2017 Toner Prize Celebration with Gov. John Kasich
2017 Toner Prize Celebration with Gov. John Kasich of Ohio
March 27, 2017
Bob Dotson (Event Emcee): Welcome once again, on behalf of Syracuse university and the Newhouse School, to the 7th annual Toner Prize Celebration. This event honors the memory of Robin Toner, the first and, so far, only woman to be chief political reporter for The New York Times. But more than that, it shines a spotlight on reporters who dig day in and day out for the facts – determined to keep us informed and our democracy functioning, even when the powerful try to hide the truth. It is our best answer to politics that resembles a child’s board game that ended angrily. The Toner Prize applauds those who do some of journalism’s best work and most important work. The kind that is job one at The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, and Bloomberg, and Politico, and Kaiser Health News and the Knight Foundation, PBS and NPR and WETA – all long-time supporters of the Toner Prize. So is the Newhouse family—they nourish job one at Syracuse University. I graduated Syracuse back when the Earth was cooling. (audience laughter)
I used to think our grandparents saw the greatest change in life. I mean, my grandfather was literally a horseback-riding court reporter in Kansas. And he lived long enough to watch people walk on the moon. And yet, just think, I graduated from Syracuse in 1969, after that moonwalk. What has changed since 1969 in our business and in the world, right? Well, my friend Lorraine Branham helped make our communications school one of the finest in the country. And please welcome Dean Branham, your host, tonight.
Dean Branham: Thank you,Bob,for that very kind and generous introduction. Good evening, everyone, and thank you for joining us tonight. As dean of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the 7th annual Toner Prize Celebration. And this is our fifth year here in Washington. We love to come down to the nation’s capital, because we know it will be warmer here, and there will be no snow. (laughter)
And every once and awhile, the timing works out and there are cherry blossoms, although I guess they’re a little late this year. Maybe soon, maybe before we leave. The Toner Prize and the program of which it is a part has grown from a tiny start-up to one of the most prestigious awards in American political journalism. We are pleased to be able to highlight talented political journalists whose work grows more important by the day. We’re also pleased that we can celebrate one of our most distinguished alumna, the late Robin Toner of The New York Times. We’re gratified that political reporters across the country find the recognition that the Newhouse School and the Toner Program offer encouraging, supportive and something worth striving for. These are difficult days for journalism and for the nation. The work of some our finest reporters is under attack almost daily, both from the highest reaches of government and the hate-mongering basement of the web. There hasn’t been a lot of good news about news-gathering as of late. Tonight, I hope is different. We will honor a terrible loss in the passing of our colleague Gwen Ifill, of PBS, one of the most prominent political journalists in the country. But I also hope think we will offer some substantial hope for the future of journalism and the role it plays in an engaged, pluralistic society.
It now gives me pleasure to introduce to you someone who has good news and a bright spot to offer about journalism – Joe Goldman, whose organization stands with us in the effort to strengthen the future of journalism. Joe is president of Democracy Fund, a bipartisan foundation created to help ensure that our political system withstands the new challenges it faces. He was an investment director at the Omidyar Network, which was established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, to harness the creativity of business to the task of positive social change. In that role, Joe helped establish the Democracy Fund and help usher it to an independent foundation in 2014. The Democracy Fund tries to strengthen the democratic process in three ways. First, it seeks bipartisan solutions to make the electoral process more reflective of the will of an informed electorate. Secondly, it aims to help government and especially Congress to overcome polarization and find solutions that best serve the nation. Finally, it helps to ensure a vibrant public square that delivers information critical to the intelligent participation in the democratic process. Joe joins us tonight to discuss this third prong of the fund’s efforts. He will deliver news that anyone concerned about a strong free press should find encouraging. Please join me in welcoming Joe Goldman of the Democracy Fund.
Joe Goldman of the Democracy Fund: Again, my name is Joe Goldman and I come bearing good news. So I’m here speaking on behalf of the Democracy Fund as well as our colleagues at First Look Media. On behalf of both of our organizations, I just really wanted to thank Peter (Gosselin) and everyone at the Newhouse School’s Toner Program. It’s really wonderful to be here. Most of you I’m sure are familiar with First Look Media and our colleagues at the Intercept do such incredible investigative reporting. First Look is also home to an array of other journalism programs, including Laura Poitras’ award-winning documentary unit Field of Vision. And of course, we’re all in debt to First Look for producing the Academy Award-winning film “Spotlight,” which so beautifully told the story of journalism at its best.
Michael Bloom, the president of First Look Media, and Betsy Reed, the editor of the Intercept are here with us and I just wanted to recognize them here tonight. You may be less familiar with the Democracy Fund, however. As you heard, we’re a bipartisan private foundation created by Pierre Omidyar. Since our inception about five years ago, we’ve invested more than $50 million in organizations working to make sure the American people come first in our democracy. We work on a variety of different programs, from modernizing our elections to building bridges across polarized divides. But from the beginning, one of Democracy Fund’s core commitments was to foster a robust and vibrant public square. My colleagues who lead our public square program are also with us tonight—Tom Glaisyer, Josh Sterns, Paul Waters, Teresa Gorman, and Estizer Smith.
So the reason I’m here, the reason we’re here, comes back to Lorraine’s initial comments. I don’t need to tell anyone here that the kind of clear-eyed, hard-hitting political reporting that Robin Toner was known for is under attack. For years, this industry has faced great economic challenges, something that we at the Democracy Fund have been working on for some time now. But the politically motivated attacks that we’ve seen against reporters over the past 18 months is something wholly different and represents something potentially toxic for an open and free society such as our own. We at the Democracy Fund and First Look Media are here tonight because we believe these attacks cannot be ignored. My colleagues and I believe that a strong Fourth Estate is vital to a healthy democracy. We want to do whatever we can to stand with you in this difficult moment.
With that in mind, I’m happy to announce that on behalf of the Democracy Fund and First Look Media, we are ready to give the largest grant that either organization has made to date in support of journalism and a free press. We specifically chose to make this announcement here tonight, because this evening is a celebration of the best of journalism. Indeed, that is what Robin Toner represented for everyone who knew her. Tonight we’re announcing more than $12 million in grants from the Democracy Fund and First Look Media. These grants represent a significant financial commitment towards excellence in journalism. But they don’t represent the end of our support. In the weeks and months to come, we hope to work with you to find creative ways to make sure that journalists have the resources they need to do their jobs.
Many of our grantees are here tonight, I’m going to ask them to stand and be recognized together, after I’ve announced each of the grants. Our first set of grants will go to three national and non-profit newsrooms. Each organization will receive a grant of $3 million over the next two years. These include the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Center for Public Integrity and ProPublica. Additional funds will go to the investigative reporting workshop at American University, which will see $500,000. And a new investigative media project led by Jay Rosen at NYU will receive a grant of $275,000. First Look Media has also granted $550,000 to support a partnership between The Intercept and the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. Additionally, to ensure that these fearless journalists and many others have the legal protections they need, the Democracy Fund is also announcing an $800,000 grant to the Reporter’s Committee for the Freedom of the Press.
