Truth, and our shared responsibility to fight for it, took center stage at this year’s 26th Annual TFAS Journalism Awards Dinner in New York City on Sept. 12, 2019. Nearly 200 guests gathered at the Metropolitan Club to celebrate our 2019 Rago and Novak Fellows, honor the life of the late Joseph Rago and recognize the outstanding reporters who have paved the way for the next generation of journalists.
You are here tonight not only to honor individuals, but also to uphold ideals. Both the Novak and Rago Fellowships are dedicated not to commemorate what they died of, but to celebrate what they lived for – the pursuit of truth, in all its complexity and nuance.” – Paul Rago
The fervent need for the principled pursuit of truth emerged as the evening’s theme with honored guests making impassioned speeches on the responsibility of the press – as well as educators – to provide an “accurate representation of the world,” especially in light of today’s increasingly divided culture.
Recognizing Roger Kimball with the Thomas L. Phillips Career Achievement Award
“Too much of politics, and of human experience is being fitted into neat good-bad binaries that appeal to feelings and status, not to the accurate representation of the world.” – Roger Kimball used these words, written by the late Joseph Rago, to highlight the dire importance of truth during the evening’s keynote remarks.
“The accurate representation of the world – how quaint that phrase sounds in an era of fake news and the wanton trampling of truth, not least by those entrusted with its dissemination: journalists, yes, but also many educators and other unworthy custodians of the achievements of our culture,” said Kimball.
Kimball, editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the publisher of Encounter Books, was honored during the dinner as the 2019 Thomas L. Phillips Career Achievement Award for his contributions to the field of journalism.
Making comparison’s between today and the 1960s when TFAS was founded, Kimball addressed the return of socialism and renewed threats to free speech as evidence of the continued need for TFAS and its mission. “Achieving ‘the accurate representation of the world’ is not only a linguistic desideratum, it is also a political imperative. Much of our culture has colluded against the accurate representation of the world. We owe The Fund for American Studies a great debt for understanding what is at stake in the seemingly pedestrian activity of telling the truth. Long may it prosper,” he said.
The award was presented to Kimball by Rebekah Mercer, president of the Mercer Family Foundation, who commended Kimball for slaying his foes “with a lethal combination of humor, searing intellect and irrefutable evidence.”
The Phillips Award is named in honor of TFAS Trustee Emeritus Thomas L. Phillips, a widely respected businessman and philanthropist who was responsible for establishing the Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship program 26 years ago. Past award recipients include John Stossel, Charles Krauthammer, Brian Lamb, Andrew Ferguson and P.J. O’Rourke.
Honoring the Legacy of Joseph Rago
Paul Gigot, vice president and editorial page editor at The Wall Street Journal, continued the praise of Joseph Rago as the evening turned to honoring Joe’s memory with the presentation of our 2019 Joseph Rago Memorial Fellowship for Excellence in Journalism.
“The way [Joe] thought about the world, informed the kind of journalist he was,” said Gigot. “He was deeply curious. He was independent of mind. Principled, but not dogmatic. He looked at the world plainly and told readers what he saw and what that meant.”
Gigot wished that more journalists would follow Joe’s example, lamenting that “journalists these days have moved into political camps – one side or the other – and define themselves by partisan loyalties.”
The Joseph Rago Memorial Fellowship for Excellence in Journalism was established in 2018 to honor Joseph Rago, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal who died too young at the age of 34. Held in partnership between the Rago Family, The Wall Street Journal and TFAS, the Fellowship provides a nine-month internship with the Opinion section of the Journal. The Fellowship’s inaugural recipient, Elliot Kaufman, Rago ’18, was hired on full-time as an assistant editorial features editor at the Journal after the completion of his Fellowship.
Joe Rago’s father, Paul, gave stirring remarks thanking TFAS, The Wall Street Journal and the Fellowships’ supporters for making the program possible. “You are here tonight not only to honor individuals, but also to uphold ideals. Both the Novak and Rago Fellowships are dedicated not to commemorate what they died of, but to celebrate what they lived for – the pursuit of truth, in all its complexity and nuance … We remember [Joe’s] contributions and celebrate the ideals he embraced to understand the world as it is, not as we wish it to be,” he said.
The Rago Family, TFAS and The Wall Street Journal were pleased to introduce Matthew Taylor King as the 2019 Rago Fellow. King is a 2018 magna cum laude graduate of Duke University and a student at Sciences Po in Paris where he is pursuing his master’s degree in international security. You can read more about King and the Rago Fellowship at TFAS.org/RagoFellow19.
Presenting the Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship Awards
The dinner also showcased our 2019 Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship Award recipients, who took to the stage to thank attendees for their support and provide brief remarks on the writing projects their Fellowships will make possible.
The Fellowships are named for the late Robert D. Novak, renowned reporter, syndicated columnist, and co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire.” Since its founding more than 25 years ago, the Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship program has funded over 140 journalists to undertake long-form writing projects that they would otherwise not have the resources to complete. Fellows include Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters, editors of national magazines and authors of best-selling books.
2019 Novak Fellow Benjamin Weingarten of The Federalist gave gratitude for the opportunity to spend a year working on his chosen topic, “Unseen Revolution: The Bold Transformation of America’s China Policy.”
“The Novak Fellowship is geared towards defending and advancing liberty and I believe that in terms of external threats, China poses the greatest threat over the long term to our liberty over any adversary,” he said.
Weingarten told attendees that he hopes his project will provide a grand strategy in the way of how the U.S. can compete with China and ultimately defend and protect our liberty. “I want to thank TFAS and all those involved in this program for the opportunity to do so,” he said.
Other 2019 Novak Fellows include Alexandra Hudson of the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), award-winning journalist Chris Moody, Serena Sigillito of Public Discourse, author and columnist Kristin Tate and Mene Ukueberuwa of The Wall Street Journal. Freelance writer Grace Stark was awarded an Alumni Fund Fellowship to write a series of essays. To read about each fellow and their chosen topics, visit TFAS.org/NovakFellows19.
TFAS President Roger Ream ’76 closed the evening by thanking attendees for strengthening the Novak and Rago Fellowships, and sent out a call to continue the fight. “We desperately need a renewal of trust among our citizenry and in our free institutions if our Republic is to survive … let us pledge to keep the beacon of liberty shining brightly for all God’s children.”