Note: This post has been updated with an additional Pulitzer claim.
This is one of those relatively unimportant stories, but one I found interesting as a sort of microcosm of the fringe history movement. It concerns our friend Treasure Force Commander J. Hutton Pulitzer, who recently claimed to have “100% confirmed” proof of a Roman sword discovered at Oak Island in Canada, and who more recently heavily implied that skeptics of his claims were the moral equivalent of Islamic State terrorists. For reasons I can’t quite fathom, I started reading J. Hutton Pulitzer’s official curriculum vitae, published in 2014 as J. Hutton Pulitzer Curriculum Vitae: Autodidacticism, written by Chris Cline.
While Pulitzer is not the author of the volume, it was clearly produced with his endorsement. He claims copyright for the text on the book’s copyright page. The author claims to be in awe of Pulitzer’s “genius,” describing him in glowing terms that apparently do not include spell check or basic Word formatting, since the book, like many Pulitzer products, is error-ridden and badly laid out. It’s also no longer for sale, for reasons unexplained.
The book was published under the name of the National Treasure Society, an organization represented by a single blog post from 2009, and the Cacheology Society of America, another organization lacking much information. Both are referenced online only in conjunction with Pulitzer and his associates. Neither had its name trademarked, according to the US Patent and Trademark Office. According to the Dun & Bradstreet credit reporting agency, the Cacheology Society is a limited liability corporation based in Dallas, Texas. The Texas Comptroller’s Office, however, does not have a listing for the company as a taxable entity. That would be because the company is actually registered in the state of Utah, where it was established in June 2010 and renewed its registration last April.
I guess that as the official publisher of Pulitzer’s many books, this corporation might be the legal entity Pulitzer referenced to me when he demanded I remove a photograph for my website. At that time, he claimed that he assigns all of his copyrights to a company. However, there is no way to know whether this is indeed the corporation since Pulitzer is associated with more than one company. In fact, the National Treasure Society is also a limited liability corporation based in Dallas and registered in Utah, and, confusingly, it shares publisher duty on many of Pulitzer’s books. It was founded in April 2010.
Unfortunately, Utah requires payment to find more information about the corporations, and I’m not interested enough to give them money. So, to return to Pulitzer’s curriculum vitae:
In the book-length celebration of Pulitzer’s “genius,” the fifth chapter claims that Pulitzer was the recipient of the “Smithsonian Laureate Award,” later specifying this as the “Laureate Medal – Media, Arts, and Entertainment.” But the text of the chapter doesn’t back that up, instead claiming that Pulitzer’s CueCat bar code reader was selected as one of the Computerworld case studies in business for 2001.
This is different still from how Pulitzer characterized the award in a 2011 blog post: “In 2001, CueCat, DigitalConvergence and J Hutton Pulitzer, the Inventor, was (sic) awarded the coveted Smithsonian – ComputerWorld – ‘Search For New Heroes Award.’” This is different yet again from how he described his award in late 2015 in promoting his upcoming books on the Roman sword: “Commander J Hutton Pulitzer won the Smithsonian Laureate Award for being the ‘Person Most Likely to Change Society as we know it...’”
The program in question was the Computerworld Smithsonian Honors Awards, which were instituted in 1990 and continued until 2001, when the Smithsonian severed all ties with the awards program. The awards continued under the Computerworld moniker thereafter. According to Computerworld, each year a series of businesses, individuals, and programs were designated finalists for the Computerworld Smithsonian Honors Program, and case studies in their business or nonprofit ventures were deposited in the Smithsonian as a record of their innovations and accomplishments. “Finalists selected for further recognition during that first decade of the Honors program were designated as recipients of Computerworld Smithsonian Awards,” Computerworld explained.
The Smithsonian did not have direct involvement in administering the awards. Instead, honorees were selected by a group of their business peers.
To puzzle this out required a little bit of work. Last week I asked Computerworld to help clarify things, but as of this writing I have not received a response from the magazine. This is what I have been able to find so far.
According to Computerworld’s official list of winners, the actual top award for the Computerworld Smithsonian Honors Program in the category of Media, Arts, and Entertainment went to the Jim Henson Creature Studio in 2001. Because I wasn’t sure whether the awards given out in 2001 were labeled 2001 or 2000, I also checked the 2000 awards, and that category’s award went to Real Networks.
But here is where it gets complicated: According to the Computerworld Honors online archives of the case studies, a company named JD Edwards actually did nominate CueCat and DigitalConvergence (but not Pulitzer the man) for the Media, Arts, and Entertainment award, and the CueCat did indeed achieve “laureate” status. However, while it was one of 311 nominees (“laureates”) whose case studies were submitted to the Smithsonian, it was not (so far as I can tell) singled out for further recognition and thus not a Computerworld Smithsonian Award winner under the definitions Computerworld used to define winners in 2001. According to the website and press release, the pool of laureates was narrowed down to five finalists, and one was selected as the award winner. Here is the list of the “finalists” for each category that year.
I am happy to correct this if anyone can find evidence that CueCat was indeed selected as an award winner, but nothing in the Computerworld Honors archives or press releases indicates that it was. By the way, the “Search for New Heroes” was not the name of the award but its slogan and the title of the annual journal in which case studies were published.
Computerworld began using CueCat codes in its magazine on May 14, 2001. Not long after, a massive security breach and a lack of consumer interest in the product led to the collapse of CueCat, resulting in around $185 million in losses to investors, which included NBC, Coca-Cola, and RadioShack, according to published accounts I found in books, magazines, and the Wall Street Journal.
So, overall, the claim given in the book is partially true and partly false. Pulitzer did not win the “Smithsonian Laureate Medal,” but his company, CueCat, was named a laureate of the Computerworld Smithsonian Honors Program, along with many others.
The book goes on to claim that “As a result of winning the Laureate Award, Pulitzer’s Life Work is available for Study at the following Academic Institutions…” (capitalization in original) with a list of dozens of major universities. This is also a partially true claim. The universities listed subscribed to the Computerworld Smithsonian Honors Program and received printed copies of each year’s case studies for their libraries. The case study was for CueCat, not Pulitzer. (I read it, in all its boring puffery.) This would be like me saying that my “life work” is available for study in hundreds of university libraries just because they bought copies of one my books.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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