Courage and truth in journalism
Wednesday's Fourth Annual Ridenhour Prizes honored a soldier who played a central role in uncovering the My Lai massacre, and later became a respected journalist and recipient of a George Polk Award. Ron Ridenhour passed away in 1998 at the age of 52, and his friends, colleagues, media elite, and a former President gathered at the National Press Club to award those who continue to tackle underreported and often unpleasant truths.
President Jimmy Carter was in attendance to receive the Ridenhour Courage Prize for his public service. President Carter was introduced by Rabbi Leonard Beerman who spoke of his courage and wisdom, and the former President discussed his recent book which examined the plight of the Palestinian people. He admitted that Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid may have “sparked more heat than light” but pleaded that a national debate on the Middle East situation was productive and essential if there is to be any progress in the region—something he believes hinges on the U.S. being seen as an honest broker for both the Palestinians and Israelis.
There were lighter moments too. Ted Koppel, who was on hand to present an award, recounted how the former President reminded him before the ceremony that since the television program Nightline was created to monitor the Iran hostage crisis, and, in turn, launched Koppel's career, perhaps the broadcaster should pay tribute with five percent of his income from the past 28 years to the Carter Center.
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Most of the night focused on the tragic and stark subject of Iraq. Donald Vance, received the award for "truth telling." Originally, an ardent supporter of the mission in Iraq, Vance, a 29-year-old Navy veteran and security contractor during the conflict, changed his mind after being detained in a military prison camp for 3 months. Vance kept notes of his time in captivity and published his story in the New York Times last December.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran, who covered the conflict for Washington Post and wrote Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone, earned him the Ridenhour Book Prize. Although the book details what he believed was arrogant and inept planning during the early days of the Coalition Provisional Authority, his speech focused on the Iraqi citizens who risk their safety to help journalists report in a dangerous country.
The lunch menu was light, it included a small lobster salad and various pastries and deserts.