SILURIANS OFFICER AND BOARD ELECTIONS, 2022 – 2023

JOSEPH BERGER ELECTED PRESIDENT;
AILEEN JACOBSON NAMED EDITOR OF SILURIAN NEWS;
CHESTER HIGGINS JR. JOINS BOARD OF GOVERNORS

By Ben Patrusky

Joseph Berger, a consummate New York Times reporter, columnist and editor for more than three decades and the prolific author of several celebrated books, was elected the 73rd president of the Silurian Press Club on May 18 at the final lunch of the 2021 -2022 season, and the first to be held in-person since the onset of the Covid pandemic.

Joseph Berger

In assuming the presidency, Berger will relinquish editorship of Silurian News and pass the mantle to his newly elected successor as first vice president, Aileen Jacobson, an accomplished, now-retired Newsday reporter. Rounding out the officer roster are Carol Lawson, re-elected as secretary, and Karen Bedrosian Richardson as treasurer.

All current members of the board of governors were also re-elected to renewable one-year terms, along with one notable new addition, Chester Higgins Jr., the recipient of the Silurians 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award, and the first photojournalist to grace the Silurian board roster.

Berger, as president, succeeds Michael Serrill, who won plaudits for the skill and resourcefulness with which he continued to lead the organization through such unprecedented times. Though Silurian monthly “lunches” went virtual as the pandemic raged, Serrill, with the help of colleagues, delivered an outstanding procession of speakers – including (one small silver lining of the pandemic) several preeminent out-of-towners who normally would not have been available to appear but for Zoom. Among the illustrious presenters were: Marty Baron, recently retired editor of the Washington Post; Michael Wolff, author of “Fire and Fury,” a best-selling inside look at the Trump administration; Mikhail Zygar, a Russian writer and filmmaker, in conversation with former New York Times correspondent James Brooke, sharing their expertise on Ukraine from remote locations; Peter Bergen, CNN national security analyst; and iconic caricaturist Ed Sorel.. Serrill also presided over the twice-postponed 2022 awards dinner honoring Higgins, the first in-person event of his presidential term.

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SILURIANS TO HONOR LOCAL JOURNALISM’S “BEST AND BRIGHTEST” AT THE JUNE 15 AWARDS DINNER

By Jack Deacy

Silurian members are invited to join us at the National Arts Club in Manhattan on the evening of June 15 to honor the best and brightest of local journalism, the winners of our 2022 Excellence In Journalism Awards.

The dinner will be an in-person event and will honor the first place Medallion winners and the runner-up Merit Award winners in the 77th local journalism competition, which has run annually since 1945. The evening will begin with a 6 p.m. cocktail party and a three course dinner at 7:15 p.m. The awards program will follow.

The program has been streamlined to ensure that it will end before 10 p.m.

Tickets for Silurians members and their first guest are $135. The fee for non-members is $150. An Eventbrite invitation will be sent electronically to Silurian members, enabling them to reserve and pay online. Members and non-members can also pay by check.

The 2022 Excellence In Journalism Award winners will be officially announced in late May and will be posted on the Silurians website. For further information, contact Dinner Chair Scotti Williston at scotti.williston@gmail.com.

Tim Weiner, Intelligence and National Security Expert, Discussed the War in Ukraine and Explained Political Warfare at Our April 20 Meeting

By Aileen Jacobson

Tim Weiner


The war in Ukraine represents “the resurrection of political warfare by the United States,” said Tim Weiner, our speaker at the April 20 Zoom meeting, our second program on that ongoing war instigated by Russia.

Weiner, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is a former intelligence and national security reporter for the New York Times. He is also the author of several books, including a history of the CIA and a history of the FBI. His most recent is The Folly and the Glory: America, Russia and Political Warfare, 1945-2020. He also hosts a podcast.

Political warfare, Weiner explained to the fifty members who attended, is the use of a nation’s powers “short of war,” including diplomacy, economic warfare, intelligence operations and support for resistance actions.

The intelligence gathered by the CIA about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions “to wipe Ukraine off the face of the earth” became overwhelming by January, he said, leading to a decision to make the evidence public. Putin had used the same kind of “blitzkrieg of propaganda” and misinformation (including calling Ukrainians “Nazis”) to justify war in 2014 in the run-up to the war in Crimea.

