Nicco Mele: Good evening. On behalf of the Shorenstein Center, I’d like to welcome you to the Goldsmith Awards, my favorite event all year long, the highlight of our year. My name is Nicco Mele, and I’m director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. I want to ask you join me in silencing your mobile phone, but don’t turn it off. Feel free to tweet and follow this online. Our handle is @ShorensteinCtr and our hashtag tonight is #GoldsmithAwards.
This weekend, my seven year-old son Tom asked me what were the Academy Awards, and I explained it to him and he said, “Oh, like the Goldsmith Awards for movies.” Journalists are not celebrities. Most of the journalists we are celebrating tonight would not be recognized on the street and yet, they are some of the great heroes of our time. We do not make a habit of celebrating our journalists. For the most part, they are not highly compensated. Recent polling shows how despised the media is by the public. And yet, these journalists here tonight, with great courage, work tirelessly to pursue their stories, documenting injustice and abuse.
They are speaking truth to power, they are giving voice to the voiceless and unmasking all kinds of miseries. These journalists are the people who toil, day in and day out, to keep our democracy strong, to feed the fires of our society. It is my great honor to celebrate, with you today, these journalists, for their courage and dedication to their work. We had, just before this, a panel with the journalists, talking about their stories. And it was deeply moving to hear about the hours, in some cases years, spent investigating these stories, collecting all this data, painstakingly staking out potential sources, doing incredible work.
These awards were made possible by Robert Greenfield, the Philadelphia lawyer and a graduate of Harvard Law School. Bob had a client named Berda Marks Goldsmith, who decided to bequeath him her entire estate. Bob said, “Please don’t,” but she did it anyway. So Bob set out to find a way to honor her memory. As it happens, Ms. Goldsmith was passionate about news and good government. A random encounter led Bob to Marvin Kalb, the Shorenstein Center’s founding director, and out of their meeting came the idea for the Goldsmith Awards.
We have been blessed over the years by the Greenfield Foundation’s ongoing support. This is the 26th year of the Goldsmith Awards, and I would just like to ask the members of the Greenfield family and those from the Greenfield Foundation who are here tonight—Mike, Joni, Bill Greenfield, and Bill Epstein—please stand, so we can express our appreciation. (applause)
Our Career Award tonight goes to the astonishing Martha Raddatz, but before we get to that, I want to thank our judges this year. They had the difficult task of reading over 120 submissions, scoring them, arguing about them, and as I read their names, I just would invite them to stand and we can applaud them for their work. Susan Crawford, Professor of Law at Harvard Law. Kristen Go, director of special projects at the Investigating Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, and former managing editor for the San Francisco Chronicle. Mike Greenfield, trustee of the Greenfield Foundation. Ron Nixon, homeland security correspondent for the New York Times, and cofounder of the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting. Jennifer Preston, vice president for journalism of the Knight Foundation and former journalist for The New York Times. Maralee Schwartz, contributing editor at the Columbia Journalism Review and former political editor of The Washington Post. And the Honorable Mark Wolf, Senior United States District Judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. (applause)
I chaired the meeting and judges recused themselves from voting on entries from their employers. But before I introduce the six finalists for the Goldsmith Investigative Reporting Prize, we will recognize The New York Times with a special citation for their compendium of stories, “Harassed.” Rarely has journalism impacted so many lives, on such a scale. According to an exhaustive study by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as many as 85 percent of American women report being sexually harassed at work, but the numbers don’t begin to speak to the realities of how sexual harassment has affected our lives as men and women. For me, I know that my three year-old daughter’s life will be better thanks to this reporting.
Quite literally, millions of stories have been told on social media, with the hashtag #MeToo, thanks to this work. Times Up, Hollywood women in black gowns, and United for Equality exist thanks to this work. Frances McDormand, introducing the world to “inclusion riders,” Sunday night, thanks to this work. Seventy-one men in positions of power, in media, entertainment, government or business, fired or resigned, thanks to this work. I’m sure there are many people in this room who have spoken out, after years of silence, thanks to this work, and [there is] a long overdue conversation about our culture of sexual harassment and violence, thanks to this work.
The Times’ reporting, along with reporting from outlets like The New Yorker, resulted in a tsunami of stories detailing sexual harassment and assault at all levels at the workplace, at a scale never seen before. The Times’ reporting was investigative journalism at its finest. Reporters Emily Steele and Michael Schmidt, here with us tonight, reviewed harassment settlements against Bill O’Reilly, paid out by Fox News. Suspecting there may have been more to the story, they reverse engineered 45 million dollars in settlement payouts implicating O’Reilly. The story was published, advertisers pulled their money, and three weeks later, one of the most powerful men in media was unemployed.
Months later, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s investigation into Harvey Weinstein broke the dam on decades of whispered stories about his predatory behavior and assault of young actresses and generations of his employees. The Weinstein Company filed for bankruptcy last week and Weinstein himself is under investigation in three countries. By the new year, dozens of prominent men, across multiple industries, from TV host Matt Lauer, to celebrity chef Mario Batali, Federal Judge Alex Kozinski, to Senator Al Franken, had all been fired or forced to resign.
