In the Inquirer newsroom yesterday afternoon, Gaul stood atop a desk after colleagues and well-wishers clamored for him to make an acceptance speech.
"I don't know how you begin on something like this," Gaul said as he stood hunched on the desk, his head bumping the ceiling tile as cameras clicked around him. "There are so many thank-yous."
He paused to hug Lois Wark, assistant managing editor for projects, who had worked with him most closely on the series. Gaul researched the articles for 18 months before they were published in September.
"This is really about The Inquirer, not about me," Gaul said. "This is really about our family. . . . This is for all of us."
Later, as the champagne flowed, Gaul said he was "tickled pink."
Beside him, his blond 9-year-old son, Gregory, blew dark pink bubbles with his gum as he fidgeted and quietly observed the hubbub.
"I'm so happy," he said of his father's achievement. Gaul and Gregory were joined later by his wife, Cathryn, and their other son, Cary, 4.
It was Gaul's second Pulitzer Prize in 11 years and The Inquirer's 17th in 16 years. This marks the sixth straight year the newspaper has won a Pulitzer, which recognizes outstanding work in journalism and the arts.
The prize was one of three won this year by newspapers owned by Knight- Ridder Inc.
The San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News won in the category of general news reporting. David C. Turnley of the Detroit Free Press won in feature photography.
Thomas J. Hylton of the Pottstown Mercury won the prize for editorial writing for his editorials about a bond issue to preserve farmland and open space in Chester County.
At the New York Times, reporters Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn - husband and wife - won for their international reporting from China.
The award for investigative reporting went to Lou Kilzer and Chris Ison of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Inquirer editors praised Gaul's persistence and resourcefulness.
"This was an unusually good story," said Inquirer executive editor Eugene L. Roberts Jr.
"It was all Gil Gaul's idea," Roberts said. "He discovered, to his amazement, that blood is much like oil in the way it's bought and sold. He knew this was more than an ordinary story, and he really went after it and got it."
Said deputy managing editor Jim Naughton: "Gil was so persistent over so many obstacles. . . . He found something in an area where no one had ever looked before, and that's what it's all about. It's a tribute to him, not The Inquirer."
Gaul won his first Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 1979 as one of two members of an investigative team at the Pottsville (Pa.) Republican. That series looked at alleged organized-crime involvement in a Wilkes-Barre coal company.
Last year, prompted by Gaul's latest series, Congress started an investigation into the Food and Drug Administration's oversight of the blood industry.
Gaul reported that the FDA had curtailed inspections of blood banks in the early 1980s, just when acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) was beginning to threaten the blood supply. The stories revealed that the agency lacked basic information about the buying and selling of blood and relied heavily on the American Red Cross and other blood banks to supply data to the FDA.
Critics contend that the FDA's tight relationship with the blood industry compromises its ability to regulate the nation's more than 2,000 blood banks and commercial plasma centers.
Through interviews with about 400 people, Gaul tracked the formal and informal networks used to sell blood nationwide, and discovered that the blood moved through four competing clearinghouses. He reported that thousands of pints of blood were bought and sold with no regulation, and that there were flaws in the system by which the Red Cross monitored blood safety.
The Pulitzer Prizes were announced by the president of Columbia University, which oversees the contest. Except for the gold medals, all awards come with a $3,000 cash prize.
Other winners included:
National reporting - Ross Anderson, Bill Dietrich, Mary Ann Gwinn and Eric Nalder, the Seattle Times.
Explanatory journalism - David A. Vise and Steve Coll, the Washington Post.
Specialized reporting - Tamar Stieber, the Albuquerque Journal.
Feature writing - Dave Curtin, the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph.
Commentary - Jim Murray, the Los Angeles Times.
Criticism - Allan Temko, the San Francisco Chronicle.
Editorial cartooning - Tom Toles, the Buffalo News.
Spot news photography - Photo staff of The Oakland (Calif.) Tribune.
Fiction - Oscar Hijuelos, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.
Drama - August Wilson, The Piano Lesson.
History - Stanley Karnow, In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines.
Biography - Sebastian de Grazia, Machiavelli In Hell.
Poetry - Charles Simic, The World Doesn't End.
General nonfiction - Dale Maharidge and Michael Williamson, And Their Children After Them.
Music - Mel Powell, Duplicates: A Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra.