A Pulitzer parable

It is a sad parable with a ray of light in it. Truth has been served by a Pulitzer prize awarded to falsehood. When the falsehood was disclosed the prize immediately went to another recipient. Without the disclosure prompted by the prize with a somewhat distorted perception of the already grievous problem of child drug addiction.

When this Washington Post tale of "Jimmy," an eight-year-old heroin addict, came out last year, it shocked the public into fresh awareness of the need to control narcotics and aid its victims. As a police official said: "It seems to me there is a lot of emotion surrounding this kid, and there should be. However , there is still the huge drug use in the city that has to be dealt with. Once we find this kid, the problem will not be over."

The attack on the problem must not be diminished now that the public knows that Jimmy will never be found, that he was invented by the writer of the article for reasons yet unclear. But some perspective has been restored on such questions as whether a mother was actually contributing to her child's delinquency in the way pictured here, and whether the authorities had actually failed to detect and help the child.

It is ironic that, with all the skill and talent honored by the Pulitzer prizes, the big news is of ability misused. But any individual's violation of professional ethics and public trust must be seen as such -- and then recognized as an exception in the record of a nation's press whose accuraci es outweigh its lapses.

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