The stories keep coming. The stories are forcing us to look, deeply and critically, at our behavior. It’s a social, cultural and community reckoning unlike anything I’ve ever seen and I suspect, anything I ever will see. The spread of #MeToo opened space for survivors to tell their stories of harassment and assault, and to be listened to from a place that opened with a chorus of “We believe you,” rather than a code of silence or suspicion. #MeToo cannot right our wrongs, it may not lessen the pain of what women have endured, but for many, it was an opening opportunity to give voice to trauma, to injustice, and to try to come to terms with our culture’s relationship to women.
The Times’s reporting did not stop with the ousting of famous headline-grabbing men. It also detailed the systemic failures that allowed men’s actions to infect the bones of dozens of businesses, organizations, and institutions of power. The complicity [was] up and down the scale, from A-list actresses and actors, to workers toiling on Ford’s faculty floors. No one was immune from the abuse of power or the indignity of gross violations of bodily autonomy. Through their tireless efforts, the reporters of The New York Times have affirmed the truth that generations of people, mostly women, have lived with in crushing silence or cutting disbelief. Would Emily Steele and Michael S. Schmidt from The New York Times please stand to be recognized. (applause)
Our first finalist tonight is from the Asbury Park Press, a series titled “Renter Hell.” A roof over your head is the most basic need, and yet many, even in this wealthy country, have no housing or inadequate housing. In “Renter Hell,” reporters Shannon Mullen and Payton Guion uncovered the deplorable living conditions of thousands of New Jersey residents living in government-subsidized housing. Imagine raising your family in a home infested with rats, cockroaches, walking up stairs awash in human waste? And then you complain to your landlord, who asks you to tally the number of rats, cockroaches, leaks, exposed wires, and other hazards around your home and then ignores you, takes no action, dismisses you.
This is the reality of thousands of New Jersey residents every day, despite the fact that New Jersey has some of the strongest tenant laws in the country. This was enabled by overworked and neglectful inspectors and regulators, as well as state laws that allowed powerful landlords to hide behind a shell, a maze of LLC companies. These paperwork games effectively shielded landlords from any consequences of their actions. Mullen and Guion described the names of LLCs being read out loud in court and no one showing up. Their reporting resulted in an immediate government crackdown on the worst apartment building in the state, issuing more than 1,800 violations.
The government also arrested the owner of a storefront, a supposed beeper store, under which hundreds of slumlords parked their LLCs, skirting regulators by making it nearly impossible to track them down in person. In a case that is all too rare in state and local government, politicians worked across the aisle, in a bipartisan way, to close the loopholes that protect slumlords and place tenants at risk, after the publication of this incredible work. Would Shannon Mullen and Payton Guion please stand to be recognized. (applause)
Our next finalist is from BuzzFeed News, “Broken Justice in Chicago.” I think it would be my worst nightmare to be arrested for a murder that I did not commit, and then watch the entire system lie, to convict me of a crime, and end up finding myself sitting in prison, innocent, and no one believes me. In Chicago, BuzzFeed News reporter Melissa Segura uncovered decades of abuse of power, really led by one detective, but a system who supported him, shattering the lives of not one, not two, but more than 50 innocent people.
Roberto Almodovar walked free after 23 years behind bars, innocent of a double murder in which he played no part. Just eight days after BuzzFeed News published the story, Almodovar was released from prison, the Cook County State Attorney’s Office stating it was “no longer in the interest of justice to keep him locked up.” Segura also investigated the appeals process of another case: Roosevelt Myles. His appeals hearing was continued more than 70 times, all while he remained in prison for 16 years. He alleged that he too, had been framed for murder, and within weeks his conviction was reviewed and he walked free this past November.
The next month, two more cases, men who had been beaten by Detective Guevara, were dismissed. In all these cases, innocent men were put behind bars while the true murderers continued to live free. Melissa Segura is not the first person to report on Detective Guevara’s unethical conduct, but her painstaking work had incredible impact, exonerating men whose most basic freedoms have been grossly and repeatedly violated. Fifty-one people claimed Guevara framed them, and her journalism is the most comprehensive accounting of the scale of his misconduct to-date. In our panel, she told a moving story about a group of mothers and sisters and family members who went to every single police accountability hearing to raise these accusations, for years, and they were ignored, until her journalism brought it to a broader audience. Would Melissa Segura please stand up and be recognized. (applause)
Our next finalist is “Fight Club: An Investigation Into Florida Juvenile Justice,” from the Miami Herald. Elord Revolte, a detainee in the Miami Dade Regional Juvenile Detention Center, was murdered over a honeybun. On August 30, 2017, at the urging of one of the officers in the facility, more than a dozen other boys kicked, punched, and stomped on Elord. He died the next day.
Reporting by Carol Marbin Miller and Audra Burch of the Miami Herald found he was targeted by officials at the detention facility who paid boys to target him and paid them with snacks out of the vending machine. The Herald’s reporting found this was not an isolated incident. So common was this practice that it came with its own language: “Do something to anger an officer and you’d have a honeybun on your head.”
