Union Honors Reporters Who Crusade for 'Social Justice'

By Marc Morano | July 7, 2008 | 8:21 PM EDT

Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - Members of the Newspaper Guild/Communication Workers of America gathered Tuesday night in Washington to present awards to reporters who strive to "right wrongs" and crusade for "social justice."

The Guild gave out its annual Heywood Broun Award to reporters who best exhibit Broun's ideals of helping to "right wrongs, especially social ills."

The award's namesake, Heywood Campbell Broun, was a newspaper columnist and one of the founding members of the Newspaper Guild in 1933. He served as the Guild's first president, after running unsuccessfully for Congress in 1930 as a socialist. Broun was an outspoken and often controversial critic of America's social and political system.

In 1933, Broun was "expelled from the Socialist Party after appearing with members of the Communist Party at a rally demanding the release [from prison] of (socialist) Tom Mooney and the Scottsboro Nine" (nine black men accused of gang rape), according to the Internet's Encyclopedia of British History.

The polarizing Broun was not shy in labeling the opponents of labor unions. In 1936, he commented, "I think it is not unfair to say that any business in America or public leader who goes out to break unions is laying the foundations for Fascism." Broun died in 1939.

At the Newspaper Guild's annual dinner, held at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, former CBS newsman Walter Cronkite praised Broun via a videotaped message and said he has had "a long sympathy with [the Guild's] objectives..."

"When Heywood Broun was founding the organization back in the mid-30's...(I) was one of the earliest to sign on out there..." Cronkite said on the video. (Broun's son, Heywood Hale Broun, also worked for CBS as a sports commentator.)

Andy Furillo, who received the Heywood Broun Award for his series of articles in the Sacramento Bee on an impoverished urban neighborhood, defined Broun's legacy as one of "trying to comfort the afflicted."

[Broun] was somebody who fought for the underdog, tired to make a difference in the lives of people who might have needed a little bit of a boost," Furillo told CNSNews.com.

Furillo defended Broun's radical political affiliations, even though he did not seem to know that much about the labor leader's history.

"Those are labels -- I never met him -- I can't find any of his books. Once I got this award, I was trying to find Heywood Broun books in Sacramento, but I couldn't find any," a puzzled Furillo said.

"I obviously want to find out more about [Broun]. Labels don't impress me much, one way or the other. I have to find out on my own," he explained.

Nevertheless, Furillo was ecstatic to receive the Heywood Broun Award.

"To say I am honored doesn't even do justice to the word. I am more embarrassed because I am sure there were zillions of entries that they got that were at least as good as what I did. I am in both shock and awe," Furillo said.

Master of ceremonies Bob Edwards, the host of National Public Radio's Morning Edition, called Broun one of the "great men" affiliated with the guild and lauded him as a "columnist and social crusader."

The guild has always been known for its liberal political activism, with endorsements of Democratic presidential candidates George McGovern in 1972, Walter Mondale in 1984 and Michael Dukakis in 1988. The group recently called President Bush's tax-cut plan a "tax giveaway to millionaires." The Guild currently represents about 34,000 members.

'Exactly what we should be about'

John Railey, a reporter for The Winston-Salem Journal , received one of the Heywood Broun "substantial distinction" awards for his series on forced sterilization in North Carolina.

Railey, asked if he was uncomfortable receiving an award in Broun's name - considering Broun's political affiliations, responded, "No.

Journalists have always been in a lot of ways outcasts like that," Railey said, "and for every person some might perceive to be on the left, we've had several crusaders that have been on the right."

Railey lauded Broun's creed that reporters "can help right wrongs, especially social ills."

"I think that is exactly what we should be about," Railey said.

"We are honoring working for social justice in the best tradition of the field. I am proud to be here," he added.

'Bringing a bit of justice'

Katherine Peters, the collegiate winner of the David S. Barr Award for "social justice," also endorsed the concept of using journalism to advance social causes.

"It's pretty important to me. I think there can sometimes be a lack of caring in this industry, so bringing a bit of justice and bringing a bit of good to other people through the writing is really the best way to get the word out to the public," Peters said.

