In 1968, Vietnam War veteran Ron Ridenhour heard disturbing stories from fellow soldiers about a massacre that occurred during the war. Multiple first-hand accounts across platoons corroborated that American soldiers had been ordered to destroy a village and kill all its civilian inhabitants. After hearing about the massacre, Ridenhour wrote a letter to Congress urging for an investigation. The event Ridenhour exposed is now known as the My Lai Massacre.
After the My Lai Massacre courts-martial, which led to only one conviction, Ridenhour went on to become an investigative journalist. He won the prestigious George Polk Award for Investigative Journalism in 1987 for his report on a New Orleans city-wide tax scandal. After his death, the Ridenhour Prizes were created to celebrate his spirit of truth-telling.
On April 18, the 15th Annual Ridenhour Prizes were held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The ceremony was held in collaboration with The Nation Institute, the Fertel Foundation, and the Mott Foundation. It was attended by members of the press as well as staff from the National Whistleblower Center.
This year, Tarana Burke of the #Metoo movement was awarded the Courage Prize; Lauren Markham, author of The Far Away Brothers was awarded the Book Prize; Joe Piscatella, director of Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower was awarded the Documentary Film Prize; and Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto was awarded the Truth-Telling Prize. Former prizewinners include Howard Zinn, Gloria Steinem, Daniel Ellsberg, and Edward Snowden.
The spirit shared by Ron Ridenhour and the awardees can be summarized by a line from Mayor Cruz’s acceptance speech, in which she spoke of her call for aid after Puerto Rice was devastated by two hurricanes, and of inefficiencies in federal relief efforts that were causing civilian deaths.
“Playing along would have meant giving way to a false narrative, thus I told, for some, the inconvenient truth…we were dying, and they were killing us,” said Cruz. Cruz, along with the others honored with the Ridenhour Prizes, had all dared to speak inconvenient truths.