Low pay, abysmal hiring standards, and an environment likely to cause burnout create a toxic stew in many of Florida’s juvenile detention centers, which find boys and girls at the mercy of sadistic officers charged with their safety and care. The Miami Herald’s reporting found widespread instances of brutality, sexual exploitation, medical neglect, administrative incompetence, and staff-induced beatings like the one that killed Elord—and this is all with children, in a juvenile detention facility. As a result of the paper’s series, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice overhauled its hiring practices, requiring that new agency hires be vetted for past abuses at sister agencies.
One of the things they uncovered was that prison officials kicked out of an adult prison would get hired at juvenile detention facilities. Low salaries, in some cases not much above minimum wage, make it exceptionally difficult to hire talented, qualified employees. As a result of this reporting, Florida Governor Rick Scott asked lawmakers to approve a 10 percent pay raise for detention officers. This comes after a decade without a single raise.
Lawmakers in at least two counties undertook surprise inspection of juvenile detention centers and emerged to confirm to the Herald that conditions inside were terrible. Such unannounced inspections had never been done before. In another bipartisan effort, state lawmakers came together to write legislation to reform the juvenile justice system in the state, including unrestricted access for inspections and to match some of the policies in adult prisons. Reporting by Burch and Miller resulted in new standards of accountability, shockingly absent from the juvenile justice system. Would Carol Marbin Miller and Audra Burch please stand up to be recognized. (applause) It’s an unbelievable piece. You should go online and look at it and watch the security videos they got under the open records law. It’s shocking.
Our next piece is a collaboration between ProPublica and National Public Radio, called “Lost Mothers.” If there’s one thing that all of us share, it’s that our mothers brought us into this world, but for all the work of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood, we really don’t take care of our mothers in our healthcare system in the United States.
NPR’s Renee Montagne and ProPublica’s Nina Martin, found that our system falls woefully short of providing care to mothers in the critical hours and days following childbirth. In fact, it will shock you to learn that the United States has one of the highest rates of maternal death in the developed world, half of which are preventable, as NPR and ProPublica’s investigation found. Our system, which we routinely brag about as being one of the best in the world, routinely fails mothers.
Sometimes the impact of a story is broad—sweeping policy changes, investigations, review—and sometimes the impact of a story is near and deep. Marie McCausland in Ohio, Cassi Foley in California, and Nelly Wright in Oregon are just three of those deep personal impacts. All three suffered complications after their births, rising blood pressure and intense pain. But, as so often happens to women in the healthcare system, they were told they were overreacting, nothing was wrong, these symptoms weren’t that bad. Montagne and Martin saved these women’s lives.
All three of these women, McCausland, Foley, and Wright, had read “Lost Mothers,” and recognized these symptoms as the same preeclampsia that took the life of one of the series subjects, NICU nurse, Lauren Bloomstein. These women were able to advocate for themselves, insisting on proper treatment. The lives of new mothers do not receive proper care, and then we lose these moms at a time that should be the happiest in their lives.
When a new mother dies, little is done to investigate why. In fact, so little is done that we don’t keep records of mothers who die shortly after childbirth in the United States. The way these reporters built the data to document and understand this problem was to painstakingly pore over GoFundMe and other crowdfunding websites, going to find these crowdfunding pages set up to pay for funeral expenses, and looking through Facebook.
In one weekend, they collected more than 2,000 stories over Facebook of recent mothers who died in some terrible calamity. Their reporting took an insane amount of effort. It really is exceptional data analysis that established beyond a doubt the greater risk faced by African American women, a damning contrast between the British approach, that has reduced rates of maternal mortality, and the American system’s total abdication of even tracking maternal deaths. A first-of-its-kind database allowed families at last, and at a minimum, to have the deaths of their mothers recognized. Would Renee Montagne and Nina Martin please stand up. (applause)
“The Addiction Trade” was published by STAT. It started with the opioid crisis here in the state of Massachusetts. So many people have lost loved ones in the grip of addiction, and yet unscrupulous predators see them as little more than opportunities for a paycheck, as they try and claw their way out of addiction. The epidemic of opioid use across the United States has created a giant network of treatment centers, many of which are not founded with the intent to rehabilitate those with addictions, but to make quick cash from insurance payouts.
Reporters David Armstrong of STAT and Evan Allen of The Boston Globe uncovered a network of middlemen trading addicts for cash, from so-called treatment centers—human brokers. The more beds they could fill, the more money these centers received from insurance companies, and the more these brokers were paid their bounties for channeling patients to these centers. When the patient’s insurance benefits were up, after 60 or 90 days, they would be kicked out of treatment to the curb, often in a city or state far from their home, without the support of a medical team or family. Vulnerable and left to fend for themselves, many of these people, who had just started their recoveries, relapsed and often died.
Armstrong and Allen named the people and businesses profiting off the desperation of those seeking help, sparking investigations by the Massachusetts Attorney General and the U.S. Congress. Armstrong and Allen also reported on the unethical practices of television therapist Dr. Phil, around those with alcoholism and addiction. In one case, a bottle of vodka was left in a hotel room for a guest struggling with alcoholism, and another was directed to an open-air drug market to buy heroin. The exploitation of people with these diseases is an abomination for someone who dares to present himself as a trustworthy medical professional. The shocking efforts of an entire industry dedicated to taking away any hope of recovery for these addicts has been unveiled by David Armstrong and Evan Allen. Would you please stand. (applause)
Our last finalist is The Washington Post, for a series of stories packaged together about Russia. “Democracy dies in darkness” is the new motto of The Washington Post, selected in the weeks after President Trump’s inauguration. The Post shows the seriousness with which it lives up to that motto, with its extensive reporting on Russian interference in the 2016 election, and possible links between the Trump campaign and Kremlin agents, and how the Trump transition team, and then the administration, responded. Much of what I’ve spoken about tonight revolves around rights—the right to liberty, life, the pursuit of happiness, the right to be treated with dignity and respect, the right of the press to challenge institutions of great power.