Finally, following the lead that the Knight Foundation set last year with their matching fund, I’m happy to announce the establishment of a new fund for local, in-state reporting to support the essential journalism that’s taking place in communities across the country. The final will receive an initial investment of $1 million from the Democracy Fund, which we hope will be matched by other partners within philanthropy in the weeks and months to come.
So we feel pretty good about the support. We hope that our support for the field will enable journalists and the tradition of Robin Toner and the tradition of Gwen Ifill to do their jobs with the integrity and commitment that we know is so important for our country. I wanted to close by sharing a quote that isn’t very well known. It’s from an early Federalist leader named Fisher Ames. While trying to explain the difference between democracy and a more authoritarian government, he said the following: “Monarchy is like a sleek craft. It sails along until some bumbling captain runs it into the rocks.” He said, “Democracy, on the other hand, is like a raft. It never goes down but damn it, your feet are always wet.” I think it’s an understatement to say that lately, all of our feet are a little soggy. But thanks to the many journalists in this room and around the country, I feel pretty confident that we’re not going to run into the rocks. On behalf of the Democracy Fund and everyone at First Look Media, I really wanted to thank everyone for the work you do now and that you’ll be doing in the future. It really is for the good of this country and for our democracy. Thank you.
Dotson: To quote my grandmother from Iowa, “That is not a stick in the eye.” Wow. The first time I ever went to an event as plush as this, I took my grandmother. I asked her, “What do you think of this splendid gathering?” And she looked up from her meal and she said, “I wonder who put up all of the folding tables.” Well, you can thank Robin’s good friend John Chapple and Hawkeye Investments, and the Walton Family Foundation and its adviser, Kiki McLean, and a lot of companies too: Goldman Sachs, Finsbury, and Google’s Washington communications executive Becca Rutkoff. PhRMA has been with us since the Celebration came to Washington, and the Democracy Fund, which you just heard from, offered us something very special tonight. It is part of our geography of hope.
You know, I got to thinking when I was sitting at the table, that a lot of us are homesick for places we’ve never been. That’s what pulls the immigrants to America. And Kent Syverud is the same way. He started chasing his American Dream right here in Washington, D.C., as a clerk for (Supreme Court Justice) Sandra Day O’Connor. And now, he holds a spotlight for the next generation of students at Syracuse University. Would you please welcome, the chancellor of Syracuse University, my friend, Kent Syverud.
Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud: On behalf of Syracuse University, I want to welcome all of you to this wonderful event. I want to particularly note that later tonight, you’re going to be hearing from Robin Toner’s adult children, Jake and Nora Gosselin, and I want to thank them. But I particularly want to recognize Peter Gosselin, their father. Jake and Nora, I think you are blessed by both of your parents and having been able to work with Peter the last couple of years, I just feel very fortunate. I want to also recognize our great dean of the Newhouse school, Lorraine Branham. I want to thank Adam Clymer for help in recruiting our keynote speaker, and Charlotte Grimes, longtime administrator of the Robin Toner Program in Political Reporting. And also thank life-trustee John Chapple of Syracuse University for his help in establishing the Toner award. Robin Toner was a great journalist with dual degrees from Syracuse, representing the high-ideals of the Newhouse School of communications and the passion for citizenship of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Of course, she was lost all too young, and the Toner Prize is a testament to her ideals. With us tonight are people who are carrying on those ideals, and that’s the students of Syracuse University, from Newhouse, Maxwell and elsewhere. Could they all rise and be recognized? (applause)
Robin Toner saw journalism as a true public service. She created change, as the first woman to be a national political correspondent for The New York Times. She raised the bar with her courage to hold the powerful accountable. Her reporting was both meticulous and illuminating. In her obituary, The New York Times said that Robin had authored more than 1,900 articles while on staff there, and less than 10 required any kind of correction. The editor in chief of The Atlantic, at her passing, said that Robin was a genius of reporting, in fact she almost never got anything wrong. It’s hard not to wonder how Robin would have covered this last presidential campaign. I wonder how she would have reacted to the state of politics and the media today, but I believe she would’ve appreciated the recent words of our keynote speaker, who last month, told the press “thank God you are there to hold people accountable.”
Our speaker John Kasich this week was named by Fortune magazine as number 12 on the list of the world’s top leaders. He has been a dynamic leader of Ohio. He endured many months on the 2016 campaign trail, under the watchful eye of many of the journalists here tonight. Throughout the campaign, Governor Kasich remained grounded in integrity and in his convictions. He promises to talk about his experiences in a new book due out next month, titled “Two Paths: America Divided or United.” In the book, Governor Kasich addresses news media bias, the race for ratings, and the proliferation of fake news. Governor Kasich is also the father of twin 17-year-old daughters, who are now looking at colleges. So I’m asking you all to join me in urging them to think Syracuse. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming our keynote speaker, the Governor of the state of Ohio, John Kasich. (applause)
Governor of Ohio, John Kasich: I was going to try to joke, but then I saw how all of the jokes have gone over—pretty poorly—so I’m not even trying. Other than to say that if I knew that we were going to be honoring or helping Syracuse University, you have Jim Boeheim—could you send him to Ohio State? We didn’t even make the NIT this year. I don’t quite know who’s here, who’s in this crowd, so I don’t know if what I’m going to say is going to be meaningful to you or not.
I was up on Capitol Hill today, and I broke out into a cold sweat as I always do when I fly into the town, and it had me thinking back to the 90s. For a second, I want to take you back to the 1990s and to think about it a little bit. Back in the 1990s, you may recall that’s when Al Gore invented the internet. That’s when we all bought Nike shoes, not these young kids that are here. You know, Michael Jordan was a great basketball player for those of you that don’t know this, and we bought Nikes because we thought that if we could wear them, we literally could fly like Michael Jordan. We were all on the Titanic with Leo, who I happened to meet during the presidential campaign. And we were all told—not any of you young people—that everyone of us, that we were told we needed to dance the Macarena.
There were some other things that were happening in the 1990s that I’d like to remind you about. Number one, is we reformed the welfare system. It’s definitely not reformed to the degree that I would like today, but it was a big deal to see the Clinton administration and the Republican majority come together to try to create an environment where people could get help, but then they could move on. That was landmark. Because in 1997, then we actually balanced the budget. For four years, it was balanced and we paid down the largest amount of the publicly held debt, and it was done by Republicans and Democrats, even after a government shutdown. It was during the period of the balanced budget that we created the Child Healthcare Program (CHPS) that many of you know about, which has been sustained now for over 20 years. Now, I was one of the partners in that, to try to make sure our kids and our children would get what they need. It was also a time of very significant Pentagon reform. When chief hawks and Democrats came together, I had a relationship, a partnership back then with Ron Dellums, and we put together a bipartisan coalition that changed that system. It was also in the ‘90s when Tim Penny, the former Democrat, now Independent, came with a group of Democrats and a group of Republicans that I led to try to cut a penny out of every dollar, only to be defeated by a bipartisan coalition of appropriators in the Democrat administration. It was very interesting.
