New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt ’05 wins two Pulitzers: articles on Bill O’Reilly settlements and Trump Administration recognized

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Michael Schmidt ‘05 started his own publication during his time at Lafayette. (Photo courtesy of Sharon Suh)

Kathryn Kelly

New York Times reporters won the Pulitzer Prize in Public Service “[f]or explosive, impactful journalism that exposed powerful and wealthy sexual predators, including allegations against one of Hollywood’s most influential producers, bringing them to account for long-suppressed allegations of coercion, brutality and victim silencing, thus spurring a worldwide reckoning about sexual abuse of women.”

Michael Schmidt ’05, one of the reporters achieving the honor, co-wrote the earliest story of the winning works with Emily Steel. On April 2, 2017, they broke the story about Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s history of sexual harassment allegations and settlements. Their piece on the topic in October 2017 described how despite the fact that 21st Century Fox knew of the payouts—the largest being $32 million—related to the harassment settlements, O’Reilly landed a $25 million contract with company back in January 2017. Both of these pieces are featured in the winning work of the New York Times.

Shortly following Schmidt’s April article, O’Reilly was dismissed from Fox News after “a thorough and careful review of the allegations,” according to a Fox News release. Schmidt’s work, along with that of his colleagues who broke the Harvey Weinstein scandal, sparked the “Weinstein effect” of survivors sharing their stories and generated large-scale conversations about the treatment of women in society.

Schmidt also won the Pulitzer for National Reporting, along with other members of the New York Times and the staff of the Washington Post. Three of his articles, one co-written and two solo works, won him the award, which recognized “deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage” furthering the “nation’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connections to the Trump campaign, the President-elect’s transition team and his eventual administration,” according to the prize description. His articles centered on Trump’s interactions with the fired F.B.I. director James Comey, with one breaking the story that the President had asked for a loyalty pledge which Comey had denied him.

One of his earliest articles bringing a controversy to light was written for The Lafayette. At the end of his freshman year, he wrote an article entitled “Racial politics on men’s basketball team discussed.” Black players formerly on Lafayette’s team alleged different and colder treatment from head coach Fran O’Hanlon. O’Hanlon denied treating players any differently on the basis of race.

Schmidt went on to start an “alternative publication” with his friend Erin Koen ’05, called the Marooned.

“We did the first interview with Dan Weiss, the incoming president of Lafayette [at the time],” he said. “We did a serious piece on one of our classmates who had gotten a lung transplant. We did some satire pieces, ran fake horoscopes. It was a lot of fun.”

“I was afraid working at a newspaper after college that it would be too much work, and it is a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding,” he said. Before he was correspondent for the New York Times, Schmidt worked as a clerk at the Foreign Desk of the Times, getting reporters in Iraq “on the phone with editors, and I had a front row seat to see how the process worked and how the Times operated,” he said.

He added that in college, he developed his passion for journalism and that it was a lot of fun to do. Lafayette also provided him the opportunity to connect with professors who impacted him. Majoring in International Affairs, Schmidt said that he was influenced by government and law professor Bruce Murphy, retired history professor Arnold Offner, government and law professor Ilan Peleg and Spanish professor Michelle Geoffrion-Vinci.

“Murphy was particularly important because…9/11 happened fall of my freshman year, and…I sat in on his classes because there was so much going on and he was walking us through and explaining to us everything that was happening,” Schmidt said, adding that Murphy used the New York Times to “educate us on how the world was unfolding and [what] the impact on civil liberties could be, how the government would respond, and he was a really great force for educating us at such an important time.”

Murphy wrote in an email that he certainly remembers Schmidt.

“We saw the beginnings of the journalist that Michael would become here at Lafayette as he displayed in and out of classes his incredible energy, keen intellect, relentless effort to accomplish his goals, and his willingness to work,” he wrote. “Michael always was the kind of student who ‘thinks outside the box.’ He truly was one of the students that any professor would remember long after a class was over.”

Peleg, too, recognized Schmidt’s incredible achievements.

“Maybe his most important achievement—and there are surely more to come in his future—is the bombshell report that President Trump had asked James Comey, the F.B.I. Director, to declare his personal loyalty to him,” Peleg wrote. “In exposing this issue, Schmidt has rendered invaluable service to the American democracy. We should all be very proud of Michael’s achievement.”

In his role at the Times currently, Schmidt covers happenings with the Trump Administration and the Mueller investigation, working out of Washington, D.C. He conducted a one-on-one interview with President Donald J. Trump at his golf club in December. Some criticized Schmidt for not pushing Trump more during the interview, but Schmidt said during an interview on MSNBC that he thought “the way [he] could get as much information and insight [from Trump] into how he sees the world [and] his presidency” was by letting him talk without interjecting.

Schmidt said in an interview that when Trump attempts to intimidate the press, he knows the best move is to keep working.

“I think that when Mr. Trump says things that he does, we have to take note of them, see what he said, but keep our head down and go back to work. That is by far the most important thing we can do and we can’t let it distract us from the work in front of us,” he said.

Schmidt also broke the story on the Hillary Clinton email scandal, writing on March 2, 2015, that her conducting business “exclusively” in her private email may have broken State Department rules. Early on in his career, he broke the news on multiple high-profile baseball players testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.