MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award
The M.T. Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award
Sponsored by the Mehdi Family, ADC and NAAJA
This award is established by the family of the late journalism pioneer Dr. Mohammad T. Mehdi.
Dr. M.T. Mehdi regularly challenged the common stereotypes and notions of Arabs in the American mass media and in the public sphere to help create a better understanding of the Arab American community; he raised the issue of Palestine and the human rights of Palestinians to national political awareness in spite of threats to himself and his family.
This was at a very difficult time in American history when Arabs were marginalized and the community was not strong. Standing up and speaking out on issues of justice, and on media professionalism, took courage.
Each year, in consultation with the Mehdi Family, one candidate who demonstrates courage in journalism is selected to receive this award.
The Winner will receive a plaque and a $1,000 Prize from the Mehdi Family.
ABC TV News Reporter Jim Avila (Lifetime Achievement)
NBC TV Anchor Hoda Kotbe (Excellence in Journalism)
NEWSWEEK Magazine reporter Lorraine Ali (Excellence in Journalism)
al-Jazeera Satellite TV (Mehdi Award)
CLTV Anchor Mike Monseur (Mehdi Award)
Columnist John Sugg (Mehdi Award)
Chicago Tribune Columnist Salim Muwakkil (Mehdi Award)
The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (Mehdi Award)
Chicago Tribune Middle East affairs reporter Stephen Franklin (Mehdi Award)
Columnist Charlie Reese (Mehdi Award)
The Radius of Arab Writers (RAWI) (Mehdi Award)
The Beirut Times Newspaper (Mehdi Award)
Joseph Zogby (Mehdi Award)
Ray Hanania (Mehdi Award 2009)
EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM
Reporter Roxane Assaf
Joseph Haiek & the News Circle Magazine
Islamic Horizons Magazine
Arab American Business Magazine
The Arab Voice Newspaper
al-Manassa al-Arabiye Newspaper
The Minaret Magazine
al-Offok al-Araby Newspaper
MT Mehdi Biography
Dr. M.T. Mehdi
Dr. Mohammad T. Mehdi, an immigrant from Iraq who earned his Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley, pioneered the fight for justice for Palestinians and for Arab American and Muslim rights and recognition in the United States. In 1964 he established the American Arab Relations Committee in an effort to preserve a show-piece mural in the Jordan Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. The mural depicted the plight of Palestinian refugees in painting and poetry. World’s Fair Commissioner Robert Moses came under pressure to have it removed. Using a first amendment argument, Mehdi prevailed and the mural remained for the duration of the Fair.
M.T. Mehdi was the first to publish an Arab-issues newspaper, ACTION, in the English language. ACTION was strongly criticized by many because in it Americans could read about Palestine. Inspite of continued verbal and physical attacks throughout his career, M.T. Mehdi encouraged Arab and Muslim Americans to be players in the American political process. He passed away in February, 1998.
The M.T. Mehdi Courage in Writing Award strives to recognize those individuals and organizations who demonstrate the courage of their convictions in the face of establishment media. This carries on the spirit of my father, who dedicated his life to championing the Arab American cause in this country,” said Mehdi’s daughter, Anisa Mehdi, an independent journalist who is a contributing correspondent to the national PBS program “Religion and Ethics News Weekly,” and who covers the arts for New Jersey’s statewide PBS nightly newscast, the “NJN News.”
M.T. Mehdi was the first publisher of an English language Arab American newspaper that focused on how Arabs living in the United States could better work to achieve justice for the Arabs and the Palestinians. He was a role model for me and one of the greatest Arab American journalists in the sense of true professional journalism. His newspaper, ACTION, was often the single most influential voice in this country challenging the lies and distortions published about Arabs and Palestinian in America.
The Award was launched in October 1999 to recognize journalists who display courage in the pursuit of professionalism, accuracy and justice in the American media.
Many things have changed since 1948 when Dr. Mohammad Taki Mehdi immigrated to this country from Iraq, his home, to study on a full scholarship at the University of California at Berkeley. He went on to earn many degrees and received his PhD in political science, specializing in American Constitutional Law.
That same year, events in the Middle East would take a tragic turn, with the expulsion of some 600,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes. That year, Israel had declared its “independence, destroying more than 400 Arab villages and towns, and confiscating of the majority of the land known as Palestine. These new “Israelis,” were Jews who had fled their homelands in Europe over a period of 30 years. The way the Israelis brutalized the Palestinian refugees and moved to “erase” their very existence remains as one of the world’s great human tragedies.
