Kati Marton (CPJ)
Kati Marton (CPJ)

Family’s ‘truth teller’ speaks: Kati Marton at CPJ

Author and CPJ board member Kati Marton’s parents worked as foreign correspondents in Budapest during the Cold War in the 1950s, exposing Marton to the grit of living in a Communist state. She described feelings of alienation and displacement she felt as a child to an audience at CPJ’s New York offices today. “We lived a pro-American life,” she said. “We stood out like princesses in a concentration camp.” 

Marton candidly discussed her newest book, Enemies of the People, a memoir of familial love and an acknowledgement of the importance of press freedom worldwide. Her parents, Endre and Ilona Marton, were journalists for The Associated Press and United Press from behind the Iron Curtain. The spheres of Marton’s family life and that of her parents’ journalism were deeply intermingled: She talked about how would fall asleep to the sound of the teletype machine in the living room and watched as a constant stream of glamorous people passed in and out of her living room. At one point, both her parents were imprisoned by the Hungarian secret police for their work and Marton and her sister sent to foster care.

Marton, the chairwoman of the International Women’s Health Coalition, said that in writing this book she tried to get back into the “little girl mindset” of those formative years. She coupled her personal memories with the formal information she gathered from secret service files about her parents during those years. This was an emotionally scorching endeavor during which, she said, “many disturbing things unfolded about my parents.” Marton said that her discoveries elucidated conspiracies, conflicts, and marital affairs that at times were difficult to stomach.

Marton told the crowd that in her family she is known as “the truth teller”—a title she has both embraced and resented while researching this project. She said her parents “would not have been happy for me to write this book. But in the end, they emerge as admirable figures whom I would have liked to have known—even had they not been my parents.”

Staying true to her familial nickname, Marton finished her talk with sincerity, declaring that in a time when journalists are as threatened around the world as they are today, she tried to provide in her book a vivid example of why journalists are indispensable. “We really matter,” she said. “Journalism should not be mistaken for merely opinion from home.”