Award-winning actor and activist Meryl Streep addressed attendees at CPJ’s 2017 International Press Freedom Awards on November 15, 2017, in New York, where she presented an award to Mexican journalist Patricia Mayorga.
These are her remarks as prepared for delivery:
First please let me say what an honor it is to be here with you, Christiane; you are the first female broadcast journalist I ever remember seeing on TV who was reporting on the ground from the most dangerous sites of conflict in the world. You are what made my daughters think there was nothing at all unusual in that fact. Those of us who grew up in the 60s, when the narrative of serious journalism was always delivered in a baritone, we knew what a big a deal it was, and what a trail blazer you are.
You, Christiane, are the woman who made the flak jacket cool, so much so that, Steve Bannon, in an attempt to ape your frontline authenticity, has actually copped your look, did you notice that?
But you know, as People Magazine, says: “Who wore it better?”
And I feel very privileged to be here on a night when we honor some of the bravest journalists in the world, and this terrific, hardworking organization whose mission it is to safeguard them and their work. Joel Simon and the Committee, thank you for inviting me here tonight where I get to meet all my heroes.
Cause I really came here tonight to thank you. That’s all. Just to thank you, all of you. Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you: the fourth estate, our first line of defense against tyranny and the establishment of state-sanctioned news. Thank you, you intrepid, underpaid, overextended, trolled and un-extolled, young and old, battered and bold, bought and sold, hyper alert, crack caffeine fiends. You gorgeous, ambitious, contrarian, fiery, dogged and determined bullshit detectives. You persevering, cool, objective, indefatigable, chronically fatigued, pharmaceutically soothed, chocolate-comforted twitter clickers! You, the Enemy of the People. (Yeah, but just the Bad People!) May I, on behalf of a grateful nation, thank you?
I was at the Columbia School of Journalism this spring for their scholarship awards breakfast, and the Dean told me that there has been a marked uptick, an explosion really, of applications — not just at Columbia, but at J schools all over the country.
Oh great, you think, an entire army of young, brilliant, young, not-tired, really young journalism graduates, stalking our jobs. Another thing to stress about. But no! The great thing about the open fire hydrant gush of news now is that there are more than enough stories to go around. And we need every single story covered with care and ingenuity and relentless pursuit, because everything counts. Like in a Chuck Close painting, every precisely distinct pixel, given a little distance, will paint the portrait of this Time.
However, your business, it turns out, is very bad for mine. I have many friends who have completely forgone going to the movies at all, or watching any fiction on TV — they just binge on their news alerts, and link and link and link and barely blink. “We really wanted to see your movie, but we just stayed home and watched the news, because did you hear what happened? …Sorry!”… There has never been a more exciting, exhausting or, let’s face it, dangerous time to be an investigative journalist…especially of course, for women.
I say ‘of course,’ because we do recognize the special cocktail of venom and ridicule (always tinged with sexual threat), that is served up online for women, in any field, who stand up to tell the truth.
I am not a naturally brave person — I think standing up in front of a thousand people who are smarter than I am, and presuming to tell them, well, anything, is nauseating and I would rather just go home and watch Rachel. But I do know something about real terror. The two times in my life when I was threatened, and dealt with real physical violence, I learned something about life I wouldn’t have known otherwise.
I was lucky, my instincts served me well: in one instance I played dead, and waited till the blows stopped, watching, like people say you do, from somewhere about 50 feet above where I was beaten. In the second instance, someone else was being abused, and I just went completely, irrationally nuts, on the attack, and the thug, miraculously, ran away. But I was changed by these events, on a cellular level. Women do know something particular about coming to the danger place, because we come to it disadvantaged, through the many millennia preceding our present moment.
Because of our vulnerability, we anticipate danger, we expect it, are hyperalert to it; we have the 360 on the whole room. We have, measurably, more acute hearing, sense of smell. We notice details, what people are wearing, their tics and peculiarities. These are valuable skills for an investigative journalist, and they come in handy for actresses, too…
I just finished a movie about journalism — it is about a time in the late 60s, early 70s, when there were very few women journalists at all. Meg Greenfield was the only woman in the editorial room at The Washington Post. It was a time not long after Nora Ephron, fresh out of Wellesley, interviewed to be a reporter at Newsweek, and was told: Women are not reporters. You can be a researcher, an assistant, a secretary, copy editor maybe? But reporters? Reporters are male. That wasn’t so long ago. So I salute the special bravery with which, for instance, Rachel Nichols dug into Floyd Mayweather’s repeated battery of women on the eve of his hot ticket fight, when nobody wanted to hear about so-called “domestic” violence.
I applaud Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey, Cara Buckley, Melena Ryzik, Maggie Haberman, Stephanie McCrummen, Beth Reinhard, Alice Crites, Yamiche Alcindor, Masha Gessen, Julia Ioffe, Katie Benner, Emily Steel, Arwa Damon — these are just some of the names that come to mind.
There are so many others — and their work. And the ones we who paid hard for their questions this year: Daphne Caruana Galizia, Kim Wall, Tatyana Felgengauer… I salute you, and your equally brave male colleagues, and thank you all.
Despite the poisonous atmosphere for the press in this country, few journalists are harmed for doing their jobs. But it’s a different story in Mexico. Five journalists have been murdered there in this year alone…Just across the Texas border in the state of Chihuahua, being an independent reporter can be a death sentence. Our next awardee, Patricia Mayorga, has paid a terrible price for her work.
Just this year she has seen a colleague murdered, and been threatened herself. CPJ helped her flee to a safe house. She is still in exile.
It gives me great pleasure to present the 2017 International Press Freedom Award to Patricia Mayorga.