Those were much different times.
Back in those days, we got along. Four o’clock every afternoon, we’d go down to the gym and play basketball. We would knock each other around down there. In fact, some of us got hurt playing basketball and we loved it. We hung out together down in that gym and we lifted weights and threw the ball around, and kidded and joked. We had dinners where Republicans and Democrats would get together and have a dinner and a great laugh and maybe drink a little bit or maybe drink a lot more than a little bit, and slap each other on the back and become people—not Republicans and not Democrats. You could actually call your Democratic colleague during a holiday, and somebody didn’t think you were crazy. And wish them a Happy Hanukkah or a Merry Christmas or a Happy Easter. It was also a time when we could celebrate each other’s children. “Hey, your kid just graduated!” or “Hey, your kid got into…” —if they couldn’t get into Ohio State, they’d have to settle for Yale or Princeton, or something like that, or Syracuse. But we did that. There were actual friendships that occurred. That’s gone.
Today on this Hill, just talking to a few of the people up there, I was in some ways, astounded and toward the end of the day, when I saw the milling around the steps of the Capitol, I could sort of see a reason maybe to be optimistic about their ability to get along. They have to create these personal relationships where they decide that the country matters than their own political careers, or the country matters more than reporting to the Democratic National Committee or the Republican National Committee. I like to say the Republican party has only been my vehicle, never my master. Where the heck did we get to the point where we thought we had to line up with our political operations in order to feel like we were making a contribution. We have total dysfunction up there. And it just didn’t start now, in the last 100 days. This has been going on for a long period of time. We didn’t get here overnight. And I’ll tell you a story.
Before I left the House, I saw an inkling of this. I can remember being on the floor one day talking to Pat Schroder. I always liked Pat Schroder. She ran for president. I wasn’t going to vote for her but I liked her a lot. I could remember walking through the well of the House and having some Republicans sitting there—smart alecks—saying “why would you ever talk to that woman?” For those that remember me in the days of Capitol Hill, that was not something you said to me without expecting a return comment. And I straightened them out. We have a budget association here tonight that’s connected to this fund for democracy. I can remember being in the budget committee, which was one of the most frankly philosophical, ideological, committees on the hill. I can remember my Republican colleagues saying, “You know, it’s not gonna sit here all night. We’re gonna shut the Democrats up.” And I said, “Wait a minute, folks. Do you know what a pressure cooker is? My mother explained it to me. If you’ve ever seen a pressure cooker, it whistles. The reason it whistles is because it lets steam out, because if the steam didn’t come out, the whole thing would explode. Not only are we not going to shut the them up, but we need to figure out what we’re going to give them to win. Because if all they do is lose, we’re all gonna lose.”
And then we entered an era where people gave up bowling, and they took up politics. And here’s what they do: If you’re a conservative, you read conservative newspapers or a conservative newspaper, conservative editorials, you watch conservative television, and you listen to Rush Limbaugh. And you know everything there is to know about the way the world should work. And if you’re a liberal, of course, you read liberal newspapers, you watch Rachel Maddow and you love it, and maybe you read the Huffington Post. And you’re now an expert. You see, you know everything that there is to know. And then we feed ourselves day-in and day-out with material that reinforces everything that we happen to believe. And if there is anything that we don’t believe, we know that’s fake news. See, that’s where we are. I wish people would go back to bowling, because in the process of this, what happens is there’s this polarization, and here’s what’s really amazing: I read an article, I think it was in The New York Times, about a woman that was getting married. She decided she couldn’t have the wedding in America, because fist fights would break out because of the political differences. So she moved her wedding to Italy. Wish I’d had gone to that one. (laughter)
But the fact of the matter is, think about this. Families are fighting. I have an editor for this new book that I have, and he told me, “I wish you’d come to Christmas with us because my Uncle Joe sits next to me and we fight all day long. He has one set of views and he reads stuff and I have another set of views.” There’s no tolerance. This is America. People on Facebook, they’re unfriending people on Facebook because somebody says something the wrong way. I had a cable guy come to my house, and a doctor, by the way—I had this conversation twice—both of whom I hope will move up—the cable guy into a more management position, the doctor into running something big. He said: “The way things are going now, don’t express your political views. Believe me, I’m there, I live there every single day. For me, I’m not looking for anything, it doesn’t bother me. But for others, it’s a shame.” And compromise, oh my God, compromise! That’s the dirtiest word on the face of the earth. I’ve just got to ask people, what do we do in life where we don’t compromise? Where does it happen in life that we get everything single thing that we want? It doesn’t!
And so you know it’s so funny, people who aren’t in politics look at politics and say they’re a bunch of bozos. So I say, how’s it going in your life? I had a guy out—I went to this Allen Company event in Arizona—and all of these high-tech guys. One guy raised his hand and said, “Why do politicians pay attention to polls?” I said, “Well, you pay attention to polls too. They just happen to be different. I want to know when you tell your customers ‘No.’” So don’t just start holding somebody else up, look yourself in the mirror and figure out how you’re carrying on because we need more leadership everywhere.
I mentioned a couple of things that I think are great creations: Social security. Medicare. Medicaid. Welfare. The Child Health Program. The Tax Reform of ’86. Let me mention one other now, that as I’m standing here—civil rights. These things happened because both parties stamped them “approved.” Nothing—not Obamacare, not whatever this other thing was—none of them are sustainable, because if both parties don’t dig in, it becomes nothing more than a ping-pong match and a political target. This is just… I’ve got two 17-year-old daughters. This is not want I want my country to look like.
I went over to England. I was over in London after I went to this Munich conference that John McCain invited me to. I was sitting in the Parliament with some of the members, and I was asking them, in this parliamentary system, does the Labor ever talk to the Tories, does the Tories ever talk to the Labor? And they’re like, “Oh, yeah! I’ve got a bill I’m doing with this guy from the Labor party.” I’m becoming convinced that we have a stronger parliamentary system in America than they have even in Great Britain. You just need, I believe, to think about it.