That time, Weiner said, U.S. officials didn’t understand what was going on, but this time they were prepared and “totally neutralized Putin’s disinformation weapons” by telling the world about them. He called this sharing of intelligence “a remarkable development” with long-lasting impact on the future global struggle “between democracy and autocracy.”

In response to a question posed by Silurians president Michael Serrill, who moderated the discussion, Weiner credited “buzz and taps and moles” as the probable sources of the CIA’s information. He also believes that the U.S. is finding “work arounds” to pierce the “Stalinist crackdown” on a free press in Russia and deliver truthful information.


An In-Person Reunion After Two Years of Zoom and a Glorious Tribute to Photojournalist Chester Higgins Jr., Winner of the Silurians Lifetime Achievement Award

By Aileen Jacobson

Chester Higgins Jr.

For the first time in two years Silurians got to see each other in person, and for the first time ever we honored a photojournalist with our Lifetime Achievement Award during the gala on March 24 at the National Arts Club.

Chester Higgins Jr. spent 39 of his 75 years as a staff photographer for the New York Times and also has published several books of photography, most recently Sacred Nile, a splendid volume. At the gala, he received numerous accolades, many pointing out that he transformed the way that people look at and think about Black people—and every other person.

“Chester has always been a man on a spiritual mission, striving to find the humanity, the dignity and the grace in everyone,” said Joseph Berger, who worked with him at the Times for many years and is now first vice-president of the Silurians.

“He changed the newspaper,” said Dean Baquet, executive editor of the Times, the first Black person in that job. Unlike some other journalists who think of themselves that way, Baquet said, Higgins “actually is an artist.” Baquet cited a joyous photo Higgins took of Amiri Baraka jitterbugging with Maya Angelou at an event honoring Langston Hughes at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

A short film about Higgins that was shown to the audience of 99—a near-capacity crowd given Covid restrictions—covered his background back to his start in Alabama included several of his iconic images. His great interest in Africa continues today.

Two people who claimed him as a mentor spoke, too. Sandra Stevenson, who joined the Times in 2005 and became a photo editor, said she felt pressure in the job, “but Chester was so gracious and so kind.” Michelle Agins, who has worked at the Times 33 years (and was only the second Black female photographer hired) said she was told early in her career that she was good “but you’ll be even better when you meet Chester Higgins.” Part of his advice to her, she said, was “Just be cool.”

As president Michael Serrill presented a plaque to Higgins, he said that “he made it his mission to infuse Black life into the world’s consciousness.”

When Higgins spoke, as dessert was being served, he credited a great-uncle with giving him “a sense of direction” when he was 19. He told the young Higgins, “Whatever you do, it has to matter. It’s important that you make a statement in life.” The Times, he added, “gave me a front-row seat to society.”

For more, watch the video of the event on this site
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKPE8NImyxI

and read this profile by Jon Kalish published a week after the gala that quotes Joe Berger:
https://www.npr.org/2022/03/31/1089294489/chester-higgins-camera-brings-a-360-degree-view-to-black-life
and listen here: https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2022/04/01/chester-higgins-africa-photos 


Extra! Extra! Special March 30 Zoom Program on Ukraine Featuring Mikhail Zygar, Russian Writer and James Brooke, American Ukraine Expert

By Michael Serrill

I am pleased to announce that the Silurians Press Club has scheduled a special Zoom program on Wednesday, March 30 to discuss the most important global event in decades—the war between Russia and Ukraine. To lead the discussion, we have invited two men who have intimate knowledge of both combatants and the events that led to the current conflict.

Mikhail Zygar                                                 James Brooke

Mikhail Zygar is a Russian writer and filmmaker and the author of an open letter and petition opposing the invasion.  “We do not believe that an independent Ukraine poses a threat to Russia or any other state,” the letter says. “We do not believe Vladimir Putin’s claims that the Ukrainian people are under the rule of ‘Nazis’ and need to be ‘liberated.’ We demand an end to this war.” The letter had attracted 1 million signatures when Zygar was warned that he was about to be arrested and should take the next flight out of Russia. He will speak to us from Berlin.

James Brooke spent 24 years reporting from a variety of locations for The New York Times. He was Moscow bureau chief for the Voice of America and then Bloomberg News before starting an English-language business newspaper in Ukraine. He returned to the U.S. last year and will speak to us from his home in the Berkshires.


