2013 Sebelius Transcript
Toner Prize Celebration with Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services
March 28, 2013
PROFESSOR CHARLOTTE GRIMES: Good evening, everyone. If you could please take your seats and feel free to start eating. I’m Charlotte Grimes, I’m the one that most of you have been getting those email messages from. So you now have a Southern accent and a short person to connect to those emails. I am the Knight Chair in Political Reporting at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University and it’s my special privilege to be the administrator of the Robin Toner Program.
All of you know Robin and know Peter Gosselin, and their children Nora and Jake, and you are here to celebrate the kind of journalism that Robin did. As a program, the Robin Toner Program at the Newhouse School, I’m going to ask Dean Lorraine Branham of the Newhouse School to give us a welcome. Thank you very much. (Applause)
DEAN LORRAINE BRANHAM: Thank you, Professor Grimes. This is my great pleasure to welcome you all here tonight. And I want to thank Professor Grimes for all her hard work and it’s just amazing that she arranged it so that we could all be here in Washington with you today at the same time that a certain school just happened to be having a basketball game. So it worked out perfectly as far as we’re concerned. But seriously, we are really delighted to be here and to be having our third anniversary of this event. We thought it would be nice to leave Syracuse and leave behind the snow and come to Washington, which was Robin’s home and a place where she did much of her work to celebrate and recognize the work that she was so noted for.
It’s nice to have so many of Robin’s friends and colleagues and family members here in the room. I especially would like to recognize Peter and the twins, Nora and Jake, who I cannot believe in the three years since getting to know them, how much they have grown. It’s great to see you guys. This is a very important piece of what we do at the Newhouse School. And it serves as a wonderful example for our students of the kind of work that we believe is important and that we hope they will aspire to and one day leave us to go off and do. And we also like to think that it keeps the focus on the importance of this kind of journalism, which some days seems to be in danger of being undermined or disappearing altogether. So whenever we have an opportunity to continue those who do this kind of work, we are happy to do so. We have some special guests here tonight who you will have an opportunity to meet and I think some of them have arrived. So I’m going to stop talking. Please continue to enjoy your salads and then your dinner. Thank you all for being here tonight and for your support of this program and for the Newhouse School and especially for the Robin Toner Program in Political Journalism. Long live this kind of reporting and let’s continue to support those who go out and do this kind of work. Thank you very much. (Applause)
PETER GOSSELIN: Our guest speaker is Secretary Sebelius and she’s going to have to leave, she’s on a tight schedule for another event so I’m going to introduce her and she’ll speak while we’re eating, and then the rest of the program will go on after that. I actually had the good luck to work for Secretary Sebelius for a period of time and for Secretary Geithner too. It’s hard to remember how bad things really were four years ago. You can get some sense of it from the story of Secretary Sebelius’ first day on the job. At the time, still Governor of Kansas, she was notified that a plane would be arriving to bring her to Washington even as the senate was still voting on her confirmation. She was taken straight to the White House to be briefed on a global swine flu pandemic. The Secretary rolled up her sleeves and went to work and a lot has improved in the intervening years. One thing that has not is the pace – hence her departure after her speech. The Secretary has had to deal with the fallout after an oil spill in the South, an earthquake in Haiti, Hurricane Sandy, she’s leading the conversion to electronic health records, helping the First Lady tackle obesity, revamping our efforts on HIV/AIDS and smoking. Most importantly, she’s implementing historic legislation to overhaul both the way that America pays for its healthcare and the way that care is delivered. Robin’s twin journalistic passions were American politics and health policy. Secretary Sebelius represents the best of both, the daughter of an Ohio governor, a governor in her own right, leading the nation closer than it’s ever gotten to universal coverage – it’s my honor to introduce Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. (Applause)
SECRETARY KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: Well good evening everybody, I’m delighted to have a chance to join you tonight. I did find myself having a little bit of PTSD when I saw all the orange color. Tonight I can say, go orange and I know many of you will be heading to that game. I want to recognize that it’s really very nice to be here. I did have the chance to work with peter and he came to the department at an absolutely historic time and did some of the heavy lifting as we began the early stages of this legal implementation which presidents for many years have been trying to get passed but no one had succeeded until President Obama, so he was there at a remarkable time. So it’s a great pleasure to meet Nora and Jake, which I did briefly outside and to recognize the fact that the woman you’re honoring tonight, Robin, was not only a superb journalist and the first woman to be named national political correspondent, but a wife, and a mom and a passionate healthcare advocate. So it’s my real pleasure to have a chance to share in not only her memory but also her legacy that she leaves.