A strong, vigorous democracy guarantees these rights. In the Post’s reporting, the work of dozens of individual journalists challenges this ongoing assault on our democracy, the bedrock of our rights. The impact of the Post’s reporting has been swift and far-reaching. I’m sure everyone in the room has followed it, from breaking the story that the then National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had lied about discussing sanctions with Russian Ambassador Kislyak. Flynn was then forced to resign and that was just the beginning.
Post reporters covered other stories, including President Trump’s revealing of highly classified information to Russian officials in the Oval Office, the very first report that the president himself was being investigated for obstruction of justice, an autopsy of the Obama administration’s faltering response to Russian interference, and the first report that the CIA concluded, in a secret assessment, that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency. These are just a few of the stories The Washington Post reported on this topic, and many of the subjects that they’re reporting are now under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and three congressional committees.
In response, again and again President Trump attacked the Post, calling the reporting “fake news.” Despite great risks, in using old-fashioned methods to leave little digital trace in an effort to protect their sources, these courageous reporters told the stories that allow us to dig out the rot and protect our democracy. Would Ellen Nakashima, Rosalind Helderman, Greg Miller, Tom Hamburger, and Peter Wallsten from The Washington Post stand to be recognized. (applause)
Before announcing the winner tonight, I want to note the generosity of the Goldsmith Fund of the Greenfield Foundation. The winner gets a prize of $25,000 and all the other finalist teams will receive $10,000. It’s enormously hard to pick a winner among these incredible stories. Each of them is just such an inspiration to me. On the one hand, they’re each a story of terrifying injustice, and really the worst of human depravity—it is astonishing—and also tales of how institutions and systems just grind people’s lives up. Yet what gives me great hope, what really moves me deeply, is the work these reporters do day in and day out, to bring this to light.
To change an individual life or to change a whole culture, it’s a deep inspiration to me. Please, let’s give them a standing ovation for their incredible work. (applause) But even though everybody gets some money, we have one winner, and everybody’s a winner, but the winner of the 2018 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting goes to Renee Montagne of NPR and Nina Martin of ProPublica. (applause)
Renee Montagne: Thank you.
Nina Martin: Thank you. (applause)
Nicco Mele: And now, it’s my real honor to introduce the recipient of this year’s Goldsmith Career Award for Excellence in Journalism, Martha Raddatz. Martha wrote a book in 2007 called The Long Road Home. It tells the story of the siege of Sadr City and the incredible acts of heroism by American soldiers, and the personal story of those soldiers and those families. It was such an exceptional book, it moved me very deeply, and I then went to watch the scripted miniseries National Geographic made, based on the book, called The Long Road Home. Please, please read this book and take time to watch it. It led me to look up the first American killed in 2018.
Army Sergeant 1st Class Mihail Golin was killed in Afghanistan on the first of this year. He was a Latvian immigrant who joined the Army just a year after arriving in the United States. He deployed to Iraq once and Afghanistan twice, earning two Purple Hearts in the process, and he leaves behind a grieving family, including a six year-old daughter, and they’re proud of what he did for his country. He is just one of 6,949 Americans killed in the global war on terror, since 2003. I’m telling you this because these wars are almost invisible in our daily lives.
I’ll never forget the novel Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, where you could buy a war-free version of The New York Times. And I thought it was funny, except that it is not. But Martha, through her career and her incredible reporting, has kept the lives of these soldiers and the stories of their families front and center. More than 25,000 American soldiers are deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria alone [and over 2.7 million service members have been to the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001]. These wars have gone on for so long that they’re almost like background noise. Martha Raddatz has spent the bulk of her career transforming numbers and statistics like that into human stories, keeping these wars from becoming a quiet normal hum and making them vivid—the vivid reporting about the sacrifices of our soldiers, our veterans and their families.
Though Martha hails from the Midwest, I like to think of her as one of Boston’s hometown heroes. One of her first jobs was chief correspondent at the ABC News Boston affiliate, WCVB-TV. She then covered the Pentagon for National Public Radio, before moving to ABC as its senior national security correspondent. There, her reporting focused on Iraq and our burgeoning war.
In the early hours of June 8, 2006, Martha Raddatz became the first to report that terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had been located and killed. In a memorable 2008 interview with Vice President Dick Cheney, she asked if Americans have lost confidence in the Iraq War and Cheney said, “So?” If not for Martha’s leadership, we might just let these wars and the soldiers who fight them slide into the background of our national consciousness, but her diligent, thorough reporting keeps it front and center.