But few would see it that way in 1948. Especially in the West where pro-Israeli and anti-Arab writers in the media would distort the facts and turn a blind eye to Israel’s human rights violations and acts of “state sanctioned” terrorism.
Dr. Mehdi married in 1953 to Beverlee Ethlyn Turner, who had joined Mehdi as a volunteer with the American Friends Service Committee. At that time, the United States was Israel’s sponsor and financier. Israel could do nothing wrong in American eyes, which were blind to the injustices committed against the Palestinian Christians and Muslims. There were very few Arab Americans in the United States at that time, far less than there are today. And it took great courage for an Arab American to stand up and speak out against Israel’s injustices against Palestinian civilians.
Dr. Mehdi could have pursued another career. But instead, he chose to become an activism, not out of self-glory or reward, but out of natural motivation. Dr. Medhi could not sit back silently and watch as the Israelis lied about their actions and wantonly murdered Palestinian civilians, most of whom were refugees trying to return to the Palestinian lands where their families had first found existence.
In 1962, his activism took a high profile turn when pro-Israeli groups and anti-Arab leaders in the United States attempted to shut down a mural display that was in the Jordanian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. The mural depicted the plight of the Palestinian refugees, their suffering and their struggle to regain their rights. Mehdi had just moved to New York working with the Arab Information Center, and he led the fight to expose the racist and bigoted lies that were being spread denying the Palestinian suffering.
Had it not been for Mehdi and a new group he helped found, the Action Committee on American-Arab Rights, the pro-Israeli and Anti-Arab groups might have had their way as they had since Israel’s creation 14 years earlier. With the support of Arab Americans, and the worldwide coverage Mehdi’s actions brought, the Jordanian Government stood firm and refused to remove the mural. They cited the rights of the American Constitution, a subject upon which Mehdi was a foremost authority.
In the months and years to follow, Mehdi stood up to the attacks of the pro-Israel lobby which was surprised that an Arab American would dare to stand up and speak out on Arab American and on Palestinian rights. Until then, the pro-Israeli lobby had the field to themselves, thriving on anti-Arab bigotry and anti-Arab hatred that dominated this country.
He became an outspoken champion of Palestinian rights, on TV and in articles published in most major American newspapers. He was outnumbered 100 to 1, yet he refused to back down, because, as he often wrote, justice is not based on the number of people who support an issue but on the weight of its righteousness. And the Palestinian claims were more righteous than those of the Israelis, though they were drowned out by the hysteria and screaming of pro-Israeli activists and anti-Arab haters.
Mehdi came to realize what many had seen. The American news media was biased. That bias exists till this day, although more and more Arab Americans are finding it easier to express themselves in the American media. But their ability to speak out in many ways is the result of the fight that Mehdi led to expose media bias. Around 1970, Mehdi took a definitive action to respond to the one-sided media and journalistic hypocrisy that existed in most American newspapers. He began publishing his own newspaper and he appropriately named his effort ACTION Newspaper.
Through the pages of ACTION Newspaper, Arab Americans from around the country shared their thoughts. This communication network allowed the small Arab American community to better express itself and to focus its efforts and to better make its case. Mehdi used the newspaper to expose the lies being published about the Palestinian and Arab peoples, but he also used the newspaper to champion issues of justice and righteousness.
Until that time, most Arab American newspapers were either based on religion or were published exclusively in the Arabic language. Publishing in Arabic made it easier for them to exist, but they failed to reach the English speaking American public and the growing number of Arab Americans who were slowly assimilating into American life and to whom Arabic was becoming a second language.
ACTION Newspaper was published exclusively in English. It became a model that many copied in years to come. In 1976, having written his first columns for Mehdi’s newspaper, journalist Ray Hanania began publishing the English language newspaper, The Middle Eastern Voice. A Journalist by trade, Hanania modeled his newspaper after Mehdi’s’ own newspaper.
Dr. Mehdi was a pioneer of Arab American journalism. He made the step from publishing Arabic language papers to English language, and that immediately exposed him up to harsh criticism from many Americans who could now read the truth of our cause in English.
Mehdi’s courage back then opened many doors for Arab Americans. He was a role model and an inspiration. His actions pioneered the fight for justice for Palestinians in this country and for Arab American rights, that has today expanded to include defending the rights of Muslim Arabs, too.