I see Senator Rockefeller is here and I have that pleasure of working with the senator on a regular basis. I knew he was likely to be here also to pay respects to Robin’s memory but to honor her legacy. No question Robin was a trailblazer. Somebody’s whose life actually serves as a terrific inspiration not only for those of you in the room but lots of people around the country. Because her work remains the gold standard for political journalism. I think no one represents the highest ideals of the profession more than Robin. She was a reporter who never shied away from complexity and never forgot policies and politics have real consequences for people’s lives. Ted Kennedy summed up the feelings of many who knew her and knew her work when he called her a reporter’s reporter, who deeply cared about the people and the issues she covered. And so I want to start by thanking all of you who are here tonight not only to carry on her legacy but do this important work day in and day out.
The work that Robin did was much more than giving people something to read on their morning commute, it was about helping Americans with increasingly busy lives and limited free time follow and form opinions on policy debates. The policy debates that really shape our democracy. It was about shining a light on issues that really matter, about bringing facts to the forefront of our discourse. This work plays such a critical role in our democracy and doing it well has never been easy. It’s even more difficult today at a time of cuts and layoffs in newsrooms. But in the face of that uncertainty, American journalists continue to do incredible work. And that’s a very good and very important thing, because we now live in an age where people are inundated with information and misinformation. They’re getting it from all sources at faster speeds than ever before. So the need for thoughtful based journalism that can cut through the clutter is stronger than ever.
And it’s especially true when it comes to complex areas of policy, like health care, that can’t really be boiled down very frequently to a rapid-fire tweet. There’s long been a broad consensus in America about the need to transform our healthcare system. Little snapshot – We pay more than any country does for care and yet Americans live sicker and die younger than lots of our global neighbors. And because of the gaps in coverage in our system, tens of millions of our friends and neighbors live one accident or one illness away from going broke. So the idea that we can do better that we must do better isn’t a controversial one. But over the past few decades, our efforts to improve national health care have been fraught with confusion and certainly with misinformation. Now part of that is because the broken healthcare system isn’t broken for everyone. There are powerful interests that have always had a financial stake in existing change. The American healthcare system is also inherently complex. Over time, it’s evolved into a sprawling, public-private patchwork that makes up a sixth of our economy. And if you talk to healthcare providers, to the doctors and nurses that work day in and day out, they find often the system to be bewildering.
So even as the Affordable Care Act’s provisions have begun to make a difference in millions of people’s lives, the fact that there’s still so much confusion surrounding the law shouldn’t be that surprising, but it is concerning. When people don’t know how their health care law affects them, it doesn’t just make it harder for them to participate in the national debate, it can prevent them from actually taking advantage to critical protections and benefits that now are owed to them. It doesn’t just affect their views, it affects their health and it could affect the longevity of their lives. And that’s why I believe there’s never been a greater need for healthcare journalism than there is today. And tonight, I’m going to use my time here to mention just a few areas where your talents are desperately needed.
Now one of those areas is a thoughtful discussion about health care costs. For years, we’ve had national health care spending rising at unsustainable rates – placing a growing burden on families, businesses and on governments. Lately we have seen some incredibly positive developments. In each of the last three years since the healthcare law has been signed, health care spending has grown at a slower rate than in any year in the previous 50. In 2012, Medicare spending per beneficiary rose by less than half of one percent, while Medicaid spending – the state-level program – actually dropped by nearly two percent from 2011 to 2012. And yet a new poll, released by Kaiser Health this month showed that only four percent of Americans are aware that health spending growth is slowing down. 58 percent believe that, incorrectly ,costs are actually rising faster than usual. Now we can disagree over whether costs have dropped enough or whether we lowering spending in the right way, that’s a debate to have. And when it comes to understanding how to address health care costs going forward, the fact that health care spending has slowed to rates we haven’t seen in half a century seems pretty relevant, and we should be a part of the ongoing debate.
