More than 200 supporters, alumni, journalists and friends gathered at the 29th Annual TFAS Journalism Awards Dinner on Nov. 15, 2022 in New York. TFAS introduced a new class of Novak and Rago Fellows, and honored two courageous journalists at the Metropolitan Club in Midtown Manhattan.
TFAS kicked off the program by welcoming the 2022-23 Robert Novak Journalism Fellows as they enthusiastically shared their year-long fellowship projects. The Novak Fellowship is an elite, highly-competitive program for the next generation of rising journalists.
These bright young writers and reporters have the opportunity to research and report on a topic supportive of freedom and free societies. TFAS was proud to welcome the 2022 fellows including Billy Binion, Jack Butler, John Hirschauer, Madeleine Kearns, Kate Bachelder Odell, Brad Polumbo and Joseph Simonson.
Fellow Billy Binion, Novak ’22, is an associate editor at Reason magazine where he primarily reports on criminal justice. His Novak project will focus on law enforcement misconduct, government accountability and the need for reform. He expressed his gratitude to TFAS for giving him the opportunity to pursue this topic that he is so passionate about.
“I would like to thank everyone at The Fund for American Studies for giving me the chance to make the case that if you believe in the constitution, if you believe in responsible and accountable government and most importantly if you believe in the rule of law, then you must believe that those who enforce it should not be above it,” Binion said.
Following the presentation of the Novak Fellowship Awards, Benjamin Riley, managing editor of The New Criterion, shared remarks on the life and legacy of his friend, fraternity brother and colleague, the late Joe Rago.
“He [Joe] relished calling sources, reading legislation and ultimately learning as much as he could before pronouncing on this issue or that,” Riley said. “He understood that to put something into print was a sacred act, not to be taken lightly.”
Joe’s father, Paul Rago, spoke on behalf of the Rago family while sharing memories of his late son who was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The Wall Street Journal. In 2018, the Rago family and The Wall Street Journal collaborated to create the Joseph Rago Memorial Fellowship for Excellence in Journalism in tribute to Joe’s lifetime commitment to trustworthy reporting.
The fifth annual fellow Carine Hajjar accepted the 2022-23 Rago Fellowship Award and expressed what an honor it is to be a part of Joe Rago’s legacy. She made a promise to TFAS, the Rago family and The Wall Street Journal to live up to Joe’s standards of “not to tell readers what to think but to show them.”
“Joe Rago is an example of what should happen when you go into journalism,” Hajjar said. “Getting the story right, painting reality, whether figuratively or even literally is hard to swallow is what we are called to do.”
The evening continued as Jimmy Lai, founder of the now-closed pro-democracy Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, was honored with the Kenneth Y. Tomlinson Award for Courageous Journalism for his commitment to democracy and the rule of law.
Paul Gigot, vice president of The Wall Street Journal Editorial Pages presented and accepted the award on his behalf. Lai couldn’t attend as he is currently incarcerated in Hong Kong, awaiting trial for charges related to his pro-democracy activism.
Gigot’s shared how Lai escaped communist China as a child and fled to Hong Kong to pursue a brighter and freer future. Lai worked hard all his life to build several successful business ventures and to help others. As the tide was turning in Hong Kong in recent years and protests and demonstrations began, Lai had the means and ability to move somewhere else to live a cozy life and escape persecution. However, he felt he had moral obligation to remain in Hong Kong, regardless of the costs.
“For those of us today who are free, those of us who are protected by the First Amendment, those of us who are lucky enough to have the platforms to be able to speak, our job is to keep Jimmy’s story alive, to never let the world forget the unjust treatment he is suffering,” Gigot said.
The evening concluded with American political commentator and author Dana Perino, who presented the Thomas L. Phillips Career Achievement Award to her friend and former White House colleague William (Bill) McGurn, opinion columnist for The Wall Street Journal.
Perino shared her experience working with McGurn in the White House and credited him with crafting several important policy proposals on behalf of the president for the American public.
She also brought with her a letter written by President George W. Bush, who expressed his delight in knowing and having the honor to work with McGurn.
“From his first days in opinion journalism as editor of The American Spectator to his work today as a journalist, Main Street columnist, Bill McGurn has demonstrated that conservative ideas can be communicated with energy, directness, honesty and conviction,” the president wrote. “His career shows young conservatives that a life of service and intellectual engagement can be rewarding, challenging and fun.”
McGurn was able to meet and build a close personal relationship with Jimmy Lai because of his work in Hong Kong. Upon his acceptance, McGurn recognized Lai for his bravery and sacrifice. McGurn gave thanks to The Wall Street Journal editorial page for their continuous support of what Jimmy stands for despite receiving threats for doing so.
McGurn also shared poignant words of encouragement to his young colleagues and Novak Fellows.
“Whenever you doubt if what you do makes a difference, just remember there’s an innocent man sitting in a Hong Kong prison who would tell you what a godsend having a brave and principled newspaper by your side can be,” McGurn said.
TFAS is grateful to its supporters in making this program possible and for contributing to the growth of the next generation of outstanding journalists.
Watch the full ceremony below.