The New York Times

Honorary Degree Citation for Lovejoy Fellow John Kifner

Conferred November 18, 1988

Whether the dispatch describes a shootout in Chicago, a siege on the plains of South Dakota, unrest among the West Bank Palestinians or protest by the Polish proletariat, your byline brings this much good news: the article is a perceptive, thorough, probing, impartial, stylish account that renders us wiser for having read it. Behind the byline is a man whose singleminded dedication, iconoclastic wit, unflappable presence and defiance of danger in pursuit of truth have made him a reporter’s reporter from the streets of New York to the alleys of Beirut and back again.
At the Williams College Record, contemporaries recall a perpetually disheveled college editor who campaigned successfully for the abolition of fraternities two decades before we at Colby followed suit. When you reached The New York Times, some were perplexed by a certain disdain for conformity in appearance and demeanor, but others discerned a young journalist who didn’t reject or resent authority so much as question and authenticate it. Your reporting pierced both the haze of official obfuscation and the clamor of political rhetoric to lend perspective to tumultuous events in a turbulent time. You foiled a cover-up of the virtual police assassination of the Chicago black activist Fred Hampton. You put the stand-off at Wounded Knee in its historic and social context, earning respect on both sides. Your coverage of the Newark race riots, the Boston school busing crisis and the American anti-war movement was deadline reporting at its best, always reaching for that elusive fifth W: why?
More than once, your steadfast refusal to subscribe to simplistic public perception in the face of complicated contradictions has made you the target of misguided criticism, but after a quarter-century of reporting your credibility is undiminished. During the past decade, amid always trying and often deadly conditions of the Middle East, you have provided insight and provoked thought the world over in untold story after story. Now, as you start your new detachment to an outpost The Times often finds more difficult to decipher than any other — the City of New York — we are pleased to proclaim your work worthy of the tradition of Elijah Parish Lovejoy, and bid you join him as an alumnus of Colby College.
By the authority of the Board of Trustees of Colby College, I confer upon you, John Kifner, the degree Doctor of Laws, honoris causa. The hood with which you have been invested and this diploma which I place in your hand are visible symbols of your membership in this society of scholars, to all the rights and privileges to which I declare you entitled.