A second area is the reforms to care delivery that experts believe are driving much of the slow down on spending. Paying providers for the first time ever in the history of these programs, for quality, not the quantity of care, not the typical fee for service, is an idea that always looked great in theory and has been discussed a lot. The question was really whether or not you could make it work in practice. Whether or not there really was a payment strategy to carry that out. And that’s part of what Senator Rockefeller and his colleagues shaped in the Affordable Care Act. The early answer that we’re getting from some of these reforms in delivery and care is that yes, we can figure out a different, smarter, better payment scheme. One easy example to give you is hospital readmissions. For years, hospital readmission rates for patients were stuck at about 20 percent. What that meant was one out of every five Medicaid patients who left the hospital was back in 30 days. One out of five – total revolving door. Some of those were unavoidable – huge health crisis, a chronically ill patient – but a lot of them were totally avoidable. And there was no check-up by healthcare provider in the intervening days between the hospital departure. So what we started to do is pay for releases in a different way and people said it probably wouldn’t work. But thanks to some of the incentives put in the health care law, that number has now significantly dropped for the first time on record.
Now when the New York Times obituary of Robin was written, they quoted the words she used to describe her fellow journalist David Rosenbaum and his death. She said of him, he believed that behind every arcane tax provision or every line appropriation bill, there will real people getting something or getting something taken away. He believed that there was on most stories something approximating truth out there. If you were smart enough and hungry enough to find it. Those words I think were very apt to describe Robin Toner and the work that she did over her life. And they’re the ones that all of us, policymakers and journalists alike, should try to live by. So again, congratulations to tonight’s winners, I’m delighted to have a chance to join you today and to pay tribute to Robin Toner. Thank you very much. (Applause)
DEAN LORRAINE BRANHAM: Please continue to enjoy your dinner. We are a little behind schedule here because of that basketball game I talked about. I do want to give you an opportunity to hear from two people who had a very special relationship with Robin. One of those people knew her when she was in college at Syracuse University, where she was a dual major at the Newhouse School and in the Maxwell School studied political science. And the other person knew her as a colleague and a friend when they both were doing the business together. So first I’d like to introduce to you John Chapple, who is a graduate of Syracuse University, who is currently on our Board of Trustees as Trustee Emeritus. He’s also a member of the advisory board at the Maxwell School and he and Robin were good friends when she was there. She was a freshman, he was a sophomore. Rumor has it that it was because of Robin that John actually graduated, but I’ll let him tell you that story. But first let me tell you a little about John and I also have to mention that when Peter and I first started talking about how we might best honor Robin’s legacy and putting together something like this, John was the first person to step forward to say I will help make that happen. And so we are extremely grateful to you John, for what you started and where we are today. So thank you for believing that this was important and for helping to make it possible. John is the president of Hawkeye Investments, LLC, a privately owned equity firm, investing primarily in telecommunications and real estate ventures. He frequently works in conjunction with a company called Aurelius Capital, LLC. Prior to working at Hawkeye, John worked to create Nextel Partners – a provider of digital wireless services in mid-sized cities and smaller markets throughout the US. He became the president and chief executive officer of Nextel Partners and its subsidiaries in 1988. Nextel Partners went public in February 2000 and was traded on the NASDAQ exchange. In July 2008, the company was purchased by Sprint Communications for $9.5 billion including debt. From 1995 to 1997, John was president and chief operating officer for Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment in Vancouver, BC. During his tenure, Orca operated and owned Vancouver’s national basketball association and national hockey associations, in addition to the general motors retail and interests. In his spare time, John spends a lot of time helping his alma mater do great things such as we’re doing with this and he still has very fond memories of the time that he spent there and the times that he and Robin spent studying to help him pass tests so that he could – but I’ll let John tell you about that. John would you please come up and please give him a warm round of applause. And thank you again for all you have done to help make this event possible.
