National Press Club

Friedman Receives NPC's Top Honor

November 16, 2009 | By Jerry Zremski |

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Thomas L. Friedman offered an optimistic take on the future of journalism Friday -- while his friends told us things about the three-time Pulitzer winner that we never knew -- as the Club presented him with its 37th annual Fourth Estate Award for career achievement.

Speaking at a dinner in his honor, Friedman called journalism "the most fun you can have legally" and said he is convinced that the profession has a strong future even though its current delivery system seems broken.

"Journalism -- good journalism -- is not about delivery systems," Friedman said. "It's about old-fashioned values: Get it first but get it right, all the news that's fit to print, without fear or favor, objectivity, accuracy and accountability."

No matter how journalism is delivered in the future, "as long as we have an industry that respects those values ...we'll be fine," said Friedman, the longtime foreign affairs columnist of the New York Times and best-selling author of books such as "The World Is Flat."

"I'm convinced that there will always be an paying audience for journalism based on those values."

Friedman's execution of those values over three decades made him a clear choice for an award that has gone to the likes of Walter Cronkite and Helen Thomas, NPC President Donna Leinwand said.

"We see ourselves here at the National Press Club as keepers of great and vital traditions. For us, the tradition is truth-telling, apart from ideology, apart from partisan spin," Leinwand said. "And for 37 years now, we have been honoring great journalists who have set an example for us all by telling us truths we didn’t know, again and again, over the course of a long career. Tom Friedman has been doing just that since the early 1980s."

Bob Schieffer of CBS, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times and Jerry Tarde of Golf Digest also commented on Friedman's career -- although not it quite such a serious tone.

Schieffer, who sings and plays cowbell with the local band "Honky Tonk Confidential," took the stage with Diana Quinn, the band's guitarist. Together they delivered what he called Friedman's "very first musical accolade": a song named after his latest best-seller, "Flat, Hot and Crowded," a call to arms against climate change.

"Get out of that car, stop acting like a jerk!" they sang. "Tom Friedman thinks we all ought to have to walk to work."

Meanwhile, Dowd dished on Friedman's romance with his wife, Ann, "whom he wooed with passionate love letters about the violence in the Middle East" and his solar-powered home in Potomac, "which looms so big on Google Earth that Sarah Palin mistook it for a continent."

But it was Tarde who seemed to sum up what many Club members knew, and learned, as they mingled with Friedman on Friday night.

"He's a great writer, an unbelieveable speaker, he's got a three handicap, he's a nice gu, and he looks like Burt Reynolds, Tarde said. "That's not fair."

The annual dinner serves as a fundraiser for the Club's Eric Friedheim National Journalism Library and its training programs. Proceeds are expected to exceed those from last year's dinner.