Award-winning journalist Judy Woodruff pushed back against the Trump administration’s 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 of the “PBS NewsHour.”
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.
Woodruff and Dr. Roberto Ifill, the brother of Gwen Ifill, accepted the awards at a luncheon attended by more than 1,000 media leaders, business executives, civic leaders, Cronkite School supporters and students at the Sheraton Grand Phoenix hotel.
During her impassioned acceptance speech, Woodruff said the days of three television networks and Walter Cronkite could not be more different than today. 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 said it is the job of journalists to be the eyes and ears of the American people and to hold public officials accountable. She underscored the Cronkite School’s efforts to develop the next generation of journalists.
“This superb institution turns out young men and women every year to go digging for news, searching for the stories that matter, enriching the pool of journalists in this country,” she said.
Woodruff also emphasized her friendship with Ifill, who died in November 2016 after a battle with cancer. The duo served as co-anchor and co-managing editors of the “PBS NewsHour,” making it the first national newscast to be anchored by two women.
“Gwen was a treasure – a journalist’s journalist – whip-smart, an unerring nose for news, honest, fearless and funny,” Woodruff said. “She had it all. And of course, she was a pioneer, trailblazing from the moment she became a reporter. 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.
“As a young journalist, Gwen was obsessed with ferreting out all of the relevant details of any story she covered, regardless of the beat,” he said, adding that “she became legendary for getting the story right.”
Roberto Ifill said his sister’s career culminated at PBS, where in addition to co-anchoring the NewsHour, she was the moderator and managing editor of “Washington Week.” He said his sister and Woodruff shared values and commitment to telling the truth, which made them a successful duo.
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 the public affairs program “Arizona Horizon” on Arizona PBS, which is operated by the Cronkite School. Woodruff fielded questions from host Ted Simons on a variety of topics ranging from her career and friendship with Ifill to her memories of Walter Cronkite.
“He was avuncular,” Woodruff said. “He always had that twinkle in his eye. You could see it on television and in person; it was absolutely there.”
After the Horizon taping, Woodruff, Simons and “PBS NewsHour” Executive Producer Sara Just took questions from Cronkite students in the audience. They discussed the convergence of media, fake news and the importance of journalism, among other topics.
“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 that include television journalists Tom Brokaw, Diane Sawyer and Bob Schieffer; newspaper journalists Ben Bradlee and Bob Woodward; and newspaper publishers Katharine Graham and Otis Chandler. Last year’s winner was “60 Minutes” correspondent Scott Pelley of CBS News.