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Kentucky newspaper editors Tom and Pat Gish were honored for their courage and their principles on Thursday, October 11, at Colby College as the 49th Elijah Parish Lovejoy Fellows. The Gishes, owners and publishers since 1957 of The Mountain Eagle, received honorary doctorates from Colby before addressing students, faculty and journalists. It was the first time a weekly newspaper was honored with the award.
“Free speech and freedom of the press are not an absolute–it all can vanish tomorrow if society makes the decision that there are some truths too terrible to be told or too terrible to hear,” said the Gishes in their address at the Lovejoy Convocation. “It has always been our firm belief that press freedoms were written into the basic fabric of American life because our founding fathers knew that democracy can be triumphant and enduring only if it has informed citizens… Throw away our freedom to know and to share information and we throw away our country.”
Introducing the Gishes, Colby President William D. Adams said, “Tom and Pat Gish have, for half a century, acted locally in a most courageous and powerful way. They have been called ‘the skunk at the party,’ and their editorials have been called ‘masterpieces of closely reasoned outrage.'” In return for writing about the failures of the War on Poverty, the ravages of strip mining, mine safety, home-loan gouging by eastern Kentucky banks, union leaders’ corruption, police brutality and problems in local schools, the Gishes have been boycotted and threatened and even had their office destroyed by a firebomb.
Colby established the Lovejoy Award in 1952 for an editor, reporter or publisher who has contributed to the nation’s journalistic achievement. Lovejoy was a Colby graduate who became America’s first martyr to freedom of the press when he was killed Nov. 7, 1837, defending his abolitionist newspaper from a pro-slavery mob.
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