Kevin Lynch with his 2017 Milwaukee Press Club award for best critical review of the arts, for a Culture Currents review. Photo by Ann K. Peterson
For this night, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. For me, The Milwaukee Press Club’s Journalism Awards Dinner Friday evening summoned memories, and gratitude, but also pressing urgency about the media’s current role in the nation’s often-troubling affairs and crises.
Recent Pulitzer Prize-winner Meghan Twohey of The New York Times spoke, upon receiving the press club’s Sacred Cat award, in honor of her extraordinary investigative work with Jodi Kantor. The Times duo broke the Harvey Weinstein sex abuse scandal which triggered the extraordinary “#Me Too” movement last year. Twohey and Kantor helped to expose sexual harassment and abuse throughout various major patriarchal systems of power.
More on Twohey and her work shortly.
This blog received the press club’s gold prize for best critical review of the arts for 2017 in Wisconsin journalism. The top prize in this category went to a Culture Currents review titled “Adolph Rosenblatt: A Great Eye, Gifted Hands, and a Huge Heart.”
Last August, I reviewed a retrospective exhibit of an acclaimed and beloved Milwaukee artist and educator, Adolph Rosenblatt, at the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee. The exhibit beautifully chronicled the late Rosenblatt’s artistic output, dominated by handcrafted figurative clay sculpture of unassuming wit and insight, which captured life in Milwaukee with the grainy fingerprint of truth. The show also revealed his lesser-known work addressing important social issues, including a precursor of the #MeToo movement, the Anita Hill case vs. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
I had studied with Rosenblatt as an undergraduate art student at UW-Milwaukee, about the time when he transitioned from predominantly painting to his trademark sculpture. It was a pleasure to remember and write about this genial and knowing artist. Here’s is my review:
At the awards dinner, another blast from this writer’s past came when the out-of-state judges awarded a second top prize for best critical review to Dominique Paul Noth, for his film review titled “Meryl as Metaphor,” for Urban Milwaukee, an online publication.
Noth was my editor during most of my 10 years with The Milwaukee Journal, before its merger with The Milwaukee Sentinel and my move to Madison to work for The Capital Times.
Noth had been film and theater critic for The Journal before becoming arts and entertainment editor in the early 1980s. At the awards dinner, I also caught up with another former colleague, Rob Thomas of The Capital Times, who won a bronze award for his review of the film Dunkirk.
This is the second gold award presented by the Milwaukee Press Club to the Culture Currents blog, which also won for a 2013 review of an exhibit by the historic photographer Edward L. Curtis, who pioneered documentation of Native American life and culture. The Museum of Wisconsin Art presented that exhibit. 1
So the night offered opportunity to meet up with a variety of accomplished Wisconsin journalists in print, radio, television and online media.
Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times investigative reporters Megan Twohey (left) and Jodi Kantor broke the Harvey Weinstein sex abuse scandal story, which helped launch the “#Me Too” movement. Photo by Sharon Suh
But the evening’s highlight was clearly the appearance by Megan Twohey, who accepted her Press Club Sacred Cat Award for herself and Jodi Kantor.
In her acceptance speech, Twohey said that, since winning the Pulitzer and the prestigious George Polk Award for national reporting, she has done a number of speaking engagements. But this was her favorite occasion because she grew up as a professional journalist here in Milwaukee. The Evanston native worked for The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel for four years before being hired at The New York Times.
“I’m really grateful to (Journal-Sentinel) editor George Stanley for giving a young inexperienced woman a chance, and for believing in me,” she said.
Twohey recounted how, before the Weinstein investigation, she had previously reported on the stories of four or five women who had accused President Trump of sexual misconduct. “Trump was very unhappy with me, and at one point he called me ‘a disgusting human being.'” she recalled.
It’s striking how that comment could be mirrored back at Trump himself. Twohey should consider the misfired insult a badge of honor, as a professional journalist seeking the truth in the Trump era.
When she and Kantor began digging into the long-heard rumors about film and media mogul Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misadventures, they encountered his longtime strategy of bullying and attempting to silence not only his victims but potential reporters.
But The New York Times editors stood firmly behind their reporters, and Weinstein’s efforts to meet with editors to “explain himself and clarify things” failed. The reporters began the hard work of accumulating on-the-record testimonies from numerous women as well as Weinstein himself. They would not use anonymous sources, Twohey said.
She explained the challenge of persuading many of Weinstein’s victims to speak up after years of coerced silence. “I told them I couldn’t change what happened to you, but we could change your personal pain and turn it into something constructive.” Twohey’s empathetic strategy eventually worked.
The reporters published their first story in October 2017 and went on to expose how Weinstein had preyed upon 70 women, with various types of sexual assault and abuse including rape. That opened the door to the extraordinary exposure of sexual abuse by powerful men across many industries.
These remain difficult times for professional journalists, with the transformation of information dispersion through the Internet and social media, the manipulation of U. S. social media by malignant forces, including the Russian government, and especially the pervasiveness of “fake news.”
But in my mind, the accomplishments of Twohey and Kantor will surely inspire Milwaukee journalists attending this event to keep up fighting the good fight for the sake of truth, the free press and democracy.
1 While working as arts reporter and critic for The Capital Times in Madison, Kevin Lynch also received a first-place Milwaukee Press Club award for best critical review, and an honorable mention award.