Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron was honored with the Fourth Estate Award by The National Press Club on Thursday, November 29, 2018. Baron shares this year’s recognition with New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet. According to National Press Club President Andrea Edney, both editors “have risen to the challenges of our times and emerged as thought-provoking and pathfinding leaders, steadfast in their commitment to excellence in journalism and to the defense of a free press.” Remarks by Baron upon receiving the award are available below.
Thank you for this great honor.
It is gratifying to be recognized by this particular institution. The National Press Club has been a forceful, unwavering advocate on behalf of press freedoms, brave journalism, the safety of journalists and high journalistic standards. Thank you for that work.
Thank you as well to Fred Ryan and Walter Robinson for their gracious introductions.
Fred has been steadfast in his support for our newsroom, providing the resources and encouragement needed to fulfill our highest aspirations. In speaking out about Jamal Khashoggi, he has been a clear voice of conscience on behalf of free expression, truth-telling, human rights and basic humanity.
And Walter Robinson. The luckiest thing about my going to Boston in 2001 was getting to work with Robby, one of the world’s greatest investigative journalists. His instinct for a story, his savvy about how to pursue it, his persistence and his moral compass define the soul and spirit of journalism. Because of his dogged pursuit of truth as editor of the Spotlight team, the Globe documented the decades-long cover-up of clergy sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. That investigation was emblematic of Robby’s long career uncovering wrongdoing by the powerful in defense of the powerless. And, so, as a result, I have finally, grudgingly accepted that Michael Keaton had a bigger speaking role than Liev Schreiber.
My former publisher at the Miami Herald, Alberto Ibarguen, was supposed to be here as well. Illness got in the way, but I want to acknowledge him. Now CEO of the Knight Foundation, Alberto has marshalled its resources on behalf of fact-based journalism and to promote digital progress for our profession. He was my boss when the Miami Herald covered the case of Elian Gonzalez -- and when we undertook our own count of Florida votes in the 2000 presidential election after the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited an official recount. Alberto safeguarded the independence of our journalism amid boiling community tensions. I owe him a ton. He took a risk in giving me my first top-editor job. And I wish him a fast recovery.
I am grateful to be joined by colleagues from The Washington Post. Going to work at The Post is a source of daily inspiration. You can be sure: Democracy will not die in darkness with The Post around. I was proud to be selected as executive editor six years ago. Every day makes me prouder still, as we strive to live up to our organization’s first principle, written in 1935: “to tell the truth as nearly as the truth may be ascertained.”
When I had to select a career in 1976, I wanted to do something both meaningful and interesting. I have never regretted my choice. Journalism can influence ordinary people’s lives for the better. It is essential to democracy. And it is never boring.
I can think of no more rewarding calling than to be a journalist in these times.
Finally, it is wonderful to share this year’s award with Dean Baquet, my good friend and, as you all know, an exceptional journalist.
Dean and I became colleagues in 1996 when I joined The New York Times. Over the years, as we were asked to lead news organizations, we could count on each other’s counsel when there was really no one else to confide in.
So, Dean and I became each other’s therapists. His advice is sound. And the price is right.
When he and I are done talking, we resume competing, each with the same goal: Ambitious journalism that makes a difference . . . And -- not to be dismissed – bragging rights.
I became an editor in 1983, at the Los Angeles Times. In short order, I was appointed business editor, and my boss drafted an announcement. He included my age, which he put down as 30. I had to tell him: I was 29. You could see the sinking feeling.
From such mistakes careers are made.
Truth is, I was inexperienced. And it showed. In the early months, I was lost as to what it meant to be a manager, to lead a staff.
As a reporter, I had known what was expected of me: Report the hell out of a story, write it as well as I could, get it in on deadline, try to get along with my editors. I knew what I had achieved. The byline was proof I had done it.
When I became an editor, I was denied that clarity. I was exhausted at the end of the day, but I could scarcely remember what I had done. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do.
So, I picked up the only management book I’ve ever read outside of college. The book was written by Peter Drucker, a renowned professor and guru of sorts. Because it helped, I’d like to mention some of what he had to say.
The test of an organization, he wrote, is “to bring out whatever strength there is in its members” and to use each individual’s strength “to help all the other members perform.”