She served as ABC’s White House correspondent during the last term of the Bush administration and was then appointed as ABC senior foreign affairs correspondent. She digs deep into her material with devotion and focus. I spoke to almost a dozen people about her reporting prior to tonight, and one of the stories that I was told was about an interview she did with President Bush during his time in office. She asked him about what he thought about the state of things on the ground in Iraq and he, with great respect for her reporting and skills said, “You tell me.”
Martha has gone on to moderate both the presidential and vice-presidential debates in 2012 and 2016 respectively, and was praised for her style, a kind of no-nonsense approach that I daresay we need more of in our political coverage. Her reporting has been at the heart of our national experience, from her time covering the Bush administration, to the earliest days of the Iraq War, to chronicling the War on Terror’s fallout and its impact on those touched by it most closely, our veterans.
We owe a great debt to Martha and reporters like her who, at great risk to themselves, have held our nation’s leadership to account. I asked Martha what she was working on now and she said, “Well, I’m going back to Afghanistan next week.” Our country has never been more in need of honest, brave reporting, the kind of reporting exemplified by the career of Martha Raddatz. Please join me in welcoming her to the stage. (applause)
Martha Raddatz: Thank you. Thank you, it’s great to see everyone. You know, when I listen to people introduce me, I am humbled in a way. I stumbled into journalism. I knew very little about this career. Growing up, I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I started off my journey by dropping out of college, which at the time seemed like a really smart thing to do and was really the dumbest thing. I didn’t drop out of college like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg and make billions of dollars.
But I remember when I walked into one of the first newsrooms that I worked in, there was a hole in the wall. I think it was your newsroom, Phil Balboni. A reporter had put his fist through it, stood up for what he believed in, for the airtime he wanted. I looked at that wall and thought, “I think I’m going to like this profession.” To be clear, I don’t advocate shoving your fist or punching holes through walls, but I do believe we should make sure that we maintain a strong voice for informing the public and letting them know what we are doing.
This city is where I really became a journalist—and by the way, Nicco, Salt Lake City is not in the Midwest, okay? I know everything that way is the Midwest but I grew up in Salt Lake City and as I often say, the answer to the second question is no, I am not, and you can figure that one out. I grew up there reading the papers and reading the facts, but there was something about moving to Boston and opening up The Boston Globe, and seeing those stories and seeing those investigations that really, truly helped me become a journalist.
I was enthralled by what I was reading. I realized it was a craft far greater than I had ever imagined before. It’s where I realized the importance of what we do, the seriousness of what we do, and the impact of what we do. So much more than just the facts and so much more than just sending people out with a paper and pen. People were out to seek the truth. I also realized in this city how much people here value journalism.
It’s the place where, when I think back, when I look down there at Phil Balboni and I remember my newsroom and my experiences at WCVB, my world expanded. We thought we were just like the networks. Easy to think back then, I’m not so sure I would say that now today, working at a network. So I want to thank all of you for having me and showing how much you value journalism. I thank you for this award because, like Frances McDormand, I do have something to say as well, and like her, I would like all of the finalists and the winners to stand up one more time, so we can applaud them. (applause)
Honestly, I have to say to all of you, I am just astonished by your work. I am so grateful for what you do and I am completely humbled. I don’t deserve this, all of you deserve this, and I’m sure you’ll all be up here some day for this award. It’s no secret that we live in a moment when the free press is mocked, threatened, derided and belittled. Across the globe, dictators celebrate cracking down on journalists and terror groups behead reporters as a warning and a way to suppress the quest for truth.
Here at home we are viewed as the enemy, or the opposition by some. This comes as a moment where our competition is not just another network or newspaper, but partisan voices and conspiracy theorists online or on the airwaves. The truth has become even trickier to track down these ways. For what has been called the “information age,” there is so much misinformation and disinformation out there, and it is a challenge for so many of us to keep up, let alone for the millions of Americans who have full-time jobs to work and families to take care of. For folks on both sides of the aisle, it’s so easy to be outraged, it’s so much harder to understand the context.
There is a crisis of faith in this country, starting with us. Americans don’t trust each other anymore, they don’t trust their government or their institutions, and as many politicians and pundits will tell you, they certainly don’t trust us. On top of that, as we’ve said tonight, we have been labeled fake news, in the hopes that very real stories will not be believed. That’s dangerous. If we cannot agree on the facts, we cannot agree on a response, and this country faces enormous challenges that demand a response.
It’s on us, the much-maligned media, to win that trust back, and we do it by doing what we do day in and day out: thorough, honest reporting. While we’re lucky in this country to have a robust tradition of free press, I believe more and more that it is part of our job to remind people why they should value a free press, and so often we fail to do that. All of us, all of you who brought these magnificent investigative stories to light, all of your bosses, your owners, your sources, those citizens who turned to you to expose the truth, should be thanked for that reminder. At this ceremony tonight, we should all be thankful and shout from the rooftops this profound example of the value of journalism. They are stories that take time, tenacity, and resources, and journalists must have all of those to succeed.
I have been in a unique position in my career. I cover foreign news but am based in D.C. I have covered our wars but the White House as well, so I’ve seen policy made, politics played, and the effect of those policies and politics. Nicco, you mentioned that moment in the White House. That was a profound moment for me, an eye-opening moment. I did ask then President Bush, in the middle of a press conference, if the War in Iraq had become a civil war, and he said, “It’s hard for me, you know, living in this beautiful White House, to give you a firsthand assessment. I haven’t been there, you have, I haven’t.”