She won an award for a series of articles detailing how the "worldwide coffee crisis" is lowering prices and adversely affecting the working and living conditions of coffee-bean farmers.

Sarah Waites Elkins, the other winner of the David S. Barr Award, was recognized by the Guild for an editorial in her Bethesda, Md., high school newspaper questioning the motivation behind the display of American flags at her high school and the real meaning of patriotism.

"Basically what I was saying was that at least in my high school immediately after September 11th, a lot of students just sort of slapped American flag bumper stickers on their cars," the 19-year-old Elkins said.

"It was like patriotism was so popular. And the comparison I made was to [compare the flag to] Tiffany's tag bracelets, which were also very popular at my school at the time. And I was just sort of ranting about that," she added.

The concept of "social justice" also motivated Elkins. "That is certainly why I want to be in journalism, to have some sort of impact on the world and be able to change people's lives and change the way people view things," she explained.

Elkins sees problems with the current state of American journalism, singling out Fox News for what she called the "sensationalism of news."

"Fox News in particular is probably one of the worst stations, where they make everything like "Entertainment Tonight" practically," she said.

'That is wrong'

Edwards of NPR seemed to buck the sentiment of the evening with his statements that reporters should not be advocates of social causes.

"Frankly, I have a problem with 'causes' in journalism. I think you go out and report and look into the dark corners and expose what is there, and if that rights wrongs, good," Edwards said.

"I don't think you should go into the [news] business with a cause, that is wrong," he added.

In a departure from his own recent comments, Edwards praised the media's coverage of the war in Iraq. "I hope Americans have come to value reporters again after the incredible job done in Iraq...None of those reporters are being honored tonight, unfortunately," Edwards told CNSNews.com.

Just last month, however, Edwards decried the media's coverage of the war as "propaganda."

"Many Americans feel they're getting propaganda from the so-called embedded journalists in Iraq," he said at the time. "Without question, the embedding program has been a PR bonanza for the military...," Edwards said at a University of Kentucky lecture on April 8th , according to The Louisville Courier-Journal .

Bush administration 'anti-worker'

John Sweeney, the AFL-CIO president, said the social consciousness displayed at the press dinner was heartening, considering what the Bush administration was doing to America.

"There is no better time to see some of these [Newspaper Guild] people doing the great work that they are doing with an administration here in Washington that is anti-worker, that is in favor of the rich and the wealthy and the corporations and not doing anything for the unemployed or for those who have been impacted as a result of post 9-11," Sweeney told CNSNews.com.

"What [is the administration] doing for the troops who will be coming back from Iraq in terms of their jobs and their heath care and their retirement security?" Sweeney asked.

Sweeney also chided the media for focusing too much on the war and not enough on domestic issues.

"I think we have had wars before where we have been able to pay attention to domestic issues as well as international issues," he explained.

The labor leader noted that the rebuilding of Iraq was now underway, but he said the rebuilding of America needs to begin as well, because there are "45 million people without health care" in America.

'New political force'

David Broder, political columnist for the Washington Post, painted a bleak picture of the current state of the news media.

"The business has a lot of problems, starting with finances, and I think the whole technological change is something that all of us are trying to figure out," Broder said. Broder, who presented the Herbert Block Freedom Award, served as the keynote speaker for the banquet.

Broder paid his respects to the power of the conservative-dominated talk-radio medium. "It certainly has become a new political force; in a lot of states, it has become the almost the dominant political medium," he said.

Tim Graham, director of media analysis for the conservative Media Research Center, called the Guild dinner more evidence of a liberal media bias. Media Research Center is the parent company of CNSNews.com.

"When media groups start handing out awards for 'social justice,' it doesn't suggest an award for objective reporting, but for reporting that lives up to the old saw, 'Afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted.' It suggests reporting that warms liberal hearts," Graham said.

But Broder dismissed the concept that there is any liberal slant in the established media. "I do not buy the notion that there is a liberal bias," Broder said.

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