JOHN CHAPPLE: Thank you dean. Wow, great praise from the dean. Well, good evening, everyone. It’s truly heartening to look out and see all these folks here and to have you engaged in this wonderful endeavor. It speaks to the influence and love everybody has for Robin. You know, she was an inspiration to all of us. I’ll go back to school for a minute. She’d often study all night long into the daylight. Really. Of course some of us would drop by for insight in journalism or political science assignments and she’d always provide it. Sometimes you’d get the eye roll from her, but she’d always give you the answer. A typical meeting would be a bunch of us would be partying away and you’d hear ‘Hey, did you understand what Professor Johnson wanted in that poli sci research paper?’ And you know the answer were always like ‘I don’t have a clue, it went over my head.’ Not an idea ,man. Seven years of college down the drain. To quote Belushi. So I thought, OK, now what do we do. Let’s go out and ask Toner, she’ll know. Sure enough, she always did. It was almost a little annoying, actually. She always had a command of the facts and that certainly always carried forward. Now in class, let’s see, I’ll take constitutional law. And I had this professor who he’d ask a question on one of the amendments and so you’d see people across the auditorium slink down in their seats. And so the question goes out and because he had this nasty habit of cold calling. So it’s like, OK Larry, what’s the answer. So here we are like ‘Ah, don’t call on me’ and Robin’s hand would shoot up, you know. And she would take on the question, and say ‘Well, you know when the Second Amendment was being formed, and the right to bear arms,’ and she’d go on and on very articulately. So you know once again, we go ‘Phew, Robin to the rescue.’ I didn’t get called on, hooray. So there’s not a lot of people that raise their hand in that class, I can tell you that. We studied together frequently, but truth be told, I couldn’t keep up with her. She defined “work horse.” And I think, if my memory serves me correctly, she got one B in her entire SU career. And, man, was she hacked off. Foolish me, I go ‘Hey Robin, a B’s not so bad.’ (Laughter) And you know the smoke that was coming out of her eyes, ears, nose, her collar – I’m like ,oh boy, I guess I messed that one up. She got all A’s.
Another anecdote would be we were sitting around one day and she said ‘One day, I’m going to work at TIME Magazine,’ and she said ‘I’m going to be a political reporter for TIME Magazine.’ And nobody laughed, by the way. I think it’s fair to say, apologies if there’s anybody from TIME here, apologies to them, but I’d say she surpassed that goal. Back in Seattle where I live, we have the Times delivered to our doorstep – shameless plug there, Jill – and it was always so exciting to pick up the Times and there’s Robin’s name there on page one. And what was even more exciting was to read her dynamic articles, which if anyone wrote any better, I’ve never met them – him or her. I want to emphasize for a minute which is supported by the dean and, of course, Peter, and Chancellor Cantor and Vice-Chancellor Spina from day one, it’s a tribute to Robin. It’s also helping others. Students today, young alums, they’re seeing an example of how you can build a foundation for a very successful business career and I never met anyone more driven than Robin, but these students taking example of what she accomplished going forward, you know who knows maybe another SU alum will wind up on page one of The New York Times one day. I’m sure they’ll have been inspired by Robin. I’d like to reiterate the deepest thanks to the wonderful Toner family – Peter, dedicated husband, and Jake and Nora who, are anxious to get up here to the podium. And her sisters and brothers who are here and the nieces and nephews – anyway, the whole family. You know, as much as she excelled in her career and was just totally dedicated to her career, it’s her family that she loved the most. And it says a lot about her career. So I’ll just wrap up by saying thanks again for everyone being here and god bless you all. Thanks. (Applause)
DEAN LORRAINE BRANHAM: Thank you John. And now I’d like to invite one other person up to talk about Robin, the political reporter, Robin the journalist. This is Jill Abramson, the executive editor of The New York Times. Jill and Robin worked together for many years and I’m sure she has some interesting stories to tell about Robin the reporter and the times that they worked together. If you don’t know, and there are probably very few people in this room who don’t know, that Jill is the executive editor of The New York Times and has been since September of 2011. And she serves in the highest position of the Times newsroom and oversees the Times’ news report in all its various forms. And I personally was just absolutely thrilled the day that I had heard she’d become the executive editor and it’s wonderful to have her in that position and I know Robin was looking down and thinking ‘Way to go, Jill.’ Prior to being named executive editor, Ms. Abramson was the managing editor of the Times from August of 2003 until 2011. As managing editor, she helped guide the newsroom through a particularly turbulent time, supervising the coverage of two wars, four elections, a hurricane and an oil spill. She was also deeply engaged in the newsroom’s effort to change its ways in the dissemination of news to expand to new and very digital and mobile platforms. All of us in journalism and in journalism education know the challenges that newsrooms face as they try to adapt to our rapidly transforming environment. And so I applaud the work that she’s doing and I welcome her to the podium to talk about Robin the journalist that many people knew and loved. Jill.