I see that every day: We each come to work with our individual strengths. Working together, we accomplish more than any one of us could alone. We are blessed with brilliant staffers, but there is no one who does not rely on others to succeed.
That is true for me as much, or more, than anyone. Whatever is considered an achievement of mine is the direct result of what others have accomplished. And their achievements depend in turn on the invaluable contributions of their fellow journalists.
What I have sought to do is ensure that my newsroom colleagues are given the very best opportunity to do their very best work – that collectively we are moving in the right direction, adhering to high standards, making optimal use of our skills, always serving readers and the public interest first.
Drucker also wrote that “The focus of an organization must be on opportunities rather than on problems.”
You know, I got into journalism when it was a bad year for the business -- 1976, big recession -- and it has been a bad year most years since. Yet I made a career out of it. And here we are, despite our blunders, continuing to fight. That is because our profession is needed.
So, we owe it to our profession and to the public to be optimists. No one has ever succeeded by expecting failure. We must be resourceful and enterprising enough to seize the opportunities before us – forever faithful to our values but always open to new ways of communicating them.
Finally, Peter Drucker identified what he saw as the most important quality in those asked to lead others.
“Integrity,” he wrote, “is one absolute requirement of a manager, the one quality that he has to bring with him and cannot be expected to acquire later on.” (Apologies for the gender bias in his language. He was of a different generation.)
No one, he said, should have a vision that “focuses on people’s weaknesses rather than on their strengths.” No one should be “more interested in the question of ‘Who is right?’ than in the question of ‘What is right?’ “
Leadership, he wrote, is lifting people to “higher sights” and “a higher standard.”
Across my 35 years as an editor, I have tried – imperfectly, for sure – to work by those principles and practices. I hope that, over time, I have gotten better at it, giving the abundant talents of my fellow journalists every chance to flourish.
At the very heart of integrity for a journalist must also be a firm commitment to the spirit of the First Amendment and to the founders’ conviction that the press is needed to hold government to account.
Another quality is essential, too. It was articulated perfectly by the late New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis: “The American press,” he wrote, “has been given extraordinary freedom by the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment. In return, it owes society courage.”
Just telling the truth – fairly, honestly, honorably but also unflinchingly – can often be the most courageous act of all. In too many countries, it will get you killed.
I mentioned earlier the first principle of The Post, which applies regardless of who holds power: “to tell the truth as nearly as the truth may be ascertained.”
That suggests that getting at the truth is a process of striving. Truth can be elusive.
But that principle also holds that there is such a thing as truth – that it is not just a matter of opinion or who has the loudest megaphone or who commands the most power.
History teaches that we cannot always rely on our leaders to safeguard free expression in the cause of truth. At times they have failed miserably: the Sedition Act of 1798 under President John Adams; Sedition and Espionage Acts under Woodrow Wilson; the McCarthy Era.
Today, we face another threat, arguably more pernicious. This one is to the very concept of truth itself.
An assault on our profession, led by the president, has gone on now for years. It began as a campaign first to marginalize the press, then to delegitimize it, then to demonize us, then to dehumanize us. Then came “enemies of the people.”
At work here is an effort to disqualify the press as an independent arbiter of fact. But it does not stop there. Other institutions and professions are to be disqualified, too: courts, law enforcement, intelligence agencies, even scientists.
Meantime, the information ecosystem is awash in deceit and baseless conspiracy theories, many endorsed or invented by the president himself. The goal is evident, and it is cynical: obliterate the very idea of objective truth.
If we come to feel the truth is unknowable, mission accomplished: People just believe what they would like to believe.
If we conclude that everyone is lying for selfish reasons, mission accomplished as well. Then it doesn’t matter if our leaders are being untruthful, as long as they serve our individual interests.
If we now believe truth can only come from the head of state, then we have surrendered the foundational idea of America.
At The Post, we are determined to give the public the information it needs and deserves to know. That means, above all, holding politicians, policymakers and other powerful individuals and institutions to account. That is our job. And we will do it.
With this award, you honor not only me but also my colleagues at The Washington Post whose work is daily testament to that mission. You also honor my former colleagues at the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Miami Herald and Boston Globe who maintain the same fervent sense of purpose.