The president was looking directly at me when he said that. He knew very well, I was unlike most White House reporters. I had been there again and again, so many times I had lost count. When I challenged him on the direction of the war he knew it had weight. When he told the country we were winning, he knew that I knew the truth. I had seen the catastrophic backwash of his well-intentioned decision to go to war. I had heard howls of pain from the wounded in combat zones phone home with flag-draped coffins at my fingertips, and been serenaded at dusk, by the crew of a Blackhawk helicopter who thought singing, “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling,” while we swooped across the Tigris River, would cheer me up after an especially difficult day.
So on that February day more than a decade ago, in that beautiful White House, with Iraq in the midst of sickening chaos, the Decider left it to me to determine whether the conflict in Iraq had descended into civil war or not. There is a larger lesson for journalists in that story, and something that I, with the help and support of my bosses at ABC News, have always strived for: go there, be there, feel it, smell it, know it from inside out, and then report it. It helps me in my daily reporting, it helped me in debates, to know what I was talking about and take that to the participants. I know we can’t be everywhere, but we have to keep pushing to try. We have to bring that authority, that experience, to the halls of power, and to gain the trust of those who turn to us for real news.
The best part of my career, as Nicco mentioned, has been out in the field with our troops, and can I take one more moment and see if there are veterans here, and have—I know you are, Phil—all of our veterans rise. (applause) It has been an experience for me, from the very early days of the war, when I found myself over there covering policy and politics, to the first time I sat down with soldiers who had just been in a battle.
It was the first time I’d really ever interviewed anyone who had been in a battle, we had very much forgotten about that, we were all looking for WMD or whatever, and sat down with a group of soldiers—this was in 2004—who told me their stories, who told me how they’d been ambushed and overrun. It was the first time I’d seen a soldier cry. I, today, am as close to those soldiers as I ever have been, and I know people will say to me, or ask me the question, when you are embedded with the troops, do you become too much on their side? In terms of sacrifice and service there is no side and I am not objective. (applause)
I keep telling stories like that, because we are a nation weary of war, yet the wars continue. The battalion commander in Sadr City, who I interviewed at the time, was Lieutenant Colonel Gary Volesky, who missed six years of his son’s life, moving from Sadr City to Mosul to Afghanistan and back. Others were deployed just as long, some even longer. In 2011, I was on what was supposed to be the last convoy out of Iraq, but years later, as ISIS gained strength we were back.
A few years ago I was in Iraq, again, flying over the outskirts of Mosul with now Lieutenant General Gary Volesky, both of us shaking our heads about how long these wars have been going on. It is still not over and with several thousand additional troops recently deployed to Afghanistan, 16-and-a-half years after 9/11, we don’t know how long it will go on.
And so as the crisis of confidence in this nation’s core institutions deepen, I want to remind all of you here, at a school whose purpose is to train the next generation of public servants, that one day, some of you will have enormous influence over the lives of millions of Americans with whom you may never come in contact. For students here, you have spent most of your life with this country at war. You have come of age during a turbulent time in this nation and yet the huge majority, even here at a school for public service, have never been directly affected by these conflicts. Very few of you or anyone in the nation, will serve in the military. You don’t have to, it is the wonder and miracle of a volunteer military. We have come a long way since 9/11, yet in the decade and a half while you grew and studied and became the promising young people you are today, as Nicco said, almost 7,000 young men and women died serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 5,000 children lost a parent or sibling, and tens of thousands have life-altering injuries. There are thousands of young people your age still fighting the war and millions more who fought before them.
We are a country tired of war, after becoming far too accustomed to it. We are a nation divided along many lines. One of the starkest is the divide between those who have fought and those who have not. I have seen those wars up close, the sacrifice, the service, the hardships. I have learned so many lessons from that experience and I am a better person, a better journalist because of it. I know that amidst the daily deluge of news stories, war weariness continues to worsen even as thousands of veterans return home to face transition stress, post-traumatic stress, or traumatic injuries.
And even as the news cycle changes rapidly, the constant of war means our country will deal with the difficult challenge of welcoming veterans home and caring for them and their families, not just for the next few years but for decades to come. Those are the stories we need to tell and keep telling, so we don’t lose sight of the big picture among the brevity of a 280-character tweet. As you’re thinking about your future careers in public service, I urge you to engage now, more than ever, with your fellow students who have served. Ask questions and listen to their stories, so that you understand their challenge. It’s what we must ask of each other and humbly, it’s what I hope I’ve helped to do during my career.
I would be lying if I said it has not been a huge challenge to be a journalist in the last few years, but I am not remotely pessimistic. This is a great time to be a journalist and such an important time. There is so much opportunity out there, there are so many more stories to be told, but we have to remain vigilant and fiercely independent. Don’t take the bait, don’t curry favor, don’t waste time on the shallow or trivial. Focus on the issues, ask the uncomfortable questions, mine for the truth, study the details, elucidate, because that’s what a free press does, it’s what’s required of journalists, it’s what a democracy needs. We have a lot of work to do, despite the threats in the face of power, on behalf of the people, and I accept this Career Award on behalf of all of you and for all you have done and continue to do. Thank you so much. (applause) Thank you.
