Matt Apuzzo `00 and seven other journalists were presented with the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award for Courage in Journalism at an on-campus event on Oct. 1. This year marked the 69th annual presentation of the award.
President David Greene presented Apuzzo and his former coworker Adam Goldman with their awards, kicking off the homecoming weekend festivities. In an interview with NPR Senior Vice President of News and Editorial Director Nancy Barnes, Apuzzo and Goldman relayed their personal stories of journalistic courage.
In 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) seized the phone records of both men, as well as many others, as part of an investigation into leaked government secrets.
“Adam and I were reporting partners at the [Associated Press] at that time,” Apuzzo recalled. “We were reporting on an al-Qaeda bomb plot that the CIA thwarted. [The plot] used a sophisticated new type of bomb that was designed to evade detection by airport metal detectors, and the Obama administration had not told anyone that this technology existed or [anything] about this plot. We got wind of it and we reported it, and [the Obama administration wasn’t] happy. We sort of moved on with our [lives].”
“One day [Goldman and I] were sitting — we had cubicles across from each other [and] we would always talk to each other through the cubicles – [and] Adam goes, ‘Did you get this email? … Is it spam, is it phishing, what is this?’ I looked at it and I said, ‘Not spam. That means that the government has seized our phone records,’” he continued. “It was a notification from the Justice Department that they had secretly seized three months of our phone records almost a year earlier and we hadn’t known.”
“It certainly caught me off guard,” Goldman added. “I didn’t really expect the government [to] go after our phone records, though we had recognized in the Obama administration that the Justice Department was ramping up investigation into people providing information to reporters, and that had taken a dangerous turn. So on the one hand, I was disappointed and surprised but then I … reconciled myself to digging even harder … [I decided], ‘If you want to keep your secrets away, well I’m just going to dig that much harder.’”
The DOJ has maintained that they were not targeting the journalists but rather the people with access to sensitive information who leaked it to them. However, some feel that the phone records were seized as an intimidation tactic.
“What’s really going on is [the DOJ] trying to intimidate [journalists] and especially the people they were talking to,” Martin Kaiser, chair of the Lovejoy Award selection committee said. “The government basically says, ‘We really are not after them. We’re trying to stop leaks and protect the government.’ But what’s really going on is they’re trying to intimidate the reporters’ sources to [not] talk to them … It’s pure intimidation and the government trying to control the message and, I would argue strongly, [to] crack down on freedom of the press, of [the reporters] being able to go after their stories and understand them.”
At the Lovejoy Award event, Greene explained the significance of the Lovejoy Award and its recipients. Elijah Parish Lovejoy was a Colby alumnus who was the editor of a prominent abolitionist newspaper in the 1830s. He died at the hands of a pro-slavery mob.
“[Elijah Parish Lovejoy] reminds us today what has to continue to be important to all of us,” Greene said. “[That is] the freedom of the press but also freedom of expression [and] freedom of inquiry, which are truly core values of our work every single day at Colby because they allow us to explore and ultimately solve the most complex problems of our time, even when it makes it uncomfortable and when it challenges us.”
“These are freedoms that are constantly under threat,” Greene continued. “The recipients of the 2021 Lovejoy Award have recent experience with efforts to silence them. Indeed, they felt the full weight of the most powerful government in the world, the U.S. government, as it acted to intimidate, threaten, and quiet them. The stories these journalists share are critical to our democracy and the right to report them is embedded in the U.S. constitution. Today we honor eight journalists whose work is emblematic of the courage demonstrated by Lovejoy nearly 200 years ago.”
Kaiser hopes that the Lovejoy Award isn’t just another campus event, but that it has an impact on students.
“Hopefully [they] learn about what’s happening,” he said. “Whether it sparks some conversation on campus, but also the other folks [parents] here take it home to their [circles].”
“I’ve often felt … that people in the news and media need to do a better job explaining what we do,” he continued. “People think it’s secretive or hidden, so the more we can explain that … part of what we’re doing today is explaining what we do and how we do it and why it’s important.”
Apuzzo began his career in journalism at the College, when he served as Editor-in-Chief of The Colby Echo. In an interview, Apuzzo reminisced about the time he spent working for the paper.
“One thing that I found here was that as you started writing stories that people had to read because they were fun and different and cool and got people talking and revealed stuff, more people would come out of the woodwork. [They would say], ‘I kinda want to do that; that looks cool,’ versus ‘I don’t wanna sign up to cover the Colby Eight [performing] in the spa.”
“That was always the tension when I was here,” he continued. “The expectation of, ‘we’re going to write about somebody coming to campus, like me,’ versus trying to go and actually uncover [stuff].”
~ Milo Lani-Caputo `23
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