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John Walcott wins the first I.F. Stone Medal

SHOWCASE | July 24, 2008

Award goes to the DC bureau chief who led Knight Ridder’s skeptical coverage in the run-up to the Iraq war, producing dozens of stories that, pretty much alone among news organizations, challenged the Bush administration claims. The award is administered by the Nieman Foundation and the Nieman Watchdog Project. Following is a press release issued by the Nieman Foundation.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – John Walcott, Washington bureau chief of the McClatchy Co, is the first recipient of the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence. Walcott is being honored for leading his team of reporters in their probing, skeptical coverage of events during the run-up to the Iraq war at a time when most U.S. news organizations failed to question the motives and rationale for the invasion of Iraq.

Established earlier this year, the I.F Stone Medal recognizes journalistic independence and honors the life of investigative journalist I.F. Stone. The award is administered by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard and the Nieman Watchdog Project and will be presented annually to a journalist whose work captures the spirit of independence, integrity and courage that characterized I.F. Stone’s Weekly, published 1953-1971.

In 2002, Walcott, then Knight Ridder Washington, D.C., bureau chief, and two of his top reporters, Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel, produced dozens of stories that refuted the Bush administration’s claims about the need for war and exposed the serious reservations many intelligence, Foreign Service and military officers had about the rush to invade Iraq. [Click here to review some of the stories.]

The Knight Ridder chain was sold to the McClatchy Company in 2006. Walcott is now McClatchy’s Washington bureau chief; Landay and Strobel are senior correspondents.

In announcing the award, Nieman Curator Bob Giles said “This is belated recognition of the powerful work done by Walcott in directing his colleagues in developing stories that were unappreciated and almost totally unnoticed at the time. Because so many journalists fell short in their pre-Iraq war coverage, there’s a real need to recognize this dogged editor who went about his business in a resolute way to challenge many of the justifications for the war that proved to be false.”

The 2008 I.F. Stone Medal Selection Committee was chaired by journalist and author John R. (Rick) MacArthur, president and publisher of Harper’s Magazine. The committee also included Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Roger Wilkins and award-wining journalist, novelist and author Patricia O’Brien. They made their selection from recommendations presented by anonymous nominators, all distinguished journalists.

While discussing the award winner, MacArthur noted “In recognizing Walcott, we wanted to honor the spirit of Izzy Stone as much as the reporting done by the Knight Ridder team. And we wanted to emphasize that the spirit of I.F. Stone can still flourish in an institutional setting – that you don’t necessarily have to be out there all by yourself to do the right thing.”

Murrey Marder, a 1950 Nieman Fellow and sponsor of the Nieman Watchdog Project, said, “Part of the press now recognizes that most of the news media were duped by the Bush administration’s highest officials…Walcott and two especially tenacious reporters operating as a formidable, closely-knit trio were the only journalists out of hundreds of American reporters and editors across the nation working on pre-invasion stories who ‘got it right.’ That is, producing solid stories – starting a year before the invasion began – reporting that the administration was manipulating intelligence to conceal dire forecasts that the Iraq invasion was headed into a morass to rival the Vietnam War disaster.”

[Click here for a piece by Marder on how Walcott and the two reporters went about their work--and what made them so different from the rest of the press.]

Walcott himself has been vocal in his criticism of both Congress and the media in the run-up to the Iraq War. Speaking at the World Affairs Council of Hilton Head, S.C., last year, he said “There was simple laziness: Much of what the administration said, especially about Iraq and Al Qaeda, simply made no sense, yet very few reporters bothered to check it out. They were stenographers; they were not reporters.”

Walcott added “It seems ever more clear to me that higher levels of civilization must depend even more heavily on a conscientious respect for the importance of honesty and clarity in reporting the facts, and on a stubborn concern for accuracy in determining what the facts are.”

The I.F. Stone Medal will be presented in a ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., on October 7. Walcott will deliver a speech, to be followed by a workshop about journalistic independence and lessons learned from his team’s pre-Iraq war coverage.

More information about the medal and Stone’s life and work can be found online at the I.F. Stone Web site.

Posted by Gene Roman
08/14/2008, 03:19 PM

Mazel tov to Mr. Walcott and his two great reporters, Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay, for their great work doing what reporters are suppose to do, especially in war time, that is, scrutinize the claims of high public officials.

How Walcott and the Knight Ridder reporters went about their work
One thing they did, Murrey Marder points out, was find mid-level, knowledgeable sources -- and not fall for the deceit pushed by those high in the Bush administration.

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