Nobody goes deeper or paints a more vivid picture of war than ABC's Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz, according to the many colleagues who gathered June 7 to applaud her selection as the 19th recipient of the Fred Friendly First Amendment Award, presented annually by Quinnipiac University'sSchool of Communications.
In a luncheon ceremony at the Metropolitan Club in New York City, Friendly's widow, Ruth, called Raddatz "Fred's kind of journalist. He'd say a journalist's job is to explain complicated issues, but you can't explain them if you don't understand them," Friendly said, recalling his push, as president of CBS, to make Vietnam a "living room war."
In the last decade, Raddatz has traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan dozens of times and is the only broadcast reporter allowed to fly in a combat mission over Afghanistan in an F-15 jet. During the war in Iraq she traveled to the front lines more than 20 times during some of the most dangerous periods of the war.
Lee Kamlet, dean of the School of Communications, called Raddatz "fair, factual and fearless." But Raddatz is quick to give credit for bravery to the soldiers and the generals who count on her to tell their stories.
"I still struggle when people talk about what they perceive as my own courage when the courageous ones are the families overseas who struggle through famine, disaster, loss and war," she said, adding that the truly brave are the targets of hatred, the victims of unimaginable cruelty, the U.S. soldiers and the families they left behind.
"They do not call themselves courageous, so how can I possibly say that about myself? They give us hope," said Raddatz, the author of "The Long Road Home-A Story of War and Family." She received a standing ovation before her speech.
Diane Sawyer, anchor of ABC's "World News," was among more than 100 guests at the event. "When I have the chance on air to say, 'Here's ABC's Martha Raddatz,' I know I am throwing to someone who has the facts, who has been to the place we are covering 12 times. Her reports are so crisp, and she grasps immediately the concept of what is happening on the ground," Sawyer said.
Other guests included former "World News" anchor Charles Gibson; George Stephanopoulos, co-anchor of "Good Morning America"; Barbara Walters, creator and co-host of ABC's "The View"; and ABC correspondents and anchors Ron Claiborne, David Kerley and Terry Moran. Network executives included executive producers Jon Banner, Marc Burstein, Tom Cibrowski, Michael Corn, James Goldston, David Reiter, vice president of news, and Robin Sproul, vice president and Washington bureau chief.
Gibson had high praise for Raddatz, saying she works with her sources better than anyone he knows. "She really cares about them, and they in turn are open with her."
Yet as comprehensible as Raddatz makes her war reports, she senses Americans are becoming weary of the conflicts.
"We have divided ourselves into two segments of society: those who have fought and those who have not. People say they support the troops, they hang yellow ribbons and stand at ballgames to honor them, but it does not go much beyond that."
Citing her 20-year-old son, she said that for half his life, the country has been at war and yet the majority of young people have not been affected at all by these conflicts. She also mentioned that during the years her daughter attended college-2003-07-some 4,289 Americans were killed in war and more than 5,000 American children lost a parent or sibling to combat "while the rest of the nation just carried on. This is why I remain willing to take risks to cover the stories I cover."
Nodding toward ABC correspondent Bob Woodruff, a friend of hers injured in 2006 by a roadside bomb in Iraq, she said far too many journalists also have lost their lives or been wounded doing what she does.
She fears the war weariness will deepen just as tens of thousands of veterans are returning home, 20 percent of whom will have mental health issues or other injuries. "Those are the stories we need to keep telling. I want people to remember. I want them to feel, to question."
She also feels it's her duty to question why, for example, 19,000 sexual assaults still occur in the military every year and why, after a decade of "cultural training," U.S. soldiers are still accidentally burning Korans.
"We can get those answers and we can make people care and engage," she says. The best compliment she can receive, she said, is when somebody tells her, "You got that story exactly right ... you made me watch."