JILL ABRAMSON: Thank you, Lorraine. I’m thrilled to be here to talk about Robin and her very amazing career in journalism. And I’m so happy to be here with many members of my New York Times family, the Washington reporting family. We have some lions of both politics and political reporting here tonight, which would please Robin to no end. Senator Rockefeller, it’s great to see you. Bill Kovach, who Robin idolized is here. And Adam Clymer, who was Robin’s sort of partner in crime, sitting in the back of the Washington bureau. I think the two of them probably know more about congressional politics – I always felt anything you needed to know, all you had to do was head towards the back where the two of them sat. But the thing that really strikes me just in seeing who’s at this dinner is that what made Robin such a singular reporter is that she occupied a place that was at the crossroads of politics and the substance of policy and she never ever divorced one from the other. She represented the absolute, most serious but also most interesting kind of reporting. When I looked around the room, I thought, wow, Judy Woodruff is here, Andrea Mitchell is here, I had the pleasure of working with them when I was really a young, nobody researcher at NBC. Janet Hook, who was a colleague of Robin’s up on the Hill covering politics. Ms. Elaine Povich, who I have not seen since the days when we were few and far between women trying to jockey for a position in the Senate Press Gallery. And Jackie Calmes. What’s very interesting about this group of women is that very much like Robin, they also political animals, you know political junkies to their core, but never apart from the substance of policy and how the politics affect real people. Robin just was really such a shining example of that kind of reporting. You know, I miss Robin all the time because I used to constantly seek her counsel on a matter. Both in Washington and after I went up to New York to be managing editor. It was very hard to finish out the election in 2008. I had my heart set on Robin writing our news analysis piece, which is usually along with the main lead all piece, the shining star of the election paper. And she’d written so many great pieces in 2008, but she just wasn’t feeling well enough, which I completely understood.
But since Obama has taken office, there have just been so many moments where I’ve been dying to know what Robin would make of something. And, you know, as recently as a month ago, I literally almost picked up the phone because I thought I’d call her, I’d thought you know she’s the only person I’d want to talk about Steve Brills giant heave about health care costs in TIME Magazine. Because you know Robin would be the ultimate judge of whether that was great health care journalism or not. And mainly lately, I’ve been so dying to talk to her about the whole Sheryl Sandberg “Lean In” thing and the Anne Marie Slaughter thing. It’s kind of a topic that Robin would be hilarious about, let alone brilliant. Something that occurred to me today is that I was thinking about the pleasure of seeing Nora and Jake and that Robin just sort of as she cemented politics and policy so perfectly, she figured out, she would I think the whole idea of Sheryl Sandberg and Anne Marie Slaughter being at odds with each other was ridiculous.
Because she had so figured out and never wavered how to have the greatest kind of journalism career and how to also have the fullest kind of family life. And she really didn’t make a big to-do about it ever. She always knew exactly what she needed to do to have both of those things. And when I was Washington bureau chief, I begged Robin to be the Washington editor and the number two position in the bureau. And she didn’t think for a second about it. I mean here was a person who when I joined the Times in 1997 was already an editor on the national desk. She was a really big deal. And then she came back to Washington and miracle of miracles, she and Peter met each other and fell in love, got married and then the children came. She didn’t think about this for a minute, she just said there is no way I’m going to be interested in doing that. She just was completely clear-eyed that this was going to mess up this perfect symmetry she had between having a full, being one of the absolute top political and health care policy reporters in the country, but also being home for Jake and Nora and participating in every part of their lives. And I think of all the things I admire about Robin, that’s perhaps the biggest thing I admire. This afternoon, I ducked into the Washington bureau to say hi and the main thing I missed about Robin not being there is I had to speak at a luncheon today and actually played hookie for about five hours after the luncheon and I did this scariest thing that any woman ever has to do. I shopped for a bathing suit. (Laughter) You know, I got to the bureau, and Robin and I would have had the best conversation about the terrors and humiliation of bathing suit shopping. So from the most serious political issue to that, I’ll miss Robin forever. But just looking out at who’s here tonight to celebrate her legacy, I know it’s in very good hands and people who do the very best work are going to carry on doing just the kind of work that Robin championed. So thanks a lot.
PROFESSOR CHARLOTTE GRIMES: There is someone else who has been completely essential to the Robin Toner Program as it has grown. That is someone who is a colleague of Robin’s, someone who aside her husband, I always called to say ‘What would Robin think we should be doing about this?’ He has been a three-time judge for the Toner Prize, so he is our institutional memory as well as often our back bone and thick skin and keen wit. So we’re going to bring up now Adam Clymer, to tell you a little about this year’s competition and where we go from here. So help me thank this man who means a great deal to all of us.