Nicco Mele: All right. We have four microphones, two down here and two up here. We have time for a few questions. Just a reminder, there are three rules. The first is, it must be a question, the second is, it must be brief, and the third rule is, we privilege students. Introduce yourself, please.
From the audience: Harvard Kennedy School is where the impossible is possible, and I was never even intended to meet with you physically but now I did.
Martha Raddatz: Thank you.
From the audience: I’m glad we don’t have genocide in America. In East Africa, the country called Oromia, currently Ethiopia, genocide is taking place. I am the direct victim of that genocide. I lost my entire family except one sister and myself, and this genocide is still active. Sometimes the BBC reports a little bit, Al Jazeera did. I don’t see ABC News reporting what is happening, even though recently, the prime minister has resigned and the country is now under a state of emergency, which is a license to commit genocide.
Martha Raddatz: I want to first say that the very first deeply moving story I ever did was in Ethiopia, in 1985, when I was at WCVB-TV, and I went over, having these worlds collide here tonight, with Senator Ted Kennedy, during the famine, and it is an experience I will never forget. I know that we could all do more. If it was up to me, we would be covering everything. Decisions are made every day. Our budgets are smaller than they used to be, for sure. Our airtime is smaller than it used to be, for sure. I know The Washington Post is covering it, I know The New York Times is covering it, and I know we will cover it at some point. Thank you very much.
Bill Weld: My name is Bill Weld. I have a Boston-based love story with a question at the end of it. I worked on the Nixon impeachment back in 1973, 1974, sharing an office with Hillary Rodham. It was a sickening experience, watching him hang the country out to dry, and I became obsessed with the problem of public corruption, obviously in high places there. Not so long thereafter, my longtime colleague, Judge Mark Wolf, and I, went into the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston, made public corruption our number-one priority and secured about a hundred convictions there. But Martha discovered me, either late in my U.S. Attorney days or early governor days—not that I was hiding—but she gave me airtime and I think the reason was because we both wanted to tear down the temple walls. When you’re obsessed with prosecuting public corruption, you want to tear down the temple walls. In a nice way, Martha, you’ve spent your entire career speaking truth to power, which is another way of saying tearing down of the temple walls. I just want to ask you if you’ve had other experiences of discovering people who then can be vehicles for the achievement of your most exalted objectives.
Martha Raddatz: No, you’re it, really, you are it. I love seeing Bill Weld and Leslie, and we go way back in the world, but thanks for what you do too.
From the audience: Hello, my name is Pedro, I’m a student here from Brazil. You mentioned just now that you have smaller budgets, especially for investigative journalism. What is the future you see for that? Is it going downhill? Can you recover from this moment?
Martha Raddatz: Well, I think tonight, honestly, I just am so touched and so inspired by all of this and by all of the things everyone is doing. We definitely still have an investigative unit at ABC, but broadly speaking, people don’t have as many bureaus overseas and other people are picking that up. I think what’s really, really hard, is to try to pick and choose the stories and where you go and what’s important. With the Internet, people know what people want to read. All the newspapers know how many clicks [there] are on a certain story and what people want. We certainly know how many clicks are on our website and what people want.
The really hard choices you have to make are what’s on that menu. Do you give people just dessert? No, you don’t give them just dessert. They have to have an entrée, they have to have some hardcore things. Dessert is okay, but you have to choose where you spend your money, where you put your resources. It’s very challenging to keep up with the pace of news. It’s incredibly challenging to have people who know that world, to cover that world day after day after day, decide what to do, not get distracted, and to bear down on those things. Look at the diversity of these newspapers—from the Post to NPR, to the Asbury Park. People are still doing this day in, day out. What I was trying to say here is we have not done a good job of letting people know what it is we do for them. We have gotten lost in the noise so many, many times, and we just have to have that be part of what we do.
From the audience: I’m struck by one thing that you said, and I would like for you to clarify it. You said it was wonderful, that we had a volunteer army. Are you advocating? Do you think that’s a good idea, or would you rather see the old-fashioned drafted army?
Martha Raddatz: I think there’s absolutely no one I know who is in the military right now who would like to see the draft come back. On the one hand, I think Americans generally would know more about what war is about if everybody had to serve in some way, but I’ll just tell you that most people in the military I know would not like to see a draft come back.
From the audience: But you?
Martha Raddatz: No, no, I don’t really. Our wonderful military is what I was saying, our wonderful volunteer military. I’m not advocating.
Howard Cohen: Hi. Howard Cohen, I’m a student here and a big fan of yours.
Martha Raddatz: Thank you.
Howard Cohen: Given that we see today’s social media being a way that people are learning about the fog of war and about events abroad, do you still think that there will be foreign correspondents 10 years from now?
