Topeka A prominent journalist objects to plans to present a prestigious journalism award to former presidential press secretary Marlin Fitzwater.
Robert Giles, a trustee of the William Allen White Foundation and curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, wrote a letter to fellow trustees objecting to Fitzwater's selection as recipient of its top annual award. He said Thursday that Fitzwater "has no background as a journalist."
"The news that the award will go to a former presidential press secretary left me with several reactions. First, I was dumbfounded; then disbelieving, and finally, angry," Giles wrote.
Foundation President Ned Valentine, editor and publisher of The Clay Center Dispatch, stood by the selection.
"There are always objections from some people, but you have to go with what the folks want to do. There are no restrictions written into the qualifications," Valentine said.
The National Citation Award will be presented to Fitzwater Feb. 13 at Kansas University. The day honors the nationally known publisher of The Emporia Gazette, who died in 1944.
"I am greatly honored by the selection and I hope my entire lifetime has been toward improving the journalism profession," said Fitzwater, who from 1987-92 was press secretary to Presidents Reagan and Bush. He is the only person to serve two presidents in that position.
Fitzwater came in second to Peter Jennings of ABC News when the 81 trustees voted for the 2004 selection. The recipient must agree to attend the awards ceremony. Since Jennings couldn't attend, the award went to Fitzwater.
Giles said Thursday he had received five or six letters of support from fellow trustees, though he would not say who the others were. Valentine said Giles was the only trustee to object to him.
"I think he is an excellent choice, basically because the membership has been wanting him for a number of years. He had journalism background and did a good job as press secretary," Valentine said.
Fitzwater said he was unaware of Giles' concerns until contacted by The Associated Press.
"I hope to do anything I can for the profession of journalism and I hope that Mr. Giles reconsiders," he said.
Fitzwater, an Abilene native, received a journalism degree from Kansas State University. He said he paid his way through college by working for The Abilene Reflector-Chronicle, The Manhattan Mercury and The Topeka Capital-Journal.
The award has been presented to newspaper and broadcast journalists since 1950. Recent recipients were Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., Cokie Roberts, Molly Ivins, Bob Woodward, Albert R. Hunt and Bill Kurtis.