The annual Ridenhour Prize luncheon for courageous journalism contrasted sharply last week with the yearly White House Correspondents Dinner gala for corporate-run news organizations, top political figures, other celebrities, and their financial backers.
The Ridenhour Prizes, named for the Vietnam War veteran who revealed the My Lai Massacre, celebrates an ideal of the journalist struggling against odds to document an important story that may prove highly unpopular. Its 10th awards luncheon April 24 at the National Press Club honored four more winners in that tradition — which is an inspiring ideal for some, but one unlikely to lead to lucrative or secure employment.
The much larger Correspondents Dinner is a century-old event held April 27 at the Washington Hilton Hotel. The capital's largest ballroom was filled to capacity to accommodate VIPs and would-be VIPs listening to President Obama deliver a joke-filled speech that showcased his speaking skills and lighter side.
To be sure, the events shared some common ground. Organizers and patrons of the Ridenhour awards succeeded in bestowing glamour upon their ceremony with a nicely appointed luncheon, table ornaments comprised of the honorees' work — and eloquent speeches by all concerned.
Speakers at the Correspondents dinner including Obama repeatedly emphasized the mission of the free press and the dinner's fund-raising goal of providing scholarships to college journalism students. The President, First Lady, and other head table participants greeted each of the scholarship winners.
Aside from those similarities, the two events exemplified different aspects of high-level Washington journalism: Those who challenge authority with their questions and commentaries — and those who maintain access by going along with government rituals for those most part.
This column expands on that theme, and lists the Ridenhour awardees.
Ridenhour Master of Ceremonies Danielle Brian and former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson used the occasion in their column, For whistleblowers, fraying protection, to argue why serious journalism is now endangered, especially on national security issues.
Brian is the director of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO). Wilson received the Ridenhour “Truth-telling Award” in the event's first year because he dared anger the Bush-Cheney White House in 2003 by failing to justify the Iraq War with unsupported claims that Saddam Hussein sought materials from the Sudan for Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Brian and Wilson argued in their column that the Obama administration represents an even greater threat to whistle blowers and the media on national security issues than Bush-Cheney.
In a similar vein, OpEd News columnist Michael Collins headlined a column, What's so funny Mr. President? Collins continued:
The president will never be asked that question. But if just one of those White House correspondents hosting the event had the courage, the answer would be in two parts. How can the president and the press get together and yuck it up when we're in such a dreadful state of affairs?