Notable Visitors: Judy Woodruff

Judy Woodruff, anchor and managing editor of the “PBS NewsHour,” pushed back against persistent threats and accusations against the news industry as she was awarded Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism with the late Gwen Ifill, her longtime friend and co-anchor.

ASU Provost Mark Searle presented the 34th award, given by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, which recognizes distinguished journalists who embody the values of the school’s namesake.

During her impassioned acceptance speech, Woodruff said it is the job of journalists to be the eyes and ears of the American people and to hold public officials accountable. She pointed to the rise of social media and a president who has targeted the media as an enemy.

“[President Donald Trump] built a campaign, and now an administration, by calling most news ‘fake’ and most journalists ‘enemies of the American people.’ I am not an enemy of the American people,” Woodruff said to rousing applause. “I love this country.”

Woodruff also emphasized her friendship with Ifill, who died in November 2016 after a battle with cancer. “Gwen was a treasure — a journalist’s journalist — whip-smart, an unerring nose for news, honest, fearless and funny,” Woodruff said. “She was a larger-than-life presence at the NewsHour, taken too early.”

Earlier in the luncheon, Roberto Ifill spoke of his sister’s lifelong commitment to journalism. He recalled their childhood watching the evening news and her insatiable curiosity, which pushed her to enter journalism. “She became legendary for getting the story right,” Ifill said.

As part of Woodruff’s two-day visit to ASU, Woodruff reported for the NewsHour from the Cronkite School. She sat down with Cronkite faculty member Jacquee Petchel and students Claire Caulfield and Jasmine Spearing-Bowen to discuss a major national investigation into water quality as part of the Carnegie-Knight News21 program at the Cronkite School. She also interviewed U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego as part of an ongoing NewsHour series on the future of the Democratic Party.

Woodruff’s visit included an appearance on “Arizona Horizon,” taped before an audience of Cronkite School students. They were joined by “PBS NewsHour” Executive Producer Sara Just to take questions, discussing the convergence of media, fake news and the importance of journalism.

“The fact is we never needed journalists more than we need them today,” Woodruff told students. “When journalism is being challenged — when leaders of our country are saying journalism is not to be believed — more than ever, we need each one of you who cares about informing the American people.”

Woodruff and Ifill join previous Cronkite Award recipients who include their “NewsHour” predecessors Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer, as well as many other luminaries of journalism. Last year’s winner was “60 Minutes” correspondent Scott Pelley of CBS News.

To see Woodruff’s acceptance speech in full, visit azpbs.org/woodruff-cronkite.

To see Woodruff’s appearance on “Arizona Horizon,” visit azpbs.org/horizon/woodruff.

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