WASHINGTON: As press secretary for former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, Marlin Fitzwater often rankled the press. Now he's irking academics for his acceptance of a coveted journalism award.
The William Allen White Foundation Medal is given annually by the University of Kansas School of Journalism to recognize achievements of "outstanding journalistic merit." Past winners include well-known journalists Charles Kuralt, Bob Woodward, Molly Ivins, and David Broder.
This year's medal went to Fitzwater, the first public relations professional to win the award in its 54-year history. The selection was controversial and has sparked a small rebellion among the foundation's trustees.
In a letter to foundation president Harry Valentine, Robert Giles, curator of Harvard University's Nieman Foundation, said he was "dumbfounded" over the selection, calling it "a disservice to the exemplary tradition of the award and the memory of William Allen White."
White is considered akin to a folk hero among Kansas reporters. He purchased The Emporia Gazette in 1895 and earned national recognition for his sometimes controversial political writings.
"I have no bone to pick with Marlin Fitzwater," Giles told PRWeek. "I just don't think a man who has spent his life in PR fits the description of an American journalist who exemplifies William Allen White's ideals."
Other trustee members have expressed resentment over the choice of Fitzwater. According to The Kansan - the University of Kansas' school newspaper - at least one journalism professor plans to boycott the dinner honoring the former press secretary, scheduled for February 13.
Neither Fitzwater nor Valentine could be reached for comment. Valentine has defended the selection publicly, but has also suggested that the rules and regulations of the voting process will be changed.