The Atlantic’s Staff Writer Caitlin Dickerson Wins 2023 Pulitzer Prize
Staff writers Elizabeth Bruenig and Xochitl Gonzalez are Pulitzer finalists
May 8, 2023—The Atlantic’s staff writer Caitlin Dickerson has won the 2023 Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Journalism for the September 2022 cover story, “‘We Need to Take Away Children,’” an exhaustive investigation that exposed the secret history of the Trump administration’s policy to intentionally separate migrant children from their parents; the incompetence that led the government to lose track of many children; and the intention among former officials to separate families again if Trump is reelected. Her reporting, one of the longest articles in The Atlantic’s history, laid out in painstaking detail one of the darkest chapters in recent U.S. history, exposing not only how the policy came into being and who was responsible for it, but also how all of its worst outcomes were anticipated and ignored. The investigation was edited by national editor Scott Stossel.
Two other staff writers were Pulitzer finalists: Elizabeth Bruenig in Feature Writing, for her relentless and groundbreaking reporting into Alabama’s deeply troubling incompetence on death row, which prompted a temporary moratorium on executions in the state, and Xochitl Gonzalez in Commentary, for her writing in the magazine and in the Brooklyn, Everywhere newsletter that the Pulitzer Board wrote “explore how gentrification and the predominant white culture in the United States stifle the physical and emotional expression of racial minorities.”
This is the third Pulitzer Prize for The Atlantic, and the third consecutive year in which the magazine has won the prize. Staff writer Jennifer Senior won last year for her cover story, “What Bobby McIlvaine Left Behind,” which looked at one family’s heartbreaking loss in the 9/11 attacks and their struggle to move on. Ed Yong was awarded a Pulitzer in 2021 for his defining coverage of the coronavirus pandemic and how America failed in its response to the virus.
In awarding Dickerson journalism’s top honor, the Pulitzer Board cited: “A deeply reported and compelling accounting of the Trump administration policy that forcefully separated migrant children from their parents resulting in abuses that have persisted under the current administration.”
The Atlantic’s editor in chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, wrote to staff: “This is a wonderful moment for everyone, but particularly for Caitlin, Liz, and Xochitl. There is much to say about their talents, and the talents of their editors. This is also a very proud moment for all of you who worked on these stories. Caitlin’s piece, one of the longest and most complicated stories The Atlantic has published across its 166-year history, required the unflagging work of a good portion of our comparatively small staff—from the copy-editing and fact-checking teams to our artists and designers and lawyers. Our ambitions outmatch our size, but I’m proud to say that our team rises to every challenge.”
Dickerson’s investigation exposed that U.S. officials misled Congress, the public, and the press, and minimized the policy’s implications to obscure what they were doing; that separating migrant children from their parents was not a side effect of the policy, but its intent; that almost no logistical planning took place before the policy was initiated; that instead of working to reunify families after parents were prosecuted, officials worked to keep families apart longer; and that the architects of the legislation will likely seek to reinstate it, should they get the opportunity. Over 18 months, Dickerson conducted more than 150 interviews––including the first extensive on-the-record interviews on this subject with Kirstjen Nielsen, John Kelly, and others intimately involved in the policy and its consequences at every level of government––and reviewed thousands of pages of internal government documents, some of which were turned over only after a multiyear lawsuit.
The Atlantic’s journalism has helped its readers make sense of the world’s most complicated issues and shined a light on injustices the world over. The magazine earned the top honor of General Excellence at the National Magazine Awards in 2022 and 2023, and was named Digiday’s Publisher of the Year in 2022. This journalistic excellence has been paired with growth across the company, including record subscriber growth for the third straight year; the publication of the magazine’s entire archive, dating back to 1857, online for the first time; the return of in-person events, including The Atlantic Festival in Washington, D.C.; and the launch and publication of the first six books in a new imprint, Atlantic Editions, with the independent publisher Zando, collecting the work of Atlantic writers and editors.