ADAM CLYMER: I’m going to cheat for a second and tell a Robin Toner story. It’s not my job here, but why not. It was in the summer of 1994 and Robin and I and Robert Pear were covering the health care story which Senator Rockefeller knows well from that year. And she was working late, maybe about 10:30 they finished whatever they had to do in satisfying New York with their reporting. They went down to have a drink at the Bombay Club and they discovered a bunch of apparently healthy young men wearing hearing aids and drinking clear liquids in the bar. The Secret Service was there so that suggested that the President was there. He was. He came out and he greeted her, ‘Hey Robin, isn’t the food here great?’ Her reply was ‘Mr. President, we come here to drink.’ (Laughter) More seriously, well that was serious too, but more seriously, Robin Toner was involved in covering presidential elections from 1980 to 2008. In 1980, she worked in West Virginia covering the Virginia primary, but she also was the Times stringer and I was the Times political reporter. She assured me that Kennedy had the state wrapped up, so I didn’t bother to go to West Virginia – I took her word for it – and she was right. As she usually was.
But I’ve been honored to serve as a judge in this competition for the last three years. It’s always been a pleasure to read some brilliant reporting and thoughtful stuff on all sorts of aspects of politics. This year was easily the best set of entries we’ve ever had. There were unfortunately, we only give out one award and a couple of honorable mentions. We could easily have given out several. There were many pieces that won’t be mentioned tonight that were terrific. But we have the resources to pick one and a couple honorable mentions. To do that job, let me introduce Jake and Nora Gosselin, who will present the prizes. (Applause)
JAKE GOSSELIN: Hi. First, I would just like to say what a great honor this program and prize is. Both for myself and for my family, but more importantly to the memory of my mother. When I was very young, I once asked my mother why she decided to be a journalist. She said that when she was my age she had told my father she told her father she wanted to become a writer. He said that if she really wanted to be one, she should become a journalist, because that way she could do something useful through her writing. That became my mom’s goal. She went to work every day not only loving what she did, but also that she knew she was doing something important and necessary. She believed that in order for a story to be good it not only had to be well written, it also had to in some way it had to make a difference in people’s lives. And that’s why I’m she certain she’d love this year’s honorable mentions.
The first honorable mention goes to a series of stories focused on anonymous donations to so-called public service organizations. This series showed the effects of dark money donations throughout the country. This kind of journalism, which is both well-written but also pushes back against the forces that can corrupt our political system, is exactly the kind that my mom would’ve loved. For these reasons, I am proud to award the ProPublica team the Toner Prize Honorable Mention for their series, Dark Money. I invite a representative to the stage. (Applause)
PROPUBLICA REPORTER: Thank you. I’m honored to accept the award on behalf of my colleagues and I wanted to just say a brief couple words about Robin, I worked at The New York Times with her. I obviously concur with all the true things that have been said about her and how she stood out among her colleagues and I want to add one other facet about her that people probably don’t know, which is that unlike most of the other reporters she was incredibly generous with sharing her sources and helping her colleagues. She stood out among all the people at the Washington bureau and I think that’s a testimony to the kind of reporter she was. Thank you again.
JAKE GOSSELIN: The second honorable mention is another series of stories. This one focused on the 2012 presidential election. In this series, the reporters stepped off the campaign trail and focused on three key counties and three swing states. They took the readers on a personal stroll through the counties and chronicled the forces that shaped this election, producing in one judge’s words, ‘This year’s best example of door to door political reporting.’ Reminding the world that politics is not just about politicians and statistics, but also about the hopes and fears of the voter, was what my mom considered one of the goals of great political reporting. Therefor I am proud to award the second honorable mention to the Wall Street Journal political reporting team for their series Swing Nation. (Applause)
WALL STREET JOURNAL REPORTER: To be honorably mentioned in any prize with the name Robin Toner is a true honor. My colleague Colleen. We have the fortune to be out and about for several months during the campaign in three counties. I had Cincinatti. I ate a lot of – Hamilton County – a lot of chili. She went to my home state of Colorado and Arepo County. Anyway, I honor all travel that we did off the bus, out and about, true reporting, kind of person to person. That’s one of many, many things that Robin did. It’s an honor to receive this, and I appreciate it. Thank you very much. (Applause)
JAKE GOSSELIN: I turn over to my sister to present the Toner Prize. Thanks.
