Journalists primarily divided their energy at the National Press Foundation awards dinner Thursday night in Washington between praising their colleagues for their efforts to report on Hurricane Katrina and slamming the administration.
In the latter camp, the Bush administration was lampooned in the cartoons of winner Jimmy Margulies, who narrated a series of wicked jabs. But the hardest hit on the administration came from Jack Germond, winner of the Kiplinger award for Distinguished Contributions to Journalism. Germond, a veteran newspaperman--most recently with the Baltimore Sun--and an analyst for NBC and CNN, was scathing in his assessment.
He talked of the administration's "staggering arrogance" and the "serial comic quality of daily White House briefings," which he called "an embarrassment to us and them."
Citing Plato, Germond said those who are too smart to go into politics are destined to be governed by those who are dumber.
But the night was also about recognizing the yeoman work of broadcast and print journalists during Hurricane Katrina.
In the former camp was WWL(AM) News Director David Cohen, who shared the Chairman's award for Gulf Coast journalists and said he accepted it "with sorrow and honor."
Cohen talked of the broadcast journalists who covered the story because they had to, journalists without homes, their kids without schools, their spouses without jobs, who "took seriously their obligation to to stay on the air."
He also talked of the people who had remained in their cars to listen to the radio and find out what was going on when there was no other immediate source of information, as well as of the journalists who "risked their lives to tell the story."
Cohen praised parent Entercom, who he said gave the station everything it needed, and gave a shout out to competitor Clear Channel, which helped arrange for a helicopter to "rescue" his staff when it was threatened by rising waters and rising tensions at the nearby New Orleans Convention Center.
"Don't forget us," said Cohen of the still-recovering area facing a new hurricane season only three months away, a sentiment echoed by print journalists honored for similar efforts.
CNN's Ed Henry, who received the Everett Dirksen award for congressional reporting, had a hard time keeping it together as he thanked his colleagues and remembered his mentor and injured ABC journalists Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt. Henry said it was tough to think of his job as a hard one in the face of their stories.
Henry also emotionally thanked his mentor, the late Jack Anderson, for whom he interned while still in school.
He drew applause with the assertion that "the American people own the news" and that the First Amendment is "under assault."
The award was presented by Dirksen's granddaughter and included a tape of the former Senator talking about the perception of lobbyists as shady figures hosting Potomac cruises with booze and women. The sense of how little had changed was not lost on the audience.
Charles Osgood, host of CBS Sunday Morning and a veteran radio commentator and announcer, was just glad to be there. He said the 75 cents he had paid for a copy of Broadcasting & Cable some 52 years before was the greatest investment he had ever made. That's because it contained a want ad for a job at a local Washington radio station, launching his career.
The reference was on point given that Osgood was recieving the Sol Taishoff Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism. Taishoff was the founder of B&C, who coincidentally also helped launch the career of Osgood's predecessor onSunday Morning, Charles Kurault, when he gave Kurault a public speaking award when Kurault was still in high school.
Osgood said that regardless of the medium, journalists touch lives and make a difference. Calling the profession a noble one, Osgood, moved by the contributions and stories of the award winners before him, said that when he took the award home, "I will not think of a single thing that I have done. I will think about what you have done."