I am here today because of all those remarkable people. They gave me strength. They gave me inspiration. They have my deepest thanks.
As do you, for having me here tonight.
The National Press Club also recognized Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi with the 2018 John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award “to help keep a light on this case as it is still developing and help ensure that it continues to move toward justice for Jamal and his family.” Washington Post Publisher and CEO Fred Ryan accepted the award on behalf of Khashoggi’s family. His prepared remarks are below.
Thank you, Andrea. On behalf of Jamal’s friends and colleagues at the Washington Post, I’m honored to accept this award.
On an evening that celebrates great journalism and champions press freedom around the world, we appreciate the National Press Club for recognizing the work of Jamal Khashoggi.
Jamal gave everything he had to journalism. He was singularly committed to the journalist’s mission, which is to tell the truth.
In particular, he told the world the truth about the Saudi government’s oppression and brutality toward its people. This devotion to his work—and to the country he loved—ultimately cost him his life.
Jamal’s murder is an urgent and powerful example of why we must stand up for press freedom around the world.
The Administration argues that we should tread lightly with crown prince Mohammed bin Salman in order to “protect our interests” in the region. With potential commercial deals at stake, President Trump wants us to look the other way when it comes to the murder of an innocent journalist.
He’s ignoring the findings of America’s intelligence services and wants to continue business as usual with Saudi Arabia as though this state-sponsored murder never happened.
But turning a blind eye to a brazen assault on press freedom isn’t protecting our interests—it’s a betrayal of our interests. Business opportunities may come and go, but in the end, America’s power is derived from America’s principles.
Abandoning those principles sends a dangerous signal to a volatile region. It delivers a message of appeasement to ruthless tyrants around the world.
If those who commit terrorist acts against journalists get away with their crimes, it only invites more of the same. If the crown prince of Saudi Arabia faces no consequences for Jamal’s murder, every journalist in every country will be at greater risk.
Although President Trump has failed to stand up for America’s values here, Congress can. They can insist on an honest accounting of what happened to Jamal. They can demand an independent, thorough investigation into his killing—no matter where it leads. They can use their powers to impose true penalties on the regime that murdered Jamal.
In the wake of this outrage, the investigative reporting of the Khashoggi case has shown the importance of truly great journalism and what it can do: uncover facts that others would like to keep hidden, help deepen our understanding of the world and hold even the most powerful to account.
It’s so fitting that the National Press Club is bestowing the Fourth Estate Award on the leaders of two news organizations that have done such exceptional reporting on this heinous act and the efforts to cover it up. Both The Washington Post and the New York Times have done diligent and deep reporting to ensure that the world knows, and does not forget about, Jamal’s story.
At The Washington Post, Jamal’s murder is personal: He was a respected colleague and friend to many. The entire Post team has done everything possible to expose the truth—asking tough questions, and relentlessly chasing down facts, in order to bring crucial evidence to light.
This excellent reporting reflects the leadership of Fourth Estate Award recipient Marty Baron. Marty is a journalist’s journalist. He sets high standards, sees the stories others overlook, asks the questions no one else thinks of, and never lets an investigation rest until the public has the answers it deserves.
I am grateful to have him as a colleague and friend and could not be more pleased to see him receive this special honor tonight.
It’s great that Dean Baquet is also being honored this evening with the Fourth Estate Award. Under his leadership, the New York Times has done exemplary reporting on Jamal’s murder, with one ground-breaking story after another on the Saudi government’s cover-up.
Their work is a testament to Dean’s solid news judgment, his journalistic values, and his unwavering commitment to this profession.
It’s good to see these two giants of journalism together at a friendly social gathering—because they are, of course, fierce competitors. I know for a fact that they genuinely like, respect and admire each other.
But you don’t want to be near one of them when the other gets a big scoop.
Most important, at a time when the press is being smeared as an “enemy of the people,” Marty and Dean are living counterexamples—trusted journalists of the utmost integrity, committed to public service. These men are “servants of the people” and we are indeed fortunate to have them at the helms of these two important newsrooms.
It’s an honor to be in the company of such outstanding journalists. Thank you to the National Press Club and to everyone here for your concern and support for Jamal, and for your tireless advocacy on behalf of journalists around the world.