This week is a special episode of the Liberty + Leadership podcast with highlights from TFAS’ 29th annual Journalism Awards Dinner in New York City. At the dinner, TFAS introduced a new class of Novak and Rago Fellows, and honored two courageous journalists at the Metropolitan Club in Midtown Manhattan.
Honorees and guests included Novak Fellows Jack Butler of the National Review, Billy Binion of Reason Magazine, and Joseph Simonson of The Washington Free Beacon; Joseph Rago Memorial Fellow for Excellence in Journalism Carine Hajjar of The Wall Street Journal; and special guests Paul Gigot of The Wall Street Journal, Paul Rago, Benjamin Riley of The New Criterion, American political commentator and author Dana Perino, and William “Bill” McGurn of The Wall Street Journal.
This year’s dinner was especially impactful given that one of our honorees, entrepreneur and activist Jimmy Lai, is currently detained in China for exercising freedom of speech and for criticizing the Chinese government.
The transcript below is lightly edited for clarity.
Roger Ream [00:00:00] Hello and welcome. I’m Roger Ream and this is the Liberty and Leadership Podcast. Today I’m excited to present a special episode of the Liberty and Leadership Podcast. TFAS recently held our Annual Journalism Awards Dinner in New York City. At this event, we introduced the most recent recipients of our Novak and Rago Journalism Fellowships, as well as honor two distinguished individuals who are shining examples of courage and achievement in the media world. This year’s dinner was especially important given that one of our honorees, Jimmy Lai, is being detained in Hong Kong for exercising freedom of speech and tried to hold the government there and in Beijing to the agreements they made when Hong Kong reverted to China. Now more than ever, we should celebrate the courage of Jimmy Lai and the accomplishments of Bill McGurn as they stand up for truth and promote the values of a free society. We’ve gone ahead and put together a highlight reel of some of the most memorable moments from that event on November 15th. In this episode, you’ll hear from our new Robert Novak fellows, our Joseph Rago fellow, and our two award winners, Bill McGurn and on behalf of Jimmy Lai, The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot. We hope you enjoy listening as much as I did.
Alexander Archuleta [00:01:26] Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the podium the president of The Fund for American Studies, Roger Ream.
Roger Ream [00:01:40] Good evening, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us at the TFAS Journalism Awards Dinner. We appreciate you being here tonight. And we’re grateful for the generous support you’ve given us for our journalism programs. Tonight, we introduce a new contingent of Robert Novak journalism Fellows and our fifth annual Joseph Rago Fellow for Excellence in Journalism. I’m confident you will be as impressed as I am with this new group of young journalists. TFAS reaches young people around the globe from high school and college students, law students and young professionals early in their careers with programs in Prague, Santiago, Chile, Guatemala, Washington, D.C., and on dozens of other college campuses in the U.S.. TFAS is reaching the rising generation. We are producing courageous leaders who will work to rebuild the foundations of a free and prosperous society with limited government and the rule of law. These courageous leaders will ensure that the greatest economic system in human history, the only economic system consistent with fundamental moral principles, the only system that empowers humans to flourish, will not perish. So tonight, let’s celebrate. Let’s celebrate Bill McGurn. Let’s celebrate the latest group of Robert Novak and Joe Rago Fellows. Let’s celebrate the remarkable courage of Jimmy Lai and those like him who are willing to sacrifice so very much to pay such a high personal price, to stand up to tyranny and uphold the values of life, liberty and human flourishing.
Billy Binion [00:03:40] Hello. My name is Billy Binion. I’m an associate editor of Reason Magazine, where I primarily cover criminal justice. I like to say I was writing about qualified immunity before it was cool. And I’d like to end with this. The first thing that anyone said to me in this interview came from Mr. Alfred Regnery, who I don’t believe is here tonight. But he started the interview by telling me that he is the chairman of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, which often invokes qualified immunity to defend officers accused of misconduct, which I will say is a very intimidating way to start a conversation about why we should abolish qualified immunity. But I have thought about that a lot since being offered this award because I think it’s so embodies the spirit that should be at the center of every political movement. People who are willing to say, you know, I’m skeptical of your argument or maybe I just disagree outright, but instead of dismissing you, I am going to give you the resources to flesh out your argument in full because I think so many of us know that we’re all the richer when we have those debates. And that’s especially true in a media landscape that seems to value ideological conformity as virtue. I don’t think that is the spirit at The Fund for American Studies because if that were the case, to be honest, I don’t think I’d have the opportunity to be here tonight. So with that, I would like to thank the panelists and 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. Thank you.
