2016 Hitchens Prize Honors Marty Baron
The second annual Hitchens Prize was presented to Marty Baron, Executive Editor of the Washington Post, on Monday, November 28th at a dinner in New York City's Waverly Inn.
In welcoming the event's attendees, Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter recalled Christopher Hitchens as "one of the greatest journalists ever, the bravest man I ever knew." Carter was followed by Dennis Ross, Foundation President, who noted that Baron had "time and again demonstrated the power and importance of reporting, its ability to shed light on the stories, issues, and facts that [matter]," all in service of the informed public and electorate on which society and democracy depend.
Baron was also saluted by Christopher Buckley and Martin Amis, with the latter presenting Baron with the Prize and accompanying medal. Buckley stated that "Marty exemplifies the qualities that [Hitchens] embodied: Courage, contumacy, ... and contrarianism." Amis recalled the "courage, urbanity, and civility" with which Hitchens faced his fatal illness, and stated that "he would be very pleased that Marty Baron was up for his prize."
In accepting the prize, Baron offered a forceful, stirring, and truly eloquent defense of freedom of expression and a free press. Baron stated that while he and Hitchens were not exactly cut from the same cloth, they were fully aligned on journalistic values, most importantly the need to pursue and report "the truth as nearly as the truth may be ascertained." Baron noted the support he and his staff have been given by the Post's current owner, Jeff Bezos, who has spoken publicly to the importance not only of Constitutional press freedoms, but of the cultural norms that support a press free from fear of retaliation.
Baron also recalled the most renowned episode of his career, the Boston Globe's reporting on the Catholic Church's role in hiding, if not facilitating, child sexual abuse by members of its clergy. He noted that to this day he keeps a letter from a Father Doyle, who had himself fought on behalf of abuse victims, and who thanked him and his staff "with every part of his being" for the reporting that brought the scandal to light and some measure of justice to the affected children.
Baron concluded his remarks saying that the lesson he took from Father Doyle's letter was that the "truth is not meant to be hidden. It is not meant to be suppressed. It is not meant to be ignored. It is not meant to be disguised. It is not meant to be manipulated. It is not meant to be falsified. Otherwise, wrongdoing will persist." Those simple but powerful words capture as well as any could the reason we value free expression and a free press, and serve as an altogether fitting coda to the 2016 Hitchens Prize.