So what about you, journalists? First of all, I had a dinner with like, you know, the one percent a few weeks ago, and I was flabbergasted at what I was hearing. The media is biased. Now, normally I think I’m hearing that from people who gave up bowling, but I’m talking here to the top one percent. I just had a reporter tell me that she’s doing a story about the collapse of the housing industry here—the money we provide for public housing. And I’m going to talk about what Trump did. Wait a minute. The problem with the housing stuff didn’t start with Donald Trump. What about Barrack Obama? He should’ve had this stuff fixed and he didn’t. Now, if you write a story and you spend all of your time talking about Trump, then you’ve just discredited yourself. Because I argue with these elites; I argued with them about, you don’t understand how it works. But I’ve also learned as a leader, as a governor, as a person that’s been around a long time, it oftentimes doesn’t matter if you’re right if you’re losing the ball game. You’ve got to listen to what other people say. That doesn’t mean you have to cave, that you have to do what they say, but listen. So I’m concerned about this.
So what about you? Content is king. That’s what really matters. It’s not all about how many clicks you get or about what this outrageous headline is—and by the way, those who write the stories, make sure that the headline kind of reflects what you have in the content. Maybe they say that’s not your job, well, make it your job. Because I don’t want to write something and then have somebody say, “well, this…” and kind of discredit everything I have in the content. People need more content.
Let me give you one thing that I think you all need to think about in the field of journalism. We worry now about these folks that felt that they were disenfranchised. No jobs, or partial jobs, or any of these things that we read about have created economic disruption and a lot of anger and frustration. Do you know what’s coming with the digital revolution? The number one occupation in America is driving. We’re going to have fully autonomous vehicles within the next 10 years. What’s going to happen to those people? Are we going to wake up one day and say “Oh my gosh, everyone is losing their jobs, we better get to it”? Think about the automobile. Some company told me the other day, we will hire no engineers that understand a combustion engine, we’re not interested because we want it to have the electric motor. Auto assembly lines are going to be shrunk in half. If you think we have anger and anxiety now, you take these major industries. People now say, “Oh, if I can’t get a job, I’ll get one at McDonald’s.” How long do you think that’ll last with the kiosks that are going to go in?
In other words, this country needs to prepare itself for what’s coming. Not react to what is happening once it happens, it will be too late, or it will be so difficult. Content that provides interesting things to the mothers and fathers who could have children at risk matters. And people in this country need to hear it because it’s a coming tsunami. When the election was over, I had a conversation with one of the big cheeses in television. I said, “So, okay, you made a billion dollars. You even got ratings when you just put a podium up. There didn’t even have to be anybody behind it. But you kept doing it because the cash register kept ringing. Now the election is over. And they’re going to tell you you’re gonna make another billion. You made a billion last year and you’re going to make another billion this year. So the question is, are you going to be able to live with yourself? So why don’t you think about the values that make you feel good and the values that you try to communicate to your children, and then figure out how you ought to do programming.” And you know what he said? “Thanks for calling me. You’re right.” He said, “You’re right. That’s what I do have to think about.” Because at the end of the day, they’ll never remember him for how much money he made for any network. They’re going to remember him the same way you remember Robin Toner, and the same way we’re going to remember Gwen Ifill. Because they stood for something and they had values and they were successful and Robin was a pioneer. So was Gwen. She was a pioneer as well. (applause)
Let me also say that, what about our leaders? Honest to goodness, I try to think back to when I was a congressman. I guess in my first couple of terms, I would have done about anything to be reelected. But toward the end of it, I became more and more realistic. Frankly, I didn’t make a lot of concessions back then, to be honest with you. But I guess I kind of thought I’d keep my job. But these people cling to their jobs because it becomes their identity. They just keep wanting to keep their jobs because they keep getting tickets and invites and they walk into a room and they might be able to even get up and make a talk.
Power—this is a failure for all of us—these young people that are here tonight, power never comes from the outside in. We have a guy tonight who went and helped the new leaders of Syracuse get on their feet. Tonight he’s sitting with his father at hospice. His father, his power, if it came from the outside in, it doesn’t matter. Power, if you are going to be a healthy and strong individual, comes from the inside out. And so these jobs – sometimes, you’ve got to walk. I’m sorry, I’m not doing that. We’ll defeat you. Then go ahead and take my job. You know, the funny thing about it is when you stand up and you lead, they never throw you out. It’s only the illusion that they will throw you out. But people don’t get elected in public life because somehow they got the right issue, nobody even knows what the issues are until recently. They get elected because they give people a sense that they know what they’re doing and they’re strong and they’re a leader.
We have to have these conversations with our leadership, with the leadership that you cover, privately, because I’ve got a lot of friends in the media, privately, who could give advice to public officials. And sometimes, when they do something special, notice it. Everything doesn’t have to be negative. Notice when they do something positive. The public has to come out of the silos. Somebody said to me, “How is that ever going to happen? What is the answer to this problem?” And I kept saying, “I don’t have a good answer.” I’ve been thinking about it lately. You know what, I don’t think this problem of polarization or division or intolerance can be solved from the top down.
Think about this for a second. Drugs, opiates. When we pick up the newspaper and we read about some 24-year-old kid who dies of a heroin overdose, is that a Republican or a Democrat issue? I think we mourn equally. And if we know the family, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or Democrat, we mourn with the family. That doesn’t mean a darn thing—liberal, conservative, it doesn’t matter. We have a big battle in this country. Fighting this war on drugs. I can send all of the stuff I want. Congress can send all of the stuff—and we should, we should do more. But at the end of the day, it’s who lived next door to you.
Let me give you another issue: poverty. You know the food banks? Do you ever go to a food bank? Do you ever see who goes in there? They’re us. They’re not somebody else. They look, and act, and hurt, and cry, and laugh with their children just like we do. So in my city, at least, the Kroger food store, you pay your bills, will you round up for the food bank? Nobody there is saying “Well, does this go to Democrats or Republicans?” Everybody rounds up. And you can go into that food bank and see people who take a turn, that just gives people something to eat. And that ain’t Republican or Democrat or liberal and conservative—it’s humanity.
Infant mortality. Do you ever read in the paper about these little babies that die? Is there anything that we read of that hurts us more than to think about a little baby that can’t make it? You know, a big part of this answer—not the whole answer, but a big part of this answer—is when someone in the community where there’s a young woman at risk, says I’m going to take you to the doctor. Yep, we’re going in my car, we’re going on Monday, and I will be ringing your doorbell and we’re going. And the people in that church where she goes, it says we’re not just going to have your baby born, but now we’re going to be with you to make sure that baby can thrive and grow. That’s not Republican or Democrat. That’s for all of us.
Veterans. I mean, is this the most ridiculous thing? People go out, they go to war, they leave the country, they’re out there serving us, and they come home and they can’t get a job. Are you trying to tell me that in our communities, we can’t push each other to figure out how we can get veterans a job. Or the issues of our seniors. I was in New Hampshire when I was running, and I don’t even know how this happened, but I’m at this big town hall. I said, “Did anyone here ever lose their spouse?” This guy raises his hand. I say, “How long were you married, sir?” He said, “I was married 67 years, you know I’m 83 years old and my wife died.” And I said, “Anybody come to see you?” He goes, “Well, no, not usually. My family lives out of town.” I said, “Who’s gonna take this guy to dinner?” Who’s that on? Caring about our seniors, that’s not Republican or Democrat.