Jack Butler [00:05:20] My name is Jack Butler. I’m the submissions editor at National Review Online, also a media fellow at the Institute for Human Ecology and now a Novak Fellow. It is the contention of my effort for which I am grateful to TFAS and everyone involved with it, for considering me worthy to suss out the connections between the principles and the virtues that are inherent in physical activity and recreation, and those that are essential to sustaining a free society, because I think they’re more connected than people usually think they are.
Joseph Simonson [00:05:52] Thank you so much. My name is Joe Simonson and I’m a senior investigative reporter at The Washington Free Beacon in Washington, D.C. And I just want to reiterate, it is such an honor to be up here tonight. I feel as though the Novak Fellowship is a rite of passage for anyone dedicated to rigorous conservative journalism. My project is entitled Immigration Politics in a New America. A topic of fascination by academics, politicians and voters for centuries. I hope to examine what immigration policy and public sentiment about immigration will look like in the coming decade and beyond. Thank you again for this opportunity.
Ben Riley [00:06:41] Hi, everyone. My name is Ben Riley and I’m managing editor of The New Criterion. For those who don’t know me, I was a friend and fraternity brother of Joe Rago’s. He relished calling sources, reading legislation, and ultimately learning as much as he could before pronouncing on this issue, or that. He understood that to put something into print was a sacred act, not one to be taken lightly. Every detail was relevant to Joe and his greatest skill, and I hesitate to name one because his talents were pretty wide, may have been his ability to distill so much learning into such succinct statements. That he did so with a splendid prose style. Seriously, learn it. But never, never, ever self-serious was all to the reader’s benefit. But we can take some small comfort in knowing that, thanks to the support of the Rago family, The Fund for American Studies, the generous donors here tonight, and The Wall Street Journal that the next generation of serious journalists has a chance to complete some of the work that Joe started. Now, please welcome Joe’s father, Paul Rago.
Paul Rago [00:08:00] This evening we gathered to celebrate ideas, the courage of Jimmy Lai, the integrity of Bill McGurn, the brilliance of our Novak and Rago Fellows, and the optimism of Robert Novak and Joe Rago, and also the pursuit of truth that fuels journalism. But tonight, I want to give you a little background on the selection process for the Rago Fellowship. At the interview you may be asked who you follow in The Journal, the books you’ve been reading or who your favorite author is. There are no right or wrong answers. William Buckley might be a good answer. Daniel Steel might not. This question is motivated by the importance of books as cultivators of the mind and predictors of writing ability. Books are the antithesis of a tweet. As Peter Thiel noted, we wanted flying cars and instead we got 140 characters. Joe tolerated tweets. But loved books. Our country would not have been conceived nor endured without the literacy of our founding fathers. John Adams authorized the Library of Congress, a mere nine years after the Bill of Rights was ratified. Jefferson’s library of 6000 books inoculated its initial collection. Over the past five years, we’ve been very fortunate to be inoculated by an exceptional group of Rago Fellows. Many of whom are here tonight. Elliot Kaufman, the first Rago Fellow, is now the letters editor of The Journal. Alessandra Bocchi now freelances in Europe. Faith Bottum has been hired full time at The Journal. And Matthew Taylor King, stolen by Henry Kissinger to contribute on his book on leadership, was commissioned as an ensign in the Navy this past summer. Collectively, they have kept Joe’s spirit alive. With no further ado. It’s my pleasure to introduce our newest Rago fellow Carine Hajjar.
Carine Hajjar [00:10:08] Joe Rago is an example of what should happen when you go into journalism. Getting the story right, painting reality, whether figuratively or even literally hard to swallow is what we are called to do. Joe didn’t want the blind, moralistic assertions of the activist. He wanted the joyful, terrible, divisive, unifying reality of it all. He wanted, as he wrote so wisely, as a junior in college, a contest of ideas. To Roger Ream and the team at TFAS, thank you for the opportunity and for your efforts to uphold the values of personal liberties and free expression that allowed Joe’s beloved contest to flourish. I promise to do the scout work Joe Rago so loved, not to tell readers what to think, but to show them. Thank you.
Alexander Archuleta [00:10:57] Presenting tonight’s Kenneth Tomlinson Award for Courageous Journalism is Paul Gigot, editorial page editor and vice president of The Wall Street Journal.
