Cynthia Tucker
Nieman Class of 1989

UnknownTucker spent decades as an Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., and served as the editorial page editor. In 2011, she left the newspaper, to teach journalism at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. When awarding her the 2007 Pulitzer for Commentary, jurors cited her “courageous, clear-headed columns that evince a strong sense of morality and persuasive knowledge of the community,” and she has been lauded as a “role model for persuasive writing in the spirit of debate and mutual respect.” Tucker was a Pulitzer finalist in 2006 and 2004, and has frequently appeared on TV and radio shows including NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, CNN and Company and Hardball with Chris Matthews. Her Twitter following is pushing toward 10,000 — she tweets about drug laws, violence, Egypt, voting rights, the future of journalism and, awesomely, #Scandal. She serves on the board of the International Media Women’s Foundation and the advisory board of the Poynter Institute, has been named Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists, and, last year, won the David Nyhan Prize for Political Journalism from Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. “Cynthia Tucker’s style is direct and strong,” Shorenstein Center Director Alex S. Jones (a 1982 Nieman Fellow) said when presenting the award. “She tells you what she thinks, and what she thinks is always in support of the little guy…” When asked about her influences, Tucker once said, “I have long thought that growing up under Jim Crow made me in some ways, if not the perfect journalist, a very good one, because I was already skeptical about authority. I was primed to ask a lot of questions of people in government, because it was clear from my childhood that they weren’t always right.”


Her Pulitzer-winning columns, which cover topics including voting rights, immigration, Atlanta politics and Coretta Scott King, and take on the complex issue of race in America. From a piece on a U.S. Senate campaign and the n-word:

The obsession with that highly charged epithet suggests the continuing difficulty we have in publicly discussing racism, which is still alive and well in America but increasingly difficult to define and identify. Political and social arbiters who can’t agree on much else do agree on one easy rule: Use of the n-word is prima facie evidence of vicious bigotry.

Except it isn’t — at least not the sort of malicious racism that matters. The use of demeaning racial and ethnic epithets might instead be evidence of arrogance, ignorance, immaturity or some ruinous combination of the three. In the case of Allen and Webb, mere use of the n-word tells voters little about the man or his morality. Context is everything.

If you live in a dark skin, as I do, you have probably developed pretty good instincts for discerning friend from foe. But many black Americans are easily distracted by the n-word, especially if it is used by whites.

Her TV and radio appearances, such as this recent one on Hardball with Chris Matthews, a segment called “The Hillary Obsession”:

Her political blog. From “The GOP’s 21st century poll tax,” with a boss reference to zombies:

Not that you needed those admissions to know that the GOP-led campaign to “protect the integrity of the ballot” is phony, the 21st century version of the poll tax. Remember when Alan Wilson, South Carolina’s Republican Attorney General, claimed last year that hundreds of dead people had voted in his state?
Ah, never happened. As you might expect, zombies have little interest in electoral politics. State authorities investigated and found no — zip, zero, zilch — zombie voters there.
Wilson made his claims in defense of a strict new voter ID law, one of the GOP’s more popular methods for suppressing the franchise. Supposedly, the requirement for showing state-sponsored identification, such as a driver’s license, would prohibit not only the dead but also other unworthies who claim to be legitimate voters. There is just one problem with that theory: Voter impersonation is virtually (nonexistent).

The Featured Fellow series highlights Niemans who have distinguished themselves in narrative journalism and other artful writing or storytelling, and honors the founding of the Nieman Foundation, which turns 75 in September. For more installments, go here.

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