The education issues or the issues of race.
Bernice King invited me to Atlanta, I mean, thank you God for giving me a chance to be heard. There were about 200 people in this room, and somebody raises “What about Trump?” I said, “Well, today I’m standing outside of Martin Luther King’s home with my 17-year-old daughter, and I was thinking about Martin Luther King. He didn’t fix this country by going to the big shots. The big shots didn’t have any time for Martin Luther King. It was too political. He went to neighbors and churches and got everybody through the force or morale and the force of reality, to force those at the top to change the laws. You see, I happen to believe that by having people forget their parties and to forget their ideology and to sit and work on these fundamental problems, that we can break down these walls again. By focusing and concentrating on those things that are about our humanness, not about our politics. And maybe after we are together at the food bank or the school or fighting the opiate crisis, we can begin to heal these differences. And we can begin to listen to one another and understand one another a little bit better.
For all of you, there’s nothing more important than the free press. I watched… over in Kiev, they gunned that guy down just a week ago. The enemy of Putin. Could you imagine… tell me, being one of those people to go out and stand to cross Russia and speak out against Putin? Could you imagine what that would be like? The next thing you know, you’re sitting in the God darn jail, maybe in a gulag somewhere. The first thing he tried to do, and it’s the same thing that’s happening in Turkey, it happens whenever there are authoritarians: We’re going to shut you down. And you’re going to become a mouthpiece for us. Boy, that’s the beginning of the end, of human rights and freedoms. I was thinking the other night, objective reality. See, you’re your opinion, if you’re writer, yes, you have your opinion, but if you’re covering the news, it’s about objective reality. What you see. Two cars were driving down the street, one ran into the other one, that’s what we have. We rely on you to tell us what the truth is, and you create a lot of humility because you hold the people, oh, how the mighty have fallen. And you contribute to that.
Look, I was in the press for 10 years, not like a lot of you professionals, come on, I was on television, okay? No, that mattered. Anytime that we think that it’s all about the internet or about Facebook or whatever, if you’re a politician or if you’re an ad guy working for a company, you put it on television. Television matters. You’re serious journalists. Was I serious? I mean, I tried my best, okay? I did as well as I could do, but I so—and this is not suck-up, because I’ve given you the negative—I so respect journalism and journalists and what you do to deliver the truth. I don’t care who attacks you and who criticizes you, you do your job, and you will be surprised and shocked at how many people will man the barricades to protect what you do.
Tonight is for Robin Toner, again. And her husband who keeps this thing going. I saw a young reporter on Capitol Hill today, and she said, “I’m sorry I can’t be there tonight but I love going there.” What a woman, who broke all kinds of barriers. And Gwen… I loved Gwen Ifill. She was so smart and so kind, and she did her job, and you didn’t cross Gwen. But she did it with such class and such spirit that I have to say, I miss her. I miss her laugh and her presence and the way she thought about things. So, it’s really an honor for me to be here tonight and to be with all of you. I just have a sense deep in my soul that we’ll get through this time, but it’s going to take all of us. Not just one or two and not just the people at the top. But most important, where we live, in our neighborhoods, with our families and our friends.
So, God bless you, and thank you all very much for allowing me to be here. (applause)
(Tribute to Gwen Ifill slideshow plays)
Bob Dotson: Governor Kasich is going to be with us to enjoy a glass of wine, as much as we enjoyed your speech. Thank you so much, appreciate it.
We all know what is. And we think we know what ought to be. But not many of us recall what was. When Gwen Ifill and Robin Toner were young journalists, women faced a lot of closed doors. Reporters who desperately needed a hand were offered theirs. The way those two friends followed their careers created a portal for thousands of us to follow.
Both Robin and Gwen died too soon, but their kindness lives on. That is why, tonight, we are honoring a minority journalist in Gwen Ifill’s name. And here to tell us about it is her brother Bert.
Roberto Ifill, Gwen Ifill’s brother: I just want to make a personal observation, I realize I’m the fourth person up here wearing a shiny gray suit. So I guess I got the memo. Well, I want to thank the Newhouse School, the Robin Toner Prize and particularly Peter Gosselin for inviting me up here. I’d like to say a few words about a person we all came to love, all came to know, all came to be inspired by – my sister, Gwen Ifill.
As we all know, Gwen was committed to this program, to this Robin Toner Prize, serving on the board, and I think she was also committed to what it stands for: celebrating powerful, great journalism. And particularly, two important principles: getting the facts right and getting the right facts. I remember meeting Robin some years ago, actually, when she and Gwen were in the Washington bureau of The New York Times, and I noted that they had a particularly close relationship, almost like sisters. In many ways, like sisters, they consoled each other, confided in each other, celebrated each other’s triumphs, commiserated over each other’s frustrations, and like sisters, they competed against each other fiercely.
But I think they also shared the values that you’ve heard so much about tonight. About being courageous in ferreting out the truth, in being ineffaceable, about getting the truth out there for people to see. About being accurate, about being clear, and about being human and humane. The stories we read from Gwen and from Robin were always testimonies to the humanness of the subjects, whether it was politicians or their politics. I think bringing us closer to those politicians as people brought us closer to the politics, got us closer to the issues, got us closer to enlightenment.
I think another thing—and I think I can speak as someone who knew Gwen all of her life—is that among the things that were really important to Gwen, was the notion not only of her faith, that sustained her during that last difficult year, but also her commitment to family. And in Gwen’s mind, family wasn’t just simply people who shared DNA – family were people that you could depend upon. And when she considered herself a part of your family, you could depend upon her. You could depend upon her for advice, sometimes very stringently applied advice. You could depend upon on her to share your triumphs and your joys, as well as your sorrows. And I can say as a member of the family, that she loved sharing. She loved sharing those mountain-top moments with us. I like to say when people ask, “Have you ever felt that you were in her shadow, as this wonderfully famous journalist and commentator?” And I, to quote Mick Jagger’s little brother Chris, “No, I was never in her shadow, I was in her light.” Because she shared her light with all of us. (Applause)
And she got the greatest joy in that sharing with family. Family that included not only relatives, but so many of her colleagues. And among the things she was proudest of was being able to share what she’d learned coming up the hard way, as a pioneer along with Robin, in the business. She was not one of those folks that when she attained her position of prominence, folded her arms and blocked the door for anyone to come after. In fact, what she would do is she would find out where the secret passages are, where the doors that were locked and where the doors that were unlocked were, and she would point them out to the people that would come after.
Her major contribution is probably yet to be seen. Not just simply her sterling form of journalism, but really her opening of doors, her opening of opportunities. It’s not only about getting the facts right or about getting the right facts, but getting the stories told that otherwise would not be.
