The press is often blamed for slander, misrepresentation of facts, and yellow journalism – but, on one stormy night in Weehawken, local officials honored journalists for their hard work as part of the 61st annual Weehawken Press Night.
The Weehawken Elks have hosted the event for six decades as a tribute to free speech and freedom of the press.
At Monday night’s fete, politicians and local journalists were treated to a moving speech by U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, who noted that the press had uncovered recent cases in which innocent people were accidentally brought to U.S. detention centers, where they were hurt or killed. He noted that hard work from journalists pursuing these stories brought them to light to prevent future tragedies.
“There is too much passion in newsrooms” for people to not value to the work of the press, Menendez said.
He also said that the presidential campaign of Republican John McCain had attempted to defend itself by casting the press in a bad light, but that the tactic had backfired.
“What does it say that the public wasn’t offended by the tough questions?” Menendez asked.
Citing the role the press can play in political life, Menendez said, “American people value [the media], and appreciate [the ability] to make their own informed opinions.”
The event featured speeches from local members of the press, as well as this year’s winner of an annual essay contest on freedom of the press.
Weehawken High School senior Catherine Barrett read her winning essay out loud. “Thank god for the First Amendment,” she said. “[The press] keeps me in touch with the world beyond our borders.”
Seventh and sixth graders from the school district’s Kid Witness News program interviewed some of the guests. One commentator for KWN, seventh-grader Cristal Abud, interviewed the award-winning Barrett about her essay.
And seventh-grader Kyra Baker asked Menendez tough questions like, “Why is it important to learn early on about the role the press plays shedding light on current events?”
After Kyra asked whom Menendez would like to see in the Oval Office come January, Menendez answered Barack Obama, and the young reporter replied, “me too!”
Sarah Palin’s guest appearance
When Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner was introducing Menendez, he was interrupted by a knock at the door. The mystery guest turned out to be a local woman dressed as none other than Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
Played by Town Clerk Rola Dahboul, “Palin” and Turner traded humorous barbs at the podium.
“Is that Russia?” Palin asked, looking at the window at the Manhattan skyline.
There were also cracks about the price of her clothing and the Alaska state jet.
Lastly, representatives from the Jersey Journal and the Reporter newspaper group roasted members of the Weehawken community including Mayor Turner, Board of Education President Richard Barsa, and Public Safety Director Jeff Welz.
Sportswriter Jim Hague, a former Weehawken beat reporter, had the crowd roaring with digs that only a man with his experience and cunning humor could get away with.
Jersey Journal columnist Agustin Torres recounted the story of meeting Mayor Turner at a late-night Harry Potter event. Torres said that the mayor explained he was there for his children, which Torres agreed was believable, “except for the wand and the cape.”
Why Torres was there, no one knows.
For more information on upcoming events at the Weehawken Elks Lodge visit: http://weehawkenelks.org.