Lovejoy Recipients Warn of Effects of Government Overreach

Announcements4 MIN READ
New York Times reporters Matt Apuzzo '00 (center) and Adam Goldman with moderator Nancy Barnes from NPR.
By Laura MeaderPhotography by Jasper Lowe
October 5, 2021

New York Times reporters on campus to receive this year’s Lovejoy Award for Courage in Journalism warned of consequences of government overreach for both journalists and the public at large. Matt Apuzzo ’00 and Adam Goldman spoke candidly about their experiences having their phone records related to leak investigations secretly seized in 2017 by the United States Department of Justice.

“Nobody should want the government snooping around in journalist’s records,” said Apuzzo, one of eight reporters honored at the 69th Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award presentation. Without the ability to conduct confidential interviews and report their findings, the public would remain uninformed about government activities, Apuzzo said.

Apuzzo and Goldman share this year’s award with Washington Post journalists Greg MillerEllen Nakashima, and Adam Entous (now at The New Yorker); New York Times reporters Michael S. Schmidt and Eric Lichtblau, author and former New York Times reporter; and Barbara Starr from CNN.

“The recipients of the 2021 Lovejoy Award have recent experience with efforts to silence them,” said President David A. Greene in the event’s opening remarks. “Indeed, they felt the full weight of the most powerful government in the world, the U.S. government, as it acted to intimidate, threaten, and quiet them. The stories they share are critical to our democracy, and their right to report them is embedded in the U.S. Constitution.”

At the Oct. 1 event, Apuzzo and Goldman engaged in a lively and oftentimes chilling conversation moderated by Nancy Barnes, senior vice president and editorial director at NPR. “Today we’re going to talk about how our own government makes it more difficult to do the work of standing up to the truth,” she said.

When the two reporters learned the DOJ had subpoenaed their phone records, first as reporters for the Associated Press and again at the New York Times, they moved from disappointment to shock to anger. “They say that they’re just trying to get the so-called leakers,” said Goldman. “But that is false. We are collateral damage in this scorched-earth march to figure out who provided information.

“That in itself has an incredibly chilling effect on what we do and how we do our job,” Goldman said. “They want to create a deterrent, and they want to keep secrets out of the newspaper.”

In their continued pursuit of the truth, Apuzzo and Goldman, and reporters like them, have had to use foreign email servers that are out of reach of the U.S. government, they said. And newspapers such as the New York Times and Washington Post have had to establish confidential tip lines to collect information. Goldman finds that operating under a constant fear that the government is trying to intercept his communications is disturbing.

“We’re journalists, not spies,” he said. “We’re just exercising the First Amendment. We’re gathering information, we’re identifying who we are. This isn’t some clandestine activity.”

These incidents, however, are not isolated or recent events, Apuzzo said. He’s witnessed similar types of government overreach with the last two administrations, he said, and believes it’s become “a frighteningly bipartisan affair.” 

Asked Barnes: “Is there a way for us to get back what we need in terms of standing up to the truth?”

Apuzzo believes there is. He expressed a belief in younger generations, who he thinks are more sophisticated consumers of news. “We were all caught by surprise in 2016 … by the Russian interference. But I think that younger people are coming into this much more eyes-wide-open than certainly we were.”

Goldman, however, is not so optimistic. “It’s been a really destructive past four years. It’s really taken a toll on the media and legitimate newspapers and how we do journalism.” Having first worked as a reporter at a small newspaper in Virginia, he learned the hard way about getting his facts right. “You lived in fear of getting things wrong,” he said. But now, “sometimes you wake up and you just worry that the truth doesn’t matter anymore.”

Yet both remain driven in pursuit of the truth. “I like unraveling puzzles and mysteries, and the government has secrets,” Goldman said. “And I want to take those secrets from the government and I want to share them with everyone. It’s a challenge, and it’s hard. I like to say I spend 95 percent of my time failing as a journalist. That’s how hard it is.” 

Apuzzo perseveres too, for a simple reason: “I don’t like people telling me no.”

Watch the full discussion, and remarks by President Greene.