And that leads me to essentially the first honoree in Gwen’s name: Yamiche Alcindor.
I will say that the example that Gwen and Robin set are extraordinarily lofty ones, and might seem difficult for anyone else to achieve or even approach. But in her work and her relatively brief career, Ms. Alcindor has done more than simply meet those expectations. The fact that her hard-hitting journalism exposes us to stories that would otherwise be buried or ignored, and force us to consider and contemplate the lives of those we otherwise would not consider.
The fact that her writing is sparklingly clear and direct. And that her presence on news programs has been not only direct and clear, but unmistakably honest. Unmistakably committed to getting those stories out. In my mind, I’m thinking of Gwen smiling down on us right now, and really saying how proud she is that the first journalist honored in her name is Ms. Alcindor.
Yamiche Alcindor: Thanks so much. Thanks so much, Mr. Ifill and Robin Toner’s family for selecting me for this honor, and thanks to my fiancé and fellow reporter Nathaniel for being here and supporting me through the work that I do. I’m incredibly humbled to be recognized among the sea of journalists who are working just as hard as me to tell these stories. The first time I met Gwen, I walked up to her and I was utterly amazed. And I said, my name is Yamiche, but you can call me “Miche” if you want to. And she quickly stopped me and said, “Own your name. Own who you are and don’t let people name you.” And what she was telling me in essence was to be who you are, to own what is important to you, to take all of the things and all of the experiences that you have and pour them into your stories.
Fast forward several years and I was weighing whether to come to The New York Times—which I weighed, I know—and she encouraged me to understand the opportunity, but to also recognize what I brought to the table. It was in that conversation that I thought about why I became a journalist in the first place, and I was inspired by the death of Emmett Till and the courage of his mother to open that casket and allow the world to see her son. I’m a journalist who has spent just this afternoon talking to a woman who is making $40,000 a year and is trying to raise a family of four, and who bought her home using a federal program that is staged, that may be cut under President Trump’s administration. I thought to myself, that I am doing the work—though sometimes I may be frustrated and sometimes it takes time—is the work that I want to do.
I’m a reporter who ultimately is energized by civil rights issues and who believes that those issues are at the center of the political debates that we’re having currently. Gwen told me that sometimes people can’t picture you in positions and sometimes you have to often make people believe in your skills and will yourself through your own talent to be in those positions. She said, and I quote, “It’s important to be reminded how easily we can be denied simple and obvious opportunities, how low the ceilings can get, how much fortitude it takes to refuse to accept the limits that others place on you. But now you have the skills to transcend those limits.” Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff transcended those limits when they became the first all-female team to anchor PBS NewsHour. Robin Toner transcended those limits when she became the first woman to be a national political correspondent for The New York Times and covered five presidential campaigns. To receive this honor in their names means that I can transcend limits even if the ceilings remain low.
Thank you so much. (applause)
(slide show of Robin Toner plays)
Bob Dotson: I’m a T.V. guy, I love looking at pictures. Robin Toner and her life charted a course that changed America’s political reporting, and the prize given in her name honors those who do the same. We know why this Celebration began – here’s how. Peter Gosselin, her husband, won a lot of awards. Most of you know, he’s an investigative reporter, and being an investigative reporter he wins a lot of awards. Back in the day, Robin was a political reporter who got to report more politics. So Peter figured that it may be a little cosmic twist, because, as he now admits, she was the better writer and the better reporter. To actually give a prize in her name for outstanding political coverage.
Tonight, Robin’s son and daughter will hand out those awards and also tell you a little bit more about their mom. And there will also this year be an honorable mention, because after last year and its kind of in-your-face politics and on-your-phone confrontation, it has produced a deal of very dramatic coverage. One of our judges, Adam Clymer, the former New York Times political editor, is here to explain.
Adam Clymer: Thank you very much for joining us in honoring Robin and Gwen. I’ve been a judge of the finals since this contest began seven years ago. We never had had—well, excuse me, we once had more entries than this year – 147 was a lot. I think it might have been even bigger if reporters had been covering the campaign and had a normal post-election period where the amount of collected articles and submitted them. Instead, they’re busy covering the insanity that follows. One thing we didn’t get this year was as many articles about campaign finance and dark money as we have seen in recent years, and I hope that subject doesn’t get forgotten because while dark money may not have affected the presidential election, it certainly affected legislators and the congressional elections as well.
The most important thing about this year’s contest is I’ve never seen winners superior to these. They rank with all of the best that we’ve had in the seven years of this award, and I’m not sure, I’d be surprised if I could sit back and count in a year when we had two such brilliant examples of important political reporting. We have, now to describe them, more generally, more specifically rather, and to present the awards, are two of Robin Toner’s most treasured accomplishments: Nora Gosselin, a sophomore at Brown, Jake Gosselin, a sophomore at the University of Chicago – come on up, you take over for me.
Nora Gosselin: Good evening, everyone. At this event last March, I quoted a story my mom wrote two decades ago about a just-finished fight over health reform. “Reality,” she said, “often seemed to be just another subject for debate in the health care struggle.” But it has a way of reasserting itself after the shouting is over. As has been said, we once believed our country was built on a foundation of truth, of reality. Now it seems that reality is negotiable. Suddenly we’re faced not only with the binary of fact and falsehood that we can trust but a spectrum of upside-down, inside-out claims yelled by some of the most powerful people in our country. It’s been a tough year for facts, and it has required journalists like you to work and work hard, relentless against the shouting. I watched my mom work at this enormous endeavor for years, chewing her finger nails, scribbling and scribbling over again, threads of stories she knew she had to pursue, had to write, for the people who are most removed from power and most affected.
I can’t even imagine what my mom would have had to have said about the current state of truth in this country. But I can so clearly imagine what she would have done: gotten out her legal pad, her pen, and her tape recorder and go at it. The workhorse in my mom would have loved the meticulous, relentless drive for facts found in the work of this year’s honorable mentions. While many news outlets covered the content of the infamous DNC e-mails, this group of reporters followed the thread further, asking “Where did these leaks come from?” What they uncovered in their thread-pulling was a disturbing disconnect between the FBI and the DNC, that led to one of the most high-profile cyber-attacks of modern politics. As one of our judges put it, this was great reporting on the most important political story of the year, or perhaps, the century.
As the leaks came to public attention and as Congress began to call for an investigation, this Times story was cited again and again as a common set of carefully arranged facts, a reestablishment of reality that spurred government response. This work is a testament to all that good work-horse journalism can accomplish. For this, I am thrilled to award the Toner Honorable Mention to David Sanger, Scott Shane and Eric Lipton of The New York Times for their piece, “The Perfect Weapon: How Russian Cyber Power invaded the U.S.”
