The Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism

Judea Pearl's remarks and mine from the LA Press Club event.

This past weekend I received the Daniel Pearl Prize for Courage and Integrity and Journalism. It is impossible to express how honored I feel.

Below are Judea Pearl’s introductory remarks. My acceptance speech follows just below the photo of the two of us.


Dear Friends,

It is a great honor for me to present Bari Weiss with the 2021 Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism. I know that Ruth, who left us three months ago, would be as enthusiastic as I am with this choice.

Ruth and I have been presenting this award for almost 20 years now, but Bari redefines its mission along the important dimensions:

First: what is courage? Second: what is hate? And third: what is the role of journalism in our inverted universe?

Courage.

In the past 20 years we have given this award to distinguished journalists who were under physical danger for what they wrote or were about to write. The courage that Bari symbolizes is of different character. It means speaking up the truth under the risk of being bullied, silenced, shamed or feeling unwelcome by the very community you wish to serve and represent.

The second dimension is antisemitism.

Over the past 20 years our family has tried to play down the antisemitic component of Danny's tragedy. We felt that the “universal humanity” dimension of his murder would somehow get attenuated, or tarnished, if connected with parochial issues such as antisemitism or anti-Israelism.

The recent upsurge in antisemitism, especially through its Zionophobic virus the delegitimization of Israel made us recognize that, if we want to be true to our mission of rolling back the hatred that took Danny’s life we must first expose its undercurrents, analyze its anatomy, and understand its circuitry with scientific precision. Bari Weiss has done it for us.

The third dimension has to do with journalism

Bari Weiss was not targeted by oppressive regimes, police brutality, drug lords or fanatic terrorists. Her story is an indictment of the journalism profession itself, the herd-following culture that chokes newsrooms, editorial meetings, your cafeterias and other gossip rooms.

If the environment of a media organization does not permit a staff member to express the idea that a Jewish homeland is a moral imperative, and express it comfortably, matter-of-factly, with no virtue signaling requirements, then that environment is promoting a morally deformed Zionophobia and, then, as Bari put it: “we should start by cleaning up our side of the street.”

Thank you Bari for honoring Danny's memory, as well as Ruth’s memory, by accepting this award.

As I am sure everyone who has ever gotten this award has felt just like I do: more than a little embarrassed. Daniel Pearl displayed courage beyond measure. Me? I have to have the strength to be ratioed on Twitter and disinvited from some parties in Brooklyn. If I display one-thousandth of his courage over the course of my life I will consider myself a success.

But before I became a journalist like he was, Daniel Pearl his life and his death meant something else to me. And that was that he was a Jew. 

The barbarians that murdered him believed that that was a mark of shame. But to me and to the whole marvelous Pearl clan it is a badge of honor.

I was raised by parents, who happen to be here tonight, who inculcated that in me. And so, when I was at the New York Times, the paper I used to work for, and a colleague asked if I was writing about the Jews again, I was taken a little bit back. 

I wrote, and I write, about many things. But, well, the answer to this colleague was yes: I was indeed writing about the Jews again.

And it’s not just because I am a Jew. It’s because if you study history and if you look at where Jews stand, for better and usually for worse, you will understand where a culture, where a country, where a civilization stands. Whether it’s on the way up or whether it’s on the way down. Whether it’s expanding its freedoms. Or whether it’s contracting them. 

That is because the Jews represent freedom.

Where liberty thrives, Jews thrive. Where difference is celebrated, Jews are celebrated. Where freedom of thought and faith and speech are protected, Jews tend to be, too. And when such virtues are regarded as threats, Jews will be regarded as the same.

I’m not saying anything that everyone in this room doesn’t already know to point out that we live in a culture in which difference, in which disagreement, in which thinking free are regarded as heretical. As dangerous. And so, then, are Jews. 

One might imagine, as those in other times and places did, that the solution was to erase our differences. To play them down. To try to get along. To flow with the direction of the stream.

But the opposite is true. The very opposite. 

Judaism itself offers the perfect antidote to this moment. 

Allow me to offer the first Talmud lesson ever given at the LA Press Club . . . 

Perhaps some here imagine that the Supreme Court is the first place where minority opinions get written down and recorded for posterity. But the Talmud is a 2,000-year-old record of just that a conversation between sages born hundreds of years apart and speaking across time on a single page. The Talmud is not a document of the majority opinion, the opinion that ended up winning the day.  It’s a document, also, of the minority. Of the critics. Of the gadflies. 

Arguably the two most famous names in that ancient record, the most famous sages, are Hillel and Shammai. They disagreed about just about everything. Hanukkah candles. Where a mezuzah goes. And hundreds of others. 

But the school of Hillel is the one that generally wins. Why is that? Well, the rabbis teach that it is because the school of Hillel taught the opposing opinion — in other words, the opinion of the school of Shammai — first. Not only that, but both schools allowed their students to intermarry. That is civil society.

I hope the relevance to our current moment is obvious.

Right now we live in an age of the mob. Of groupthink. Of black-and-white purity politics where people are slotted into bad and good, pure and impure, the community of the righteous and the good and those who fall outside of it. We live in an age of digital book burning and of 21st century witch burnings. We live in an era in which everything is seen through the lens of politics. In which nothing, including relationships, falls outside of it.

This is anti-liberal. It is anti-humanist. But encoded in Judaism’s DNA is the countercultural perspective we need. On hearing multiple perspectives, on reason over passion, and on a kind of intellectual humility that understands that sometimes the minority opinion turns out to be right.

At its best, this is what good journalism does. It tunes out the mob. It cuts through the noise. It looks beyond the stereotype of competing narrative. It insists on individual dignity and that we look at all sides of the story. And that’s the kind of journalism, even though I no longer work at a fancy newspaper, and now I write on Substack, that I’m trying my best to do every single day. 

No name is associated with the pursuit of those values and the sacrifices for the sake of those values, for the sake of the truth, than Danny Pearl, who died in service of those noblest of aims. And no family holds up that torch higher than the Pearl family.

I am honored to be associated with them and grateful for their courageous example.