Martha Raddatz: Yes, I do. As much cynicism as most journalists have, I am still an optimist. I think there will be foreign correspondents. I think they may have a broader range of countries that they have to cover. You may not have a foreign correspondent in every city. You may have, like we do, correspondents in London who, when something happens, they go to Greece or Syria, or wherever you have to go. You have me, who is based in DC, from my weird perch of being able to just pop in and out of countries for a few weeks at a time. So if you’re interested in that, just keep doing it. It’s changing so fast, but I also don’t want to sound like some geezer saying it’s not the way it used to be. It’s not, and I’m sure some old geezer before me said that 30 years ago. It’s changing rapidly, we have to keep up. When our young people say to me, I can’t get a story on the air about X, Y, or Z, I mean I couldn’t get stories on about Iraq after five years covering it. That’s on me. I’ve got to come up with another way to tell that story that will interest people who are listening. I understand war weariness, it’s absolutely understandable, but you as a journalist have to find a way. It is so inspiring that you just have to keep at it. So, hang in there, you’ll be over there. Be careful though, she says maternally.
Hossein Derakhshan: Hi. My name is Hossein Derakhshan, I’m a fellow at Shorenstein Center this year. Related to the question that you just answered, what do you think explains this shrinkage of foreign coverage in the past few decades?
Martha Raddatz: All I can say is it’s probably the news business in general, the shrinkage of coverage. I think we try to do as much with much less. I can think of my 20 years at ABC and I’m certainly going over whenever I want. I think certainly, some of the foreign bureaus have drawn down, partly because they’re super expensive. When I go to Iraq or Afghanistan, we have to have security, you have to have an enormous setup. It is incredibly costly, so we make decisions on, just as I said, prioritizing what I can do there. Can I stop in Iraq on the way back from Afghanistan? We try to do more with less. But it certainly has to do with the news business in general, I mean it’s just harder.
Hossein Derakhshan: Is it also on the consumer side?
Martha Raddatz: On the consumer side, I’d go back to my same thing. Do Americans want to know about this? I think definitely, when we’re involved in something, but again, it is that sort of weariness with overseas. It depends. Americans, if there are economic problems, you worry about yourselves, you do, and I totally understand that, but I still think that responsible news organizations still put money into this, still put time into this—consumer interest, it can’t just be that. We as professionals have to help people understand things. We have to tell those stories in a way that people will read it, will listen to it. I mean, look at the newspapers and what they’re doing with digital media and what they’re doing with those fabulous graphics and animation. They’re doing what we’re doing pretty well. So it’s that sort of change, to keep the public interested.
Hossein Derakhshan: Thank you.
Nicco Mele: Why did you write The Long Road Home?
Martha Raddatz: I first did it as a couple of Nightlines and people were so moved by that story that I decided that I’d try writing a book. One of the things I wanted to do is make it relatable. I think a lot of war movies, a lot of war books, are so—you know, you want to impress the guys in the military. I wanted people to understand what was going on and feel it, and I know that the Nat Geo series really makes you feel it. When I started covering the military, I really didn’t know anybody in the military, I had no experience with that, so I viewed it from [the perspective of] someone who didn’t know very much about it and that’s how I wanted others to view it.
Nicco Mele: What would you say is the most challenging story you ever reported?
Martha Raddatz: How about the most challenging experience: The debate in 2016, which was 48 hours after the Access Hollywood tape was released.
Nicco Mele: Wow.
Martha Raddatz: That was really challenging. I joke with people that the 2012 debate was like studying for the SATs and then taking them in front of 50 million people. The 2016 debate was like studying for the LSATs and then taking them in front of a circular firing squad. That was a tough night, I mean challenging. It’s easier for me to go to Iraq or Afghanistan sometimes, than other places, so that I’m comfortable there, I know how to do that. I know that world, I know how it feels. Is it challenging to do something when you’re trying not to get killed? Yes, but I can compare that to the debate, so.
Nicco Mele: How would you describe this White House and their approach to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, compared to prior White Houses you’ve experienced?
Martha Raddatz: Well, I don’t know their approach to the wars. I don’t feel like my access has been any different and that comes from just being around for so long. I know Jim Mattis, I know they trust me and respect me and, and I’m going to go out with them and see what they’re doing in the field, and they know that I want to do that. They also know I’m tough if they mess up, and that’s obviously part of my job as well. So, in terms of that, I mean we’re certainly seeing troops pulled out. I am uncomfortable when troops are put in a political situation.
Nicco Mele: What’s your sense of the current state of the wars on the ground right now?
Martha Raddatz: That’s what I’m going to go see. I mean Iraq has definitely—I was there when ISIS rolled in and it was breathtaking. I was in Baghdad, in a hotel, because you know, the war was over supposedly. And I remember seeing a leaflet passed out—we’re coming to get you—they were putting them all over the city, and my hotel was in the background and I thought, oh, great. Young men were jumping into open trucks—young Iraqi men—and they were just headed north to Mosul, because they had already overtaken Mosul. So, the progress made since then has been pretty remarkable, I mean we’ve really taken back all that territory. I do not think the problem is over. Hopefully, no one in the White House does either. Afghanistan—sixteen and a half years of war and now we’re sending troops back. I’ve got a lot of questions about that one.
Nicco Mele: Thank you so much, Martha. You’re an inspiration.
Martha Raddatz: Thank you. (applause)
Nicco Mele: Thank you so much. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for your patience, your attention, and thank you yet again to all of the journalists here tonight. Good night. (applause)