Honorable Mention Winners:
David Sanger of The New York Times : Thank you very much. Thank you, Nora. It’s a particular honor to get this award from you. If your mom was here, and certainly her spirit and reportorial brilliance remain with us today, she’d be delighted to see everyone—all of her friends who are here—but the only thing that would rally matter I think is seeing you and Jake, the light of her life, as such wonderful accomplished adults, enjoying Brown and the University of Chicago.
It doesn’t seem so long ago, and pardon me for saying this, Nora and Jake, that I remember taking the two of you and my youngest son, along with Robin through the zoo. So it’s particularly sweet to receive this award from you tonight on behalf of the Times and Scott here and Eric Lipton, who unfortunately could not be with us tonight.
A little-known fact, Scott here and Robin shared a birthday. Not just the birthday, but the month and year. So they were making pretty good reporters that day. Eric, who as I said couldn’t be here, was really a force of nature in assembling the narrative of this remarkable episode in American politics. And I’d also like to thank Bill Hamilton, who edited the piece, and Elisabeth Bumiller, who drove it into the paper, for their great talents. They always make us look better and read better than we deserve, and we never admit that in the office.
Robin was a great friend and great colleague through much of the more than three decades that I’ve been a reporter at the Times. We arrived at about the same time. And like Gwen, a great friend who we lost far too early, she mixed incisive reporting with clear thinking, and a wonderful arch view of the world. I miss her every day, but this past week, when the politics of health care turned into an epic political failure, I think millions of Times readers missed her as well. She left a hole in the newsroom and in our hearts.
Sometimes, in the midst of the chaos and the confusion of the past few months, I think it’s easy to forget what a remarkable story this was. The tale of a foreign power, really for the first time, messing in the innards of an American election – using a mix of the newest cyber techniques in Stalin-era information warfare. We’re still exploring the details of what happened.
I think if Robin was here tonight, she’d say a few things to us. The first is, she’d look at me and say, “Don’t let it go to your head, Sanger. It’s only the runner-up. Try harder next time.” Then she’d note that her wonderful brother Mark Toner, who has been the deputy, she’d say hasn’t he been a really great deputy (State Department) spokesman, you didn’t give him a hard enough time, she’d say. Then I think she’d remind us that what Scott and Eric and I delved into was really just the first chapter of a story that’s still going on, and she’d be all over us as to where we’re taking it next. And then as a last moment I think she’d say, “Nora and Jake… wow.”
Thank you all very much. (applause)
Jake Gosselin: I really love that story that Chancellor Syverud shared earlier tonight about my mom and her habit of her self-editing her own raw copy. Because I think that story serves as a concrete reflection of her dedication to getting it right, a dedication that sometimes bordered on obsession. And I think it holds particular significance tonight because this characteristic of my mom is shared by this year’s winner.
As Adam Clymer just said, we had many, many great submissions this year. But this reporter’s dedication to seeing his story through, to keep digging and digging, set him apart from the pack. His series began at a rally in Waterloo, Iowa, last February. In the course of trying to confirm a campaign promise given by now-President Trump, our winner began a nine-month journey of exposing the Trump Foundation. I could go on for hours about what made this series so special, but in the interest of time, I’d like to highlight only one unique aspect of it.
Over the course of his reporting, our winner took to Twitter to detail his work and to crowdsource for information. This culminated in an epic search for a life-size portrait of Donald Trump that had been purchased using his charity’s funds. In doing so, he inadvertently created, in his own words, an army of strangers, one that included billionaires, celebrities and stay-at-home mothers.
I highlight this because not only was it highly entertaining, but because as someone who watched this unfold last September, I was struck that there was something oddly beautiful about it. A group of people, never having met each other before, became bound together by a shared desire to—as Nora just put so beautifully—assert the facts. I can’t think of anything that would have made Mom happier.
It is my distinct honor to present this year’s Toner Prize to David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post.
David A. Fahrenthold, Recipient of the 2017 Toner Prize: Thank you so much Jake, Nora, for the introduction. Thanks Peter, for organizing this event. Thanks Gov. Kasich for being here tonight.
I’m so thrilled to be here, to be part of an event that honors Robin Toner. I didn’t know Robin Toner. I didn’t have the honor of knowing her. But, like, everybody else in this room, I knew her work. And, like everybody else in this room, I was jealous of it. Her stories had sort of a powerful ease to them that I always admired and I always wanted to recreate in my stories, kind of a conversational clarity. You never struggled through one of her stories, you skated through it. When you got to the other side, suddenly you knew everything about—well, let me pick a few examples that she wrote about: Democrats poor fortune in the South, Republicans tying themselves in knots over right-wing orthodoxy, blue-collar voters turning on Washington insiders because of trade. She had covered all of those things by 1992. The politicians at the time that had been bested by those trends told her that they had learned their lessons and would never be surprised by them again.
In these hard-to-explain times in Washington, we all take Robin’s example with us to work every day. And I’m so glad to be here to say how grateful I am for that example.
I wanted to thank a few people who are here in the room with me: my wife, Elizabeth Lewis, who is sitting here in the front row. When Elizabeth married me, I was the Post’s New England correspondent, the last New England correspondent. I covered things like lobster larceny—not larcenous lobsters, but people stealing lobsters—it was a big deal in Maine. And a man in New Hampshire who’d grown a 1,300 pound pumpkin. The point is that I seemed harmless then. But then last year, Elizabeth wound up handling breakfast and bedtimes with our two girls by herself night after night while I was at work. She found herself with me sitting at our kitchen table with a security expert the Post had hired after I received a death threat, who was evaluating whether or not our house was vulnerable to a car bomb. I’m grateful that she gave up so much time, sacrificed so much, put herself in all those situations, and also served as the sounding board for me through endless evenings of me talking through my stories and my reporting process. So thank you.
Also, a lot of folks from the Post are here tonight. So I wanted to say thank you to some editors: Terri Rupar, Steven Ginsberg, Scott Wilson, Cameron Barr and Marty Baron. Marty’s not here, but it was sort of him that gave me the idea that really changed the course of last year for me, which was after we had seen then-candidate Trump basically try to wriggle out of a promise to give $1 million to veterans that he wanted to say he’d given it, but he hadn’t actually given it. Marty came back to me and said, we should look more, we should look deeper. To go back and say that this person tried to get out of a promise to veterans under the brightest spotlight that we have on American journalism, the middle of a presidential campaign. What was he doing before? Nobody was looking. So go back and look at the charitable promises he was making then and on the follow-through. That changed the course of my year and sort of became project for the next several months. I tell that story because it’s true and very important, but also because if they make the movie “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” then I can include any of those other editors and I want to make sure I get my part.
I also wanted to say thank you to a few other folks who aren’t here but are very important. The Graham family, Don Graham, Katharine Weymouth, who built their great newspaper. Jeff Bezos, who infused ambition, creativity and great talent at this time when we need it most. So thank you to both the Graham family and to Jeff Bezos.