Paul Gigot [00:11:09] Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a real pleasure to be here tonight, as always at this dinner. Of course, Jimmy couldn’t be here tonight. He’s in jail. Confined to a jail cell in Hong Kong. On December 8, he will be 74 years old. But China’s communists have jailed him because they’re afraid of him. He’s a dangerous man. He’s dangerous because of the example he sets with his courage on behalf of freedom. And he’s dared to fight no matter what the consequences. Jimmy Lai risked everything to speak democratic truth to communist power. That is real courage. Our job is to keep Jimmy story alive, to never let the world forget the unjust treatment he is suffering. Eventually the communist government is going to fall. All tyrannies do. Even if it takes somewhat longer than we all wish. And when the communists do fall, Jimmy Lai will be recognized as one of the heroes of Chinese freedom.
Alexander Archuleta [00:12:23] And now to present the Thomas L. Phillips Career Achievement Award. Please welcome political commentator and author Dana Perino.
Dana Perino [00:12:33] Thank you very much. I’m certainly honored to be here. And Mr. and Mrs. Rago, thank you. Bill is known for his reporting based opinion writing. He believes his job is to speak the truth, especially when no one will know. Let me see if I can rest this George W. Bush letter out of this very protective packaging. I will not read it in his voice, though that would be really funny. Laura and I send our greetings to everyone at The Fund for American Studies Journalism Awards Dinner. We congratulate all of this year’s honorees, and we particularly appreciate the opportunity to join you in honoring Bill McGurn received at the prestigious Thomas L. Phillips Career Achievement Award. As you know, Bill was one of my principal White House speechwriters where he fashioned some of my most important policy statements and public policy addresses. Bill McGurn has demonstrated that conservative ideas can be communicated with energy, directness, honesty and conviction. His career shows young conservatives that a life of service and intellectual engagement can be rewarding, challenging and fun. Congratulations, Bill. Laura joins me in sending our best wishes to you and your family. And now for what will surely be considered the most historic speech ever given in American history. At 9 p.m. on Tuesday, this November 15th, I give you Bill McGurn, the recipient of the Thomas L. Phillips Career Achievement Award.
William McGurn [00:14:10] Now, thank you, Dana. At a time when so many other friends and associates are running away from Jimmy, The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page has never wavered in its support for this brave man and what he stands for. It would be so simple to forget Jimmy and make life easier for all of us. It wouldn’t even require denouncing him. It would be enough to pull our punches and to do it in a way that few outsiders would even notice. But the only thing, Paul Gigot asked for from his newsman is a little prudence. And by newsman prudence, of course. Paul means the wisdom to know when it’s the right time to throw the first punch. So I want to end by again thank Roger Ream and Dana Perino for this night and Paul Gigot and Rupert Murdoch for the opportunity of a lifetime. And to my highly talented younger colleagues here and the 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 his side can be. Goodnight. God bless.
Roger Ream [00:15:40] Before we depart, I want to just again stress the importance of one word, and that is courage. When The Fund for American Studies and its Board of Trustees reviewed our mission statement, the mission statement we’ve used basically since 1967 when we were founded, we made one change last year. It had said that our mission is to develop leaders, but we put it in front of the world leaders, courageous leaders, because to be a leader today in this world and this environment requires courage. Tonight, we heard about examples of that. When you are a Joe Rago Fellow, you’re inspired to make journalism your career because you get the kind of colleagues they have at The Wall Street Journal Editorial Pages, Novak Fellows have the opportunity to write stories and write books. We’ve had over 70 books published by Novak Fellows in the time we’ve had that program. So thank you for your support. We look forward to seeing you next year. Goodnight.
Roger Ream [00:16:43] Thank you for listening to the Liberty and Leadership Podcast. Please don’t forget to subscribe, download, like or share the show on Apple, Spotify or YouTube or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you like this episode, I ask you to rate and review it. And if you have a comment or question for the show, please drop us an email at podcast@TFAS.org. The Liberty and Leadership Podcast is produced at kglobal Studios in Washington, D.C. I’m your host Roger Ream and until next time show courage in things large and small.
About the Podcast
TFAS has reached more than 46,000 students and professionals through academic programs, fellowships and seminars. Representing more than 140 countries, TFAS alumni are courageous leaders throughout the world forging careers in politics, government, public policy, business, philanthropy, law and the media.
Join TFAS President Roger Ream ’76 as he reconnects with these outstanding alumni to share experiences, swap career stories, and find out what makes their leadership journey unique. With prominent congressmen, judges and journalists among the mix, each episode is sure to excite your interest in what makes TFAS special.
If you have a comment or question for the show, please email podcast@TFAS.org.
View future episodes and subscribe at TFAS.org/podcast.