2002 Aronson Awards Honor Two AAN Contributors


NEW YORK – A New York writer climbs the mountains of Bolivia to document the underside of economic globalization as corporations maneuver to turn the public water supply into a source of profit and a massive popular uprising repels their efforts.

A journalism student files a Freedom of Information Act request about FBI activities at UC Berkeley in the 1960s, beginning a 17-year quest to lay bare the truth about the FBI campaign of misinformation launched against college president Clark Kerr and many others (an eager participant was actor-turned-governor Ronald Reagan.)

A Seattle reporter repeatedly hears of unequal treatment of African-American children in the public schools. Her research uncovers a pattern of overt and covert racism.

And a young freelancer in New Orleans shows how the situation of the homeless is crucially shaped by official policies on arrests, voter registration and discharge from institutions and foster homes, challenging the stereotype that the homeless cause their own dilemmas because they are criminals, substance abusers or mentally ill.

These journalists are winners of the 2002 James Aronson Awards for Social Justice Journalism – William Finnegan of The New Yorker, writing about the control of natural resources and economic globalization; Seth Rosenfeld of the San Francisco Chronicle for detailing the FBI harassment of University of California at Berkeley President Clark Kerr; Rebekah Denn of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for examining differentials in the way African-American and white students are disciplined in Seattle public schools; and Katy Reckdahl for her series on mistreatment of the homeless in New Orleans in Gambit Weekly.

The “Cartooning With a Conscience” prize goes to Ted Rall for his caustic satire of such figures as “Generalissimo El Busho,” whose answer to unemployment is to fire everyone and label the “formerly employed” as “lazy.” Rall lampoons the advertising and news industries for bombarding the public with so much idiocy that “soon, even those who know the truth begin to doubt their own memories.”

The awards were announced at Hunter College of the City University of New York, where they have been administered since 1990 by the Department of Film & Media Studies and an organizing committee of journalists, media professionals and activists.

The prize winners will be honored at a ceremony open to the public beginning at 3 p.m. on Monday, April 14 in the Lang Recital Hall, 4th floor, Hunter College North Building, 69th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues. The ceremony will be followed by a reception in the President’s Conference Room, 1701 East Building, SE corner of 68th Street and Lexington Avenue.

The Coming Water Wars

Through a case study of corporate attempts to privatize the water supply of Bolivia, The New Yorker’s Finnegan vividly portrays the nature of economic globalization, as it seeks to draw profits even from natural resources that would seem a public good. His story, “Leasing the Rain” — at once comprehensively informative and colorfully scenic — also illustrates the effectiveness of brave, popular resistance to seemingly overwhelming national and international forces.

Red Scare at Berkeley, and FBI Dirty Tricks

Seth Rosenfeld’s “The Campus Files,” an eight-page special section in the San Francisco Chronicle, reveals how the FBI conspired with the CIA to harass liberal faculty, students and regents at the University of California during the Cold War. By sending President Lyndon Johnson false allegations, those agencies campaigned to destroy the career of UC Berkeley President Clark Kerr and to silence the burgeoning free speech movement. Although the FBI denied engaging in such activities, Rosenfeld’s 17-year legal challenge under the Freedom of Information Act forced the agency to release more than 200,000 pages of confidential records that supported his contentions. The articles received widespread attention in the media and among government officials. As access to public information and space for free public debate are once again under threat, Rosenfeld’s work is anything but ancient history.

Racial “Discipline Gap” in the Schools

Seattle’s public schools, like most nationwide, display a “discipline gap” — African-American students are suspended or sent to the principal’ s office at far higher rates than students of other races. In “An Uneven Hand,” Rebekah Denn of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer found that suspensions and expulsions of African-American students were not fully supported by the common explanations that these students came from poor, broken homes. The project shows that racial discrimination is crucial, and addressing the problem requires that educators confront the subtle judgments that center on a young person’s skin color.

Smashing Stereotypes of the Homeless

Katy Reckdahl has undertaken ongoing coverage of the homeless in New Orleans for Gambit Weekly. Reckdahl wondered why many of the homeless were disappearing from the downtown streets. Her investigations show that official homilies about substance abuse and unemployment don’t tell the story. Homeless men and women are victimized by a police strategy that takes them from places where they are visible but does not provide the shelter or services they need. Their plight extends to the fact that people without a street address are denied the right to vote in Louisiana.

Outlining the “Decline of America”

Ted Rall employs caustic, deadpan satire and a deliberately crude, heavy-lined style to illuminate what he has called “the decline of America.” Particularly in the political environment post-9/11, his work has grown increasingly irreverent, cutting and iconoclastic, at times seeming to eschew humor in favor of mordant portraiture. He sketches not only the antics of “Generalissimo” or “resident” Bush, the greed and fundamental disloyalty of corporate CEOs, and an inert Democratic Party, but his views of the complacency of “terror widows” and the cluelessness of real American GIs about the motivations of the fierce opponents they face in Afghanistan. His energetic role in contemporary political commentary extends beyond newspaper cartooning to a regular political column, on-scene reporting from the Middle Beast in both books (Gas War: the Truth behind the American Occupation of Afghanistan) and cartoons (To Afghanistan and Back: A Graphic Travelogue) to radio reporting and the editing of an anthology of the political comic strips by his contemporaries (Attitude: the New Subversive Political Cartoonists).

Aronson Award’s 12th Year

The James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism (on the Web at filmmedia.hunter.cuny.edu/aronson) has been given annually by Hunter College since 1990 to encourage significant and courageous investigative reporting on social justice issues, including discrimination based on race, class, gender, sexual or religious orientation; economic injustice; violations of civil liberties and free expression; and foreign policy in major terror.

“As the media generally bombard us with calls to war and the range of acceptable public discourse narrows, we at the Aronson Award are gratified to find individual journalists who are telling stories that need to be told,” said Aronson Award Coordinator Peter Parisi, who teaches media studies at Hunter College. “Too often, journalists duck social justice issues, fearing their commitment will appear partisan or draw political ‘flak’. This award is designed to embolden them to pursue their highest ideals.”

Mr. Aronson, a journalism professor at Hunter College until his death in 1989, founded the crusading newsweekly The National Guardian in 1949, and was its editor until 1967. He wrote four books, including The Press and the Cold War, published in 1970.

Recent winners include: William Greider of The Nation for a story on NAFTA and the little-known “regulatory takings” movement, which increases corporate power versus national sovereignty; Ellen E. Schultz of the Wall Street Journal for stories exposing a corporate “pension-paring spree” (2000); Sasha Abramsky for “When They Get Out” in the Atlantic Monthly on the dire consequences of the national mania for incarceration without rehabilitation (1999); Newsday for “The Health Divide” on inequities in health care afforded to African-Americans (1998); Bob Herbert of The New York Times for columns on police brutality (1997). A complete list of past winners is available on the Committee’s website at filmmedia.hunter.cuny.edu/aronson.

Members of the Committee are Sasha Abramsky, Grambs Aronson, Marya Aronson, Earl Caldwell, Christopher Cory, Judith Crichton, Stuart Ewen, Marvin Gettleman, Joanne Grant, B.J. Kowalski, Ralph Leviton, Allan Nairn, Peter Parisi, Robin Reisig, Alice Slater, Ida Susser and Diana Ward.

Peter Parisi, Coordinator
(212) 772.5041