NORA GOSSELIN: I remember the first time Jake and I stood up to award the first of these prizes several years ago. We were excited, nervous. The speeches had been written for us and we had practiced them again and again. We were to be on very briefly and there was really nothing that could go wrong. But I was terrified. So I remember standing up there. 12 years old, looking out into the audience, at family, friends, strangers, students and at my dad. I remember, just before I began to speak, thinking that my mom would’ve been so proud. People were coming together, breaking stories, exposing scams, bridging gaps. It’s exactly what she would’ve wanted, exactly what she loved – for her work and her legacy to live on, to inspire people today, means so much to me and my family. Seeing her and all of you, gave me the courage to speak several years ago, and it does so today.
Today we are honoring great reporters whose pieces show the same insight, the same passion that my mom’s did. Of the 118 entries from across the country, the judges narrowed it down and finally selected one reporter whose pieces showed great nuance and insight. In covering the 2012 presidential campaign, this writer distinguished herself in asking original questions, getting to the heart of the matter and persistently developing sources. The judges agreed she rocked, and so it is my honor to award this year’s Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting to Molly Ball of the Atlantic Magazine. (Applause)
MOLLY BALL: Unlike so many people in this room, I was lucky enough to ever meet Robin Toner. I knew her through her work and that was more than enough to know what an incredible honor this is today. As a reporter, as a woman, as a raiser of hands in class, as a cancer survivor and as a mother of a little boy and a little girl, this is an incredibly honor to me. Thank you so much.
PROFESSOR CHARLOTTE GRIMES: I have to tell you that when I first invited Molly to this dinner, we didn’t know she was going to be the winner. She emailed me back and said thank you so much for the invitation, but I’m not at all sure I’m going to be able to come because if things go as planned, just before this award, I’m going to be giving birth. And I hope this doesn’t hurt my eligibility for the Toner Prize. I consider it my own personal tribute to Robin in balancing career and family. So it was a special delight to be able to say later it didn’t hurt you, and would you please come and as it turned out her parents are here to take care of Mary, so she and her husband David are able to join us. I’m going to stop very shortly here and have Peter come up to say some final words. I would just like all of you to know that you mean so much to the Robin Toner Program and to everything that it can possibly do. I teach political reporting and I am forever telling my students something from a little book called “The Elements of Journalism,” written by the man right over here, Bill Kovach. It’s required reading in every course I teach and it’s gospel at the Newhouse School. That particular line goes something like this: “The purpose of journalism is to give people the information they need to be free and self-governing.” There is no better job and there is no more fun and there is no greater cause. Thank you for being here to celebrate this. I hope you might join us next year. Peter will tell you goodbye and we’ll have dessert on your way. Don’t leave for the ball game just yet. (Laughter and Applause)
PETER GOSSELIN: You’ve been patient, so I’ll be short. First to the journalists here. These last four years have been hard ones. Outlets have cut back, many of your colleagues have left. Some of us have just excused ourselves from the room to try and find other ways of making a living. But you’ve held firm in the faith that what you do is important. I hope that you’ve found in this evening some company and some confirmation that you’re right to do so. Next to both the journalists and non-journalists in this room, this prize and the Toner Program are very new and still very much works in progress. We have high ambitions but remain far too low in funds. You’ll have seen pledge cards in the material that was on your seats. Please, fill them out. Send them in. Be generous. Finally, from Nora and Jake and me and our broader family here, our thanks for keeping Robin in your hearts and for recognizing tonight’s awardees who carry on a tradition of quality journalism of which she was so much a part and which she so loved. Thank you and a good night.
PROFESSOR CHARLOTTE GRIMES: As a Southerner, I can’t bear to be impolite. In particular I want to thank Chancellor Nancy Cantor, who has given us so much support and whose money we’re spending tonight. Thank you, Chancellor Cantor. I also have to tell you that none of this could’ve happened without two other essential people. Luke Miller, who is our event coordinator here and also works with Peter at Bloomberg, and a very special person at the Newhouse School, Audrey Burian. Please help me thank them for making everything possible. Goodnight and Go Orange.