Every year, the Committee to Protect Journalists presents its International Press Freedom Awards on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The timing is apt, because the event always reminds me how much freedom of expression we do have in the United States — despite efforts to chip away at it — and how thankful we should be for that. The awards honor journalists from around the world who risk their lives to report from war zones and in defiance of brutal regimes. The black-tie dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria also raises money for CPJ’s activities: denouncing anti-press violations, providing assistance to targeted journalists, and advocating for press freedom worldwide.
This year, 48 journalists have been killed while doing their jobs. Others have been kidnapped: on the day of the dinner, the Swedish government confirmed two Swedish journalists were kidnapped in Syria on Saturday by an unknown group. CPJ reports that approximately 30 local and international journalists are currently missing in Syria, with several cases not being publicized at the request of family members and news outlets. But such things don’t only befall foreign reporters covering a war zone. A lot of persecution is aimed at local journalists trying to cover events in their own countries. This year’s honorees in attendance were television reporter Janet Hinostroza of Ecuador; humorist Bassem Youssef of Egypt (introduced by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show); and newspaper reporter Nedim Şener of Turkey. As CPJ explains:
“Hinostroza was forced to temporarily give up one television program to ensure her safety after being threatened; Youssef has come under legal investigation for his satirical newscast; and Şener is charged with terrorist activity for his critical reporting and could be sentenced to 15 years in prison.”
Nguyen Van Hai, one of Vietnam’s best-known bloggers under the name Dieu Cay, received his award in absentia. He’s been in prison since 2008 and is currently serving a 12-year sentence (to be followed by five years of house arrest) for “conducting propaganda” — in other words, criticizing the government. His family says his health has declined so much that he’s barely recognizable. He’s one of at least 14 journalists currently jailed in Vietman.
MrB was chairman of CPJ from 2005 to 2011, though that wasn’t his day job. He was also managing editor of The Wall Street Journal from 1991 to 2007. Then, in 2008, he became the founding editor-in-chief of ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization that investigates abuse of power in the U.S. Last night, CPJ presented MrB with the Burton Benjamin Memorial for lifetime achievement in the cause of press freedom. He gave a speech with special emphasis on CPJ’s recent, must-read report — written by Len Downie, former editor of the Washington Post — about the Obama administration and its attempts to squelch press coverage. He received a standing ovation and I was proud as hell! You can see his introduction and speech here.
Later, I had MrB pose with his plaque. I think he looks good in a tuxedo.
Just because we’re at a serious event doesn’t mean we don’t dress up, so I wore the Zang Toi high/low (aka “mullet”) dress that I wore to an Oscar party in 2012. My designing friend Stacy Lomman wore her own design, naturally.
She also wore my Matilda sword earrings.
We were happy to see famous New York Times style photographer Bill Cunningham doing his thing. He took pictures of the award winners, so I hope to see MrB in the Times this Sunday.
Stacy served as my bodyguard all night, shooing people off the train of my gown as needed. I did carry the skirt around most of the time to keep it from getting underfoot, but every so often, I’d put it down and become pinned in place when someone came and stood on it. It was worth a little inconvenience to wear such a beautiful dress.
What Wendy Wore
Dress: Zang Toi (2012)
Shoes: Tom Ford (2012)
Purse: Ostrich clutch from South Africa (2013)
Earrings: My own Marie Antoinette design
Rings: My own Marie Antoinette and turquoise skull designs
Hair: Julie Matos of Warren-Tricomi
Makeup: Tennille Nielsen
Here is a closer look at the earrings.
And here is a look at some of the 80 hairpins that held my updo in place. I’m not kidding about the number. I counted them as I took them out.
If I went to events like this all the time, I think I’d give up on styling my own hair and wear a wig! It takes a long time to take 80 pins out at night.
Anyway, congratulations to my friends at CPJ for another successful event and for always fighting the good fight. You can learn more about CPJ on its website and donate here. Follow CPJ on Twitter at @pressfreedom. Finally, click here to sign a petition to free Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hai.