Edith Lederer Accepts the Fay Gillis Wells Award

OPC Member and long-time AP correspondent Edith Lederer accepted the Fay Gillis Wells Award at a breakfast at Bloomberg LP in New York on March 11. Event Recap >>

I would like to thank each and every one of you for getting up so early to come here this morning.

When I told Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant that I was getting this award at a breakfast that started at 7:30 a.m. he told me: “That’s SO American!”

I am thrilled and honored to receive the Overseas Press Club’s Fay Gillis Wells Award.

When I look out at this audience I am truly humbled because I see so many colleagues from AP and other news organizations who have made such outstanding contributions to the media from hotspots around the world. And I am also overwhelmed to see so many friends who have supported me in so many ways during my career.

I must confess that I had no idea who Fay Gillis Wells was when I was informed that I was receiving this award.

Now that I have investigated her amazing career I am especially honored to be receiving this award.

Fay Gillis Wells was an adventurer from early on. At the age of 21 she took flying lessons and gained instant fame when she bailed out of a biplane using her silk parachute — the second woman ever to do so and survive. She had a life-long love affair with flying and was a founding member of the Ninety-Nines, the first organization of women pilots, along with Amelia Earhart.

But that was just the beginning. Fay went to the Soviet Union with her father in the early 1930s and became a foreign correspondent. I’m delighted to tell you that we have more than that as a link. While there she reported for a number of news organizations — including the Associated Press!

Fay also became a war correspondent, spending her honeymoon covering the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, and Syrian riots — along with her new husband, the distinguished foreign correspondent Linton Wells. Together, they also pioneered radio broadcasts from Latin America.

During World War II in 1941, President Roosevelt asked Fay and Linton to go to Africa to investigate a homeland for the Jews. They recommended Angola! In the early 1960s, Fay became a White House correspondent and in 1972 she went to China on President Nixon’s ground-breaking trip.

When my friend Edie Smith, who is here today, got her invitation to this wonderful breakfast, she sent me an email saying: “OK. I RSVPed. But when are you taking flying lessons?”

I replied: “That’s my next life!”

Fay also became a war correspondent, spending her honeymoon covering the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, and Syrian riots _ along with her new husband, the distinguished foreign correspondent Linton Wells. Together, they also pioneered radio broadcasts from Latin America. And Fay was a founding member of the Overseas Press Club.

When I look back at this life, I realize how lucky I was to come of age at the dawn of the women’s liberation movement, and to have a mother who was a teacher and encouraged me to live my dream.

She celebrated her 102nd birthday in December and wished she could be here today. But she’s a late sleeper!

At a time when it was very easy to count the number of women reporting “hard news,” I was hired by the Associated Press in New York City in 1966 as a temporary fill-in to cover local news.

My temporary assignment has lasted 48 years — and it has taken me to every continent except Antarctica covering wars, famines, nuclear issues and political upheavals. I’m still hoping to get to Antarctica!

It’s quite incredible to look back and see how much the news business has changed in my lifetime.

When I joined AP, reporters wrote on typewriters. And in my early years overseas I often filed by telex. I’m sure there are some young people here who’ve never seen a typewriter or a telex!

There was pressure to file quickly — but not the intense pressure of today’s highly competitive media world.

We are so instantly connected today by cellphones, hand-held computers, 24/7 news on television, and Internet websites, blogs and non-stop tweets that there’s almost no time to think.

And I often ask myself, in this race to be first — and with the plethora of competing media platforms — have we made progress in providing a real understanding of events, both domestic and international?

I am also concerned that standards for accuracy, objectivity and grammar have slipped.

I also worry that celebrity journalism dominates today’s media — and the space for international news has shrunk.

How are young Americans going to compete in this new interconnected world if their knowledge of global issues is superficial?

And what does this say about America’s future global leadership?

Before I close, I would like to thank the Associated Press for giving me so many opportunities to live my dream. I would especially like to thank AP’s President Gary Pruitt, our International Editor John Daniszewski, several of his predecessors, and many other AP colleagues for being here today.

And I would like to thank Bloomberg for hosting this wonderful breakfast in honor of the Overseas Press Club.

I have had a priviledged seat in that front row of history.

I have reported on wars from Vietnam and Afghanistan to the Mideast, Bosnia and Northern Ireland.

I have watched innocent civilians collapse and die of starvation in Ethiopia and Somalia.

And I have seen the butchery of the Rwanda genocide.

In my current job as AP’s chief correspondent at the United Nations, I have written about the diplomatic side of conflicts from Iraq and Afghanistan to Congo — and most recently Syria and Ukraine.

I’ve reported on the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea.

And I have written about the growing disparities in a world where over 1 billion people go to bed hungry every night while another 1.5 billion are overweight or obese — and a tiny percentage enjoy unimaginable riches.

When I look back at all the death, despair and dissension that I have seen in my life, I have often asked myself what would make a difference?

My best answer is just one word — tolerance.

And I ask you all, wouldn’t it be wonderful if every child in the world was required to be taught, from a very young age, to be tolerant of other people’s race, religion, ethnicity, gender and political beliefs?

That’s MY dream for the future — because it would almost certainly lead to a more peaceful world.

And on that note, I would like to thank the Overseas Press Club again for this wonderful award which I will treasure.