Artist, Caricaturist and Author Edward Sorel Spoke at the February 16 Zoom meeting: A Report and an Appreciation

By David Margolick

Edward Sorel

Early on in his profusely illustrious career, Edward Sorel neatly captured in a semi-autobiographical cartoon — it contains nine separate self-portraits — a brilliant artist’s eternal dilemma.

In the drawing, which ran in the Nation, he ponders why, away from their canvases, so many of the painters he so admires were schmucks. Rembrandt was a deadbeat and embezzled from his own son. Degas was an anti-Semite. Matisse looked sweet but dumped his wife once he hit it big. Picasso abandoned his friends during the Occupation. And on and on.

“Let’s face it…I’ll never be a great artist,” the cartoonist reluctantly concludes. “I’m just too nice a guy.”

Forty years or so have passed since Sorel drew those panels. And throughout it all his work has appeared, and continues to appear, in an astonishing array of publications — everything from the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Vanity Fair, and the New York Times Book Review to Screw. And in various public places, including the walls of the Waverly Inn.

Asked during his virtual appearance before the Silurians on February 16 where on that spectrum — from master to mensch — he’d position himself, Sorel replied with the twin trademarks of his work: honesty and astringency.

“Well, I certainly don’t place myself very high in the nice guy category,” he said. “I’ve done selfish things in my life. But for the 20th Century and even for the 21st I’d rate myself very highly as a cartoonist, as a caricaturist. I did become the artist I hoped to become.”

Sorel, 92, joked that he was now famous enough to be modest. But leafing through his new book, Profusely Illustrated: A Memoir, and beholding the extraordinary range of figures he’s honored (some) and skewered (far more) in his artworks over the past seven decades, it’s clear that in his case, modesty is simply inapt.

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A Life Well and Truly Lived: With Anecdotes and Loving Words, Steven V. Roberts Paid Tribute to His Wife and Distinguished Fellow Journalist Cokie Roberts at the January Meeting

By David A. Andelman

Steve Roberts

For 53 years, Steve Roberts was Cokie’s biggest fan. He was also her husband and, at times, writing partner and traveling companion. They also became, for each of them, mutual sources of ineffable inspiration.

That’s the message that comes through in the 272 pages of Cokie: A Life Well Lived and that was conveyed across nine time zones by her husband, Steve, to the many friends and colleagues who dialed in on Zoom for January’s luncheon event.

It was a lifelong love affair—from their first meeting at their respective ages of 19 and 18, Steve a budding journalist on The Crimson at Harvard, Cokie at Wellesley. They were only rarely apart for the next five decades, hopscotching through their years together from Washington to California to Greece and back to Washington. Steve outlined the start of Cokie’s career from her earliest iterations as a journalist, stringing for CBS News as tanks rolled through the streets of Athens in a landmark coup d’état (with Steve on Cyprus and unable to return), to Cokie’s first big breaks on NPR, then ABC, dogged in those far-off days by the burden of being a woman in the man’s world of journalism.

“I was her biggest fan,” Steve said, clearly recalling their decades together until her tragic death cut short their lifelong romance in 2019. “I knew from the day I met her what an extraordinary person she was.”

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Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst and Author of The Rise and Fall of Osama Bin Laden, Delivered the Low-Down on Afghanistan at the December Meeting

By David A. Andelman

Peter Bergen is unequivocal about many issues surrounding the world and especially America’s place in it. Above all, he’s pretty clear about what he thinks of Joe Biden’s Afghanistan policy.

He minced no words when he spoke before the Silurians monthly zoom-luncheon on December 15: “It has turned into a total fiasco.”

Peter Bergen

He elaborated: America should never have left, he said, and certainly not in the fashion that it did. Bergen observed that “President Biden, and his approval ratings, never recovered from the poorly executed withdrawal from Afghanistan.” But the fallout has turned out to be even worse and more far-reaching. It “seemed to undercut any kind of narrative about competence in the administration.”

Bergen, CNN’s national security analyst, is vice president of the New America think tank and author, most recently of The Rise and Fall of Osama Bin Laden, published in August.