I also, last and most important one, need to say thank you to Alice Crites, our tireless Washington Post researcher, whose searching in the deep caves of the internet led to so many phone numbers, and clips and other things that I use in my reporting. The most difficult job that I gave Alice last year was, I wanted to know when Donald Trump fired Chloe Kardashian on the “Celebrity Apprentice,” and promised to give her charity a donation to soften the blow, what did Chloe Kardashian say in response? You would think this is an easy assignment. It is not. Somehow, nearly all records of what was said on the “Celebrity Apprentice” had been scrubbed from the earth and from human memory by NBC or by a higher power – it’s gone. Alice found it. After days and days of searching, she tracked down the transcript of what Chloe Kardashian had said. What Chloe Kardashian had said was… “It is what it is.” So, uh, we didn’t use that. For all of you who know researchers or are researchers, that’s the life. Sometimes you find the pot at the end of the rainbow and what’s in it is not gold but dirty dishwater, and, uh, it is what it is.
So I just wanted to say one thing about now, the moment we’re in now. We live in a time of enormous power for the news media in Washington. I really mean that – power. Although we have been derided by some as purveyors of fake news or as enemies of the people, the reality is that in today’s chaotic Washington, those with power often lack the unity and discipline to control the way the world sees them. The power lies on us, the news media, more than ever to make sense of what just happened. Often those who have power depend on us to tell what just happened to them. For instance, how did Vice President Pence find out that the national security adviser had misled him about contacts with the Russian Ambassador? He read about it in The Washington Post. How did the House Republicans find out that their health care bill had been pulled? They read about it from The Washington Post and the failing New York Times. The president had called in this moment because apparently he thought we’d get it right.
So what’s our responsibility now at this moment of unaccustomed influence? Beyond the age-old requirements – that we be right, that we be fair, that we be clear – I think that there’s a requirement for us to be transparent, now more than ever. There are new people who are reading our work, the work of Washington journalists, who for the first time are so excited, are so encouraged, or so terrified, that they’re reading every little thing about the House Intelligence Committee, or about appeals courts decisions in Maryland or Hawaii. For those folks, we owe them proof of why what we do is better. If they don’t know it from our name, they must see it from our work. I tried to do some of that on social media last year by putting the questions I had asked, facts I had learned, how I had learned them, and also what I hadn’t learned yet. What I wanted to know and what I hadn’t figured out. I’ve seen journalists doing it in amazing ways this year, and this genre of stories, this new thing we’re all seeing in the Times and the Post and Politico and many other places where people put in their stories exactly how many people in the White House leak to them for their story about chaos in the White House. Often, the number of leakers is greater than the number of people you thought worked in the White House. Being that transparent, of course, helps our readers understand that we’re not fake news, but it also helps us by helping us focus what we know and what we don’t know and by spelling it out in a way that we didn’t spell it out before for public consumption.
If you call that 20th source just to get the bigger number in your story, you might find something the first 19 leakers didn’t tell you, or find out the first 19 leakers were wrong. In my case, I also had this amazing experience of putting questions out to readers, of putting out unanswered questions to readers and finding that they knew things. They had context, they had background, they had ideas that I never would have thought of, and they helped me get things that I thought were basically just impossible. Just to give one brief example: I learned from a tax return from 1989 that the Donald J. Trump Foundation had given in that year a $7 charitable grant to the Boy Scouts. Seven dollars. So I thought there had to be a story there. I called the Boy Scouts, they wouldn’t talk to me. I called the candidate, he wouldn’t talk to me. It’s 20-something years ago. I thought, well, this is basically just impossible. I’ll never know the answer to this question. I put it out on Twitter thinking people will get a laugh out of this. I didn’t even know I was asking for help, is the point. I didn’t think there was help to be gotten. An hour later, my Twitter followers who had contacts and knowledge and backgrounds that I couldn’t have anticipated had found the answer in an hour. They found the answer – wwhich was that in 1989, it cost $7 to register your son for the Boy Scouts. So that was the year Donald Trump Jr. turned 11, old enough to join the Boy Scouts. So I don’t know for sure that’s what it was, because the Boy Scouts and the president won’t talk to me about it, but it seems that in 1989, a man that had just two years earlier written a book that said he had so much money he could not use any more, had used the charity’s money to register his son for the Boy Scouts. That’s the kind of thing that I wouldn’t have gotten if I hadn’t told people that I didn’t know how to get it.
The brightest lights in our profession, including Robin, including Jimmy Breslin who we just lost a few days ago, stand out because they could make things complicated—complicated people, complicated ideas—seem accessible without making them seem simple. And I think right now we can apply the same thing to ourselves and to our work, by providing more details, more of the gears moving, more first-person accounts of how we report in this era, I think we can show people how hard we’re working to earn their trust. My little experiment last year I think provided some really thrilling evidence that this complexity is exactly what readers want. So thank you again for allowing me to be honored in Robin Toner’s name.
Bob Dotson: Yes, there are dark shadows on the earth. But the people we honored tonight have a light that seems a lot brighter than that. I’m so happy that you all came to this gathering, not just to honor Gwen and Robin, but to tell America’s political reporters that in some small way, we’ve got your back.
Now, an event like this doesn’t happen unless you can count on more than just your fingers. Robin has a large and loyal family, especially Patrick and Bridget McCall who helped, and her sisters Jane and Gretchen, and her kids too, Nora and Jacob. The best of your mom lives on in you.
And now for a final word, Jake’s going to come with a little benediction.
Jake Gosselin: Before we let you go, I’d like to single out some of the people who made this amazing event happen tonight. I’d like to thank in particular Chancellor Syverud, Provost Wheatly and Dean Branham for doing so much to help the Toner Program grow. Governor Kasich, for defending a free press tonight, and at other times, the need of Americans, no matter rich or poor, for good health care. Our panel of finalist judges, especially Ann Compton, Adam Clymer, Evelyn Tsu, Lonnie Isabel and Maralee Schwartz. John Chapple, for his continuing generosity. Joe Goldman and the Democracy Fund for seeing a need for new reporting and supporting it. And the unsung heroes of this event, Audrey Burian, Luke Miller, Charlotte Grimes and my dad, whose work is too often unappreciated.
I’d also like to thank all of you. As Nora said earlier, this year has been tough for facts, for figuring out what’s going on in the world, and it reminds me of a speech my dad gave seven years ago at the first Toner event. In it, he remarked that he hoped this program would make Nora and I ask ourselves as we grew older what Mom would think, how she would make sense of the world we live in. I believe that line holds more significance today than it ever has. The truth is, I don’t know what Mom would think about all that’s happened in the past year, but I know what she would think about all of you. The only thing she loved more than reporting was reporters. She had immense respect not just for her coworkers, but for her competitors, for everyone who helped perfect the craft she held so dear. I think now more than ever she would appreciate the work all of you have done, and the work you will continue to do. I know we do.
See you all next year.