13 years late, Deadline Club honors Adams, Breslin, Carter and others at protracted luncheon

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The honorees, all of whom you should recognize. ()
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Nicole Levy

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The New York City chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists may be called the Deadline Club, but the “Hall of Fame” luncheon the volunteer organization held to honor eight media veterans at Sardi’s Restaurant wasn’t very punctual.

Thirteen years have passed since the last awards ceremony, which inducted, among those still notable largely for their contribution to journalism, Michael Bloomberg.

What took so long?

“If you want the honest truth: we held the national [SPJ] convention here in 2004, and I worked for two years on that and then I got a divorce,” Betsy Ashton, the former Deadline Club president, told Capital when we showed up at the ceremony this afternoon.

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This year, guests sat down for their steak lunch 30 minutes later than scheduled, and honorees were told they had only five minutes at the podium — “because some people really do have to go back to work, really do have deadlines,” Ashton told the room, teasingly. Few were expected anywhere by the looks of it.

New York Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams, the first to receive her Olympic-style medal in hand (she held it solo because she refused to let Ashton ruin her updo), didn’t quite know what to do with her five minutes, which she mistakenly recalled as two: “Nobody has given me two minutes since my wedding night,” she said.

She decided the best use of her platform was reminding New York Post publisher Jesse Angelo that the paper had never paid her for her first article, a 1979 exclusive with the dying Shah of Iran.

Jimmy Breslin, also honored, spoke in a subdued voice and in his literary fashion mostly about an executioner who worked part-time as his grandmother’s electrician, before seeming to get where he was going; he went over the two minute-mark and started getting applause before he seemed quite done.

Most speakers kept their message modest: Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, who has owed Knopf a book manuscript for 26 years, called himself the “least worthy person” among the day’s honorees, though he might have been hoping we would understand him just to be the youngest; New York Times Op-ed columnist Bob Herbert attributed his big break at the Daily News to the fact that he owned an American Express card; and Fortune’s senior editor at large Carol Loomis admitted that “all [her] inspiration has come from one emotion — fear.”

PBS powerhouse Bill Moyers took it upon himself to remind the audience of S.P.J.’s founding principles: “What’s important for the journalist is not how close you are to power, but how close you get to the truth… Unless you are willing to go fight the fight, and refight the same battles until you go blue in the face, drive the people you work with nuts, going over every last detail to make sure you get it right, and then take hit after hit, from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, accusing you of bias, or even a point of view, there’s no use trying, unless you love it. And I do.”

He echoed Deadline Club president Alex Tarquinio, who said the luncheon’s celebrated journalists “have shown readers and viewers behind the scenes, in the boardrooms, the ballrooms, and the smoky back rooms of our nation, and along the way, they’ve been champions of free speech and made our culture richer for it.”

Satisfied that the Hall of Fame's latest inductees had been properly documented with pomp, circumstance, and redesigned medals (the old ones, by Tiffany, had become too pricey), Ashton summed up the event as “fabulous”: “We had a blast, and there are a lot of fabulous journalists who deserve to be honored, so I suspect it will happen more frequently.”

 

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