He said the withdrawal from Afghanistan was not simply poorly executed, it was a very poor policy decision on a number of levels. And he believes it could even lead to the possibility of a return to Afghanistan at some point. “First of all, the Taliban could engage in ethnic cleansing which they certainly have done in the past.” The fear of genocide was the trigger for Barack Obama’s decision to send more American troops into Iraq. “It wasn’t the murder of Jim Foley [the American journalist]. All that was important, that precipitated Obama’s change of mind. [But] it was the threat of genocide against the Yazidis. Jim Foley’s murder amplified that decision but didn’t precipitate the decision.”

As for what is happening now and what is likely to take place going forward in Afghanistan, Bergen observed that he had spent some time in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. His conclusion was that they “really had no plans for governance in a real sense. They believe that if you make society pure, that everything else will follow and everything else would get taken care of. Well, that’s not a program for turning on the electricity, or putting water in the pipes. And it’s certainly a program that is probably going to lead to the humanitarian catastrophe that we see unfolding in Afghanistan. Ninety-seven percent of the population may be below the poverty line and millions of people may starve.”

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Will Trump Run Again? Michael Wolff Gave Silurians His Take—After Explaining in Detail How Insane the Ex-Prez Is.

by David Margolick

It sounds more like an ad for a legendary electronics store than an appraisal of a former President of the United States. But according to Michael Wolff, Donald Trump is… insane!

Michael Wolff

And “crazy.” And “off his rocker.” And “occupying a different reality than literally everyone else.” And “incompetent,” spending his time “talking and talking and just spewing forth and saying whatever comes into his mind.” And illiterate (“He doesn’t read”), which is “compounded by the fact that he doesn’t listen, either.”

“I don’t think he has dementia,” Wolff allowed in his very frank and highly entertaining virtual talk before the Silurians on November 17. “I think he is just crazy. I think he has been crazy for a very long time.”

Wolff has followed Trump for years, dating back to his days as a columnist for New York Magazine, when the President-to-be would hock him semimonthly for leaving him out of something he’d just written. And his trilogy of best-selling books on the man could well prove the most enduring chronicle of the bizarre and exhausting and ongoing Trump years.

As Wolff sees it, his work has proceeded on a fundamentally different premise than the one followed by the mainstream press. By instinct and tradition, he believes, most White House reporters approached Trump on the mistaken assumption that he was sane, and that his presidency was within traditional norms. He, by contrast, covered Trump as the nut case he was and is and always will be.

“I don’t think they got close to understanding that this was in every way, shape and form an aberrant presidency,” Wolff said. “Not just a deceitful presidency or corrupt presidency or a wrongheaded presidency or a disorganized presidency, but a presidency that had no relationship to any presidency that has occurred in the past. There was no way for a whole swath of institutional journalists to say the President of the United States is insane. I can say that. They cannot.”

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The Tale of Merriman “Smitty” Smith, Known as “the Greatest Wire Reporter Ever,” as Told by Bill Sanderson at the October 20 Meeting

by Aileen Jacobson

Bill Sanderson

At an urgent pace, Bill Sanderson recounted the tale of how reporter Merriman “Smitty” Smith got the news that President John F. Kennedy had been shot onto the UPI wire in only 4 minutes, much faster than anyone else

Changes in the “speed of news” was one transformation Sanderson addressed in his study of the fateful day in 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated, he told Silurians at the October 20 Zoom meeting. “Today we’ve gone down from 4 minutes to 0,” Sanderson said. Another big change, he said, is that newspapers are no longer the dominant way people learn about the news. Smart reporters and editors are still necessary, however, added Sanderson, who has been a reporter for the New York Post and is now a writer and editor at the Daily News. In 2016, he wrote a book, “Bulletins from Dallas,” about the events surrounding those shots that Lee Harvey Oswald fired into the young President’s limousine.

Smitty, who had been the UPI’s White House correspondent since 1941, sat in the front seat of the pool car in the motorcade that followed JFK’s car. He was sandwiched between the driver and a presidential press agent. That put Smith on top of the car’s radio telephone, a then-new device that was meant to be shared by all four reporters in the car. As it happened, the AP reporter—the AP being Smith’s main rival—sat in the back. He wasn’t the usual White House correspondent (who was on the press bus) but a different reporter who was there to collect “color” for his own piece.

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