Woodward receives 2012 Lovejoy Award
Woodward, the 2012 Lovejoy Award recipient, speaks before an audience in Lorimer Chapel Nov. 11.
“Time and time again, I’ve had the experience where I’ve never had to do a brave thing,” Bob Woodward said. “I’ve just had institutional support in a way that’s extraordinary, and it persists.”
Woodward, Washington Post associate editor and the recipient of the College’s 60th annual Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award for courageous journalism, highlighted the importance of institutional support for freedom of the press and the true sources of courage in investigative journalism. The notorious combination of confidence and skepticism that led Woodward to uncover the Watergate scandal was evident in the wit and humility with which he addressed the audience in his address at the College’s Lovejoy Convocation Sunday, Nov. 11.
The Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award was first instituted at the College in 1952 by then-President of the College J. Seelye Bixler, who proposed that the Lovejoy Award be given annually to a distinguished journalist in recognition of his or her professional excellence in the field.
“It is not difficult to draw the line from Elijah Parish Lovejoy to a young Bob Woodward,” College President William “Bro” Adams said in his introductory speech. Woodward faced danger, corruption and intimidation as a young reporter and “did not flinch.”
“Even measured against the high standards of the past, tonight is extraordinary,” Adams said.
The ceremony celebrated the 40th anniversary of what Adams said 1989 Lovejoy Fellow Eugene Roberts has called “maybe the single greatest reporting effort of all time” and recognized Woodward for a sustained dedication to truth and honesty throughout his 40-year career.
The date of the convocation also marked a special time for the College’s history as a whole, Adams explained. This academic year is the 175th anniversary of Lovejoy’s death defending the right to free speech, the 60th year of the College’s Lovejoy Award and the 200th year since the founding of the College.
The series of stories Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein wrote for The Washington Post between 1972 and 1974 forced President Richard Nixon to resign in disgrace, a monumental and unprecedented moment in American history and in journalism.
But, as Adams noted, Woodward was not just “a flash in the media pan.”
In 2002, he won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for his coverage of the 9/11 attacks, and he has since published more best-selling works of non-fiction than any other contemporary writer. He has reported on the Supreme Court, the CIA, the 9/11 attacks, the first Gulf War and Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama in a continued effort to promote government transparency and historical accuracy.
“I have followed [Woodward’s] work for decades,” said Mike Pride, editor emeritus and columnist for the Concord Monitor, who is a member of the Lovejoy Selection Committee. “Woodward transformed what he learned from that early success into a long career of digging into things at the highest level of government and seeking—and often finding—the truth that even presidents wanted hidden.”
In his address, Woodward chose not to dwell on the particular dangers he faced during his career. Instead, he shared with the audience a moment of “epiphany” that recently prompted him to regard the idea of courageous journalism in a new light.
A few weeks ago, Woodward said, he met with a group of 200 distinguished journalists and members of the Edward R. Murrow fellowship program from all over the world. He spoke about his most recent book, The Price of Politics, which takes a critical look at the Obama administration’s management of the economy. “It was really eye-opening to have this discussion,” he said. Woodward recalled that when he asked the journalists who would be able, in their home country, to openly criticize their leader, only five hands went up.
“I thought about…the peril that people abroad put themselves in, and Lovejoy, and I wanted to think honestly about this issue of ‘Where’s the courage?’”
Woodward commended Katharine Graham, the publisher at The Washington Post during the Watergate events, for her willingness to put the journalistic reputation of the paper on the line and support the publication of a series of stories that most people did not believe at the time.
Woodward recalled confessing to Graham over lunch in January 1973 that the real depth the Watergate story might never be uncovered. She responded, “Never? Don’t tell me never.” It wasn’t a threat, Woodward said, but rather “a statement of purpose.” Impressed with her willingness to put everything at risk, he recalled leaving the lunch “a highly motivated reporter” and with the knowledge that he worked for an organization “where they know what the job is.”
In this country, courage is “not with reporters,” he said. “The real courage, the real risk is taken by the owners, by the publishers.”
Although he downplayed his own courage, Woodward insisted that journalists still have the best jobs in the United States. “You get to be curious every day. I mean imagine—you get up, and my first thought in the morning is, ‘What are the bastards hiding?’ And they’re always hiding something, and I don’t mean that in an ugly, adversarial way, but there is just way too much secrecy and we have to keep working against it.” The most pressing issue for journalists and citizens today, Woodward said, is still ensuring that the government and other large concentrations of power do not operate in secret.
“I understand why Bob Woodward said the real courage in doing tough stories is the courage of the owners who publish them,” Pride said. But, he added, “I don’t buy his statement that he showed no courage in reporting Watergate. There were dark forces at work at the time. Standing up to those forces took courage.”
Matt Apuzzo ’00, a reporter on the Associated Press’ investigative team in Washington, D.C., said, “For the most part, American journalists, because of the First Amendment, have a freedom from fear that reporters in many countries don’t enjoy. But that’s not always true and it’s certainly not true for the people who take great risks to bring stories to reporters.”
Jo Becker, an investigative reporter for The New York Times, echoed his sentiment, explaining that sources who aren’t afraid to tell the truth are braver than those who write and edit the story.
The day’s events brought attention to the lasting legacy of courageous work in journalism, from Lovejoy to Woodward, who were both lauded for seeking the truth and inspiring a generation of journalists and citizens to do the same.
“In a difficult era for print journalism, what I have seen in many nominees and winners is fierce courage, persistence and determination in the face of danger,” Pride said. “Journalism is in transition, as we all know, but the values represented by Woodward and the other winners I have known are timeless.”
When Lovejoy graduated in 1826 from the institution that would be known as Colby College, he urged his peers to dedicate their lives to the pursuit of truth. This past Sunday, Woodward reiterated the importance of setting aside personal and political interests to do what is right. “Democracies die in darkness,” Woodward quoted. “There is just way too much secrecy and we have to keep working against it.”