth and the financial value of his foundation, only a few public monuments, e.g. two community theater chairs and a bench, exist to commemorate his charitable gifts.

“There is still a stark contrast between the huge monuments Trump has erected to his own business success—casinos, office towers and hotels—and the monuments others have built to honor Trump’s generosity,” Fahrenthold commented in a column in August of last year.

[Featured Image by David Fahrenthold/Twitter]