National Press Club

Press Freedom Award honors White House and Mexican reporters

August 16, 2017 | By Julie Schoo | jschoo@press.org

The White House Correspondents’ Association and the press corps of Mexico are the winners of the National Press Club's 2017 John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award. Each year, the Club honors two recipients of the award, one domestic and one foreign, for demonstrating through their work the principles of press freedom and open government.

In a year when journalists have been explicitly targeted by people and forces who see freedom of information as a threat to their power, the Club and its nonprofit Journalism Institute are recognizing two groups that have been on the front lines of the struggle. The awards will be presented on Oct. 4 at the Club’s annual Fourth Estate award gala, this year honoring sports journalists Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon.

While there are a number of worthy potential recipients this year, the Club and Institute chose the White House Correspondents’ Association for its tireless — and often thankless — efforts to maintain lines of communication with the leaders of our government and stand up for public access, all while enduring insults, public ridicule and not-so-veiled threats.

“It is an exercise of poise under pressure to maintain your professionalism under those circumstances,” said Barbara Cochran, president of the Institute board. “We salute the work of journalists who can go back to the same sources day after day without letting their personal feelings get in the way of their duty to inform the public.”

In honoring the WHCA, the Club and its Institute also acknowledge the work of all beat reporters and the associations who represent them, both in Washington and well beyond the Beltway. As panelists at a number of Institute events have noted this year, the toxic environment for reporters in Washington is making it more difficult for journalists at the state and local levels to keep the public informed.

“We hope this award will serve as a reminder to people in positions of power everywhere of the important role the Fourth Estate plays in our democracy,” Cochran said.

John Donnelly, chair of the Club's Press Freedom Team, observed the hazards Mexican reporters face:

Reporters Without Borders classifies Mexico as the deadliest country in the western hemisphere for the media.

This year saw the slayings of two prominent journalists, Miroslava Breach Velducea — shot eight times in front of one of her three children — and Javier Valdez Cardenas. Patricia Mayorga, the winner of a Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom Award, is currently in a safe house because of the death threats she has received.

Despite the dangers in Mexico, Martin Mendez, a young journalist from Acapulco who fled after his reporting on public corruption led to death threats, spent months in an El Paso detention center while U.S. authorities reviewed his asylum case.

Mendez entered the country legally, accompanied by an American asylum lawyer; was
found by U.S. authorities to have “credible fear” of returning to his homeland and had the support of a wide range of U.S. journalism organizations, including the Club. Nonetheless, he was shackled and treated like a criminal during four months of detention that he described as “hell.” Eventually he gave up and returned to Mexico, where he has been in hiding.

Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez Soto fled to the United States in 2008 after he received a report that Mexican military personnel were trying to kill him for his reporting. He has been trying since then to get asylum to remain in America.

Because journalists brave enough to expose public corruption and take on drug cartels represent hope not only for Mexico but for its neighbors, the Club and its Institute are proud to shine a light on the work being done by Mexican journalists. The Club and Institute hope it will get them the public support that they deserve.

The National Press Club, founded in 1908, is a leading professional organization for journalists. Through its non-profit Journalism Institute and its Press Freedom Team, the Club stands up for journalists, transparency and freedom of speech at home and abroad.

More information about the Fourth Estate Award gala can be found at www.press.org/fourth-estate-award, or by contacting Julie Schoo at jschoo@press.org.