By Ralph Nader
The media regularly cover awards for their reporters, editors and producers. They regularly cover award ceremonies for movie stars, athletes, and business leaders. But they regularly ignore the far more important awards for people who ethically blow the whistle on corruption and suppression in both business and government, risking their careers and more to tell the truth to the American people.
Sure, the Pulitzers, the Academy Awards, the Heisman Trophy and the many business awards may seem exciting. But protecting the health, safety and economic well-being of the American people is important and serious. It is hard to conclude that recalling millions of defective automobiles and dangerous pharmaceuticals, exposing serious contamination of drinking water, lies about the BushObama wars and the huge subprime mortgage crimes should be outside the realm of news coverage.
But this news or features blackout consistently prevails, at least in Washington, D.C., even when the annual Ridenhour prizes are given to heroic figures before packed audiences of notables at the National Press Club. Named after the late Ron Ridenhour, a Vietnam War veteran who wrote to Congress about the horrific massacre at the village of My Lai, this year’s recognitions went to truth-tellers from Countrywide Financial, Bank of America, the Pentagon, the FBI, and the Marine Corps.
Each of them delivered concise, eloquent remarks that would qualify for any “Style Page” feature that requires drama, courage, human interest, resolve and proposed reforms. C-SPAN, replete with astonishingly repetitive right-wing events, was not there. Some members of the fourth estate – reporters, columnists, editorial writers or profilers – were in attendance, but no major news outlets covered this splendid event.
The Ridenhour awardees did not indulge in sentiment and self-pity. They spoke cogently about widespread dereliction or institutional crimes, and they spoke of specific ways a democratic society can foresee and forestall further recurrences. These people know what they are talking about. They are not like the glib pundits, politicians and commentators who get abundant airtime or print column inches for their insipid, ignorant, repetitive or self-serving pontifications.
When Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis spoke about his assignment for the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force which resulted in a meticulous and well-documented report from the battlefields, contrary to the official “success” claims of the generals, he provided fresh material and a sensitive mind ready to elaborate on any questions by the press.
When Ali Soufan (former FBI interrogator) spoke about the uses of torture that backfire, fail to get useful information, risk the safety of soldiers, violate the laws and stain the reputation of the U.S., he can back it up with book-length details. Soufan’s New York Times op-ed was an eye-opener but the present situation is still festering and exhibiting prevarication. Extensive reporting is still needed on this subject.
Eileen Foster, hired in 2005 by Countrywide to become the executive vice president in charge of their fraud risk management division, proved that there was a “cult” of commission-hungry loan officers who created fraudulent financial papers that expanded toxic mortgages, helping to lead to the great Wall Street-U.S. economy crash of 2008. She showed the various law enforcement paths the Justice Department failed to take against any Wall Street executive, despite ample grounds for prosecution.
And when career Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger suspected that his nine-year-old daughter’s death might have an environmental cause at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, he came upon a “cover-up by the Marine Corps of one of the largest drinking water contaminations in U.S. history.” The Marine Corps learned of the carcinogenic chemicals in the groundwater at the base in 1980 and refused to officially notify the residents for another 28 years, an admission finally provoked by Sgt. Ensminger’s indefatigable campaign that went national (see the documentary “Semper Fi: Always Faithful”).
Now compare these heroic stands of the human spirit with the regular, rancid portrayals in the media of misbehaving actors, actresses, and professional athletes. There isn’t even a semblance of balance between informing the moral and voyeuristic instincts of their readers and viewers.
Lt. Colonel Davis, still on active duty, urged the audience to go forth and expand the range of their common concerns represented by these awards to ever larger circles of Americans. He declared that “telling the truth and doing your duty are synonymous.”
(For the fully streamed event, visit Ridenhour)
2012 Ridenhour Prize Winners
- The Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling – Eileen Foster, Stood up Against Corruption at Countrywide
- The Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling – Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, Exposed Pentagon Deceptions About the Afghan War
- The Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize – Semper Fi, One Marine’s Quest for the Truth
- The Ridenhour Book Prize – Ali Soufan, Former FBI Special Agent and Author of The Black Banners
- The Ridenhour Courage Prize – Rep. John Lewis, Civil Rights Icon and Fierce Advocate for Equality and Justice