Welcome. I’m Kim Strassel, your emcee for this glorious evening. And this is going to be a glorious evening, because we are all here for an inaugural event—an event that all of us in the room will be able, both in the near term and in the distant future, look back and tell friends and family was a truly consequential moment. A moment when those of us who celebrate freedom, and who understand from where and what that freedom flows, begin to once again celebrate and reward real journalism.
Not the stories that tell you the border is the secure, or that Russia colluded with a certain former president, or that Covid is only a disease of the unvaccinated, or that Hunter Biden’s laptop is disinformation, or that the 2020 riots were peaceful protests, or that America was founded in 1619. We’ll leave all that to the Pulitzers. Poor things.
No, we are here to celebrate and honor the rare, tireless scribes who continue to buck the tide—and the Times, literally and figuratively)—to fulfill the real vocation of the journalist: fearless and honest reporting that seeks to hold in power to account.
For a lot of years, I used to always include in speeches I made around the country one of my favorite Will Rogers lines. He used to say: “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.” These days, I offer a twist on that wonderful line. I don’t make jokes. I just read the mainstream media out loud.
Though we can joke about the sad state of so much of American journalism—because let’s be honest, sometimes, what else can we do?—we also all know it’s no laughing matter. I like to remind people that, so far as I am aware, there is only one industry that merited the distinction of its own shout out in the Constitution. The press. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The Founders joined particular rights together in the First Amendment with purpose, because they understood how interconnected they were. The ability of a nation to petition their government for redress of grievances depended first on their ability to know those grievances, to understand the deeds and misdeeds of their elected officials, their unelected bureaucrats, the elites, the titans, and the ivory tower. The press exists, fundamentally, to hold government and the powerful to account. To question, to dig, to disbelieve, to call out abuse—without fear or favor—and to then let the people decide. Our Founders understood that the media was an essential fulcrum in our system, on which hinged the difference of a democracy that thrives versus one that, okay—I’ll just say it—dies in darkness.
Unfortunately, the latter is the state of too much of journalism today. What used to be a press that was merely biased in one direction has become a press that over the past decade has outright abandoned its mission, to become a cheerleader for one side. At its best, this is a media that is lazy or chasing online clicks; at its worst, this a media that takes dictation from those in power, that willfully spins false narratives for partisan gain. Just as alarming, it’s a media that now routinely exercises its power in ways antithetical to it creed—aiding the would-be censors to vilify and shut down those who dare set the record straight.
This is the backdrop of this extraordinary new price. With the generosity of the Dao Feng and Angela Foundation, the Dao Prize is a 10-year commitment to changing this media landscape. And those behind that commitment know the stakes. Dao Feng and Angela fled China for the freedoms we have here in America—freedoms we cannot afford to let slip away, including freedom of the press. Alarmed by the rise of “fake news” and deliberate misinformation, Dao Feng decided to change this scenario from the ground up, by putting his money behind rewarding quality journalism. This a prize designed to affirm to the real journalists out there that there is still honor and recognition and reward in taking on the difficult stories, in digging deep, and in being brave enough to withstand the incoming. And its large size is a recognition that such hard-hitting journalism can involve enormous time and expense. Of course, we all know that is not why the journalists in this room do it—they do what they do because they care about this country. But recognition still matters—especially in an age where every other journalism “prize” today falls into the category of the club you’d really rather not belong to.