AAN President Ken Neill's Remarks in Presenting the Molly Ivins Award

This was the introduction given by AAN president Ken Neill as he awarded Keith Olbermann the first annual Molly Ivins Award on Wednesday, May 9, 2007.

may 14, 2007  10:50 am
As publishers of the 125 weekly newspapers that are members of this association, my colleagues and I focus most of our energies, week in and week out, upon reporting on local issues in the communities we call home. But we all would have to have been asleep at the wheel to ignore national events over these past six years, and to ignore the perilous joyride upon which our current President, George W. Bush, has taken us as a nation. And while, as Bill Moyers said last week, "our press largely surrendered its independence and skepticism to join with our government in marching to war," the great majority of our newspapers were speaking out against that conventional wisdom, even before the first bombs fell on Baghdad, and long before a hurricane named Katrina removed any doubts whatsoever about this administration's arrogance, recklessness, and sheer incompetence.

The editors of our newspapers are rarely shrinking violets; their willingness to speak "truth to power" is evident every week in our pages, and in stories which we post on our group website, AltWeeklies.com. That's why we felt that the best way we at AAN could honor the passing this winter of one of our most famous alumni -- Molly Ivins began her career in 1971 at the Texas Observer, a member paper of our association -- would be to create an award in her name, celebrating this wonderful journalist whose entire career was all about speaking truth to power.

Molly wasn't much into awards; she used the many that she got over the years as doorstops, trivets and salad bowls. She much preferred getting things done to collecting hardware. She once wrote: "I don't have any children, so I've decided to claim all the future freedom-fighters and hell-raisers as my kin. I figure freedom and justice beat having your name in marble any day." Well, Molly, this is not marble, but we hope this is one memorial of which you would have been proud.

We think Molly Ivins certainly would have approved of this year's recipient of our first Award. Keith Olbermann, as you all know, came out of the world of sports journalism to his current position as host of MSNBC's nightly Countdown program. He published his first sports book at 14, and while at Cornell wrote a profusion of articles on baseball-card collecting, which makes him probably the only national media figure that can tell the difference between a T-206 and a Hassan Triple-Folder. After a distinguished career as an anchor at ESPN's Sportscenter, Keith came over to the news side, bringing the same passion and zeal for reporting the news that he still brings, on his afternoon ESPN Radio podcast with Dan Patrick, to the world of sports.

Although he's now in his fourth year as Countdown anchor, Keith began his now-famous "Special Comment" segments only last summer, when he ended his show one evening with an editorial that began this way: "The man who sees absolutes where all other men see nuances and shades of meaning is either a prophet or a quack. Donald H. Rumsfeld is not a prophet."

Emulating one of his idols, Edward R. Murrow, with his signature "Good night, and good luck" sign-off, Keith has carved a distinctive niche for himself, speaking truth to power in a place -- network television -- where precious little of that kind of speech has happened over these past five years.

Speaking truth to power can and does take many forms, and, happily, there was no shortage of candidates for this first Molly Ivins award. But the members of this organization felt that the courage, clarity, and willingness to challenge the powers that be, displayed on his Countdown program over this past year, made Keith Olbermann a worthy recipient of this honor.

It's one thing to shake up the establishment, to play Paul Revere, as it were, within the pages of a progressive magazine, or on a weblog where many if not most readers already share the opinions of the blogger. It's quite another to go against grain on national television, encouraging millions, of viewers to think for themselves, and to dare to challenge the status quo. Thanks, Keith, on behalf of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, and on behalf of Molly Ivins, for all you have done to make a real difference in American journalism.