The correct answer is (e), because the honoree was a 76-year-old, Jewish but non-religious, former New York Times editor, Abe Rosenthal. Here is his story.
Like others who escaped the Jewish immigrant neighborhoods of the Bronx to take up residence on the Upper East Side, Abe Rosenthal has a bona fide story from the school of hard knocks.
Expect to hear that he suffered severe personal hardship and disappointment before making it through City College of New York and into the newsroom of one of the world's most read daily papers, The New York Times.
Expect to learn that the hard knocks prepared him for hard work, and that the hard work paid off. He made a name for himself as a foreign correspondent in Poland during the turbulent post-war years. He went on to distinguish himself among journalists as managing editor of the Times during the turbulent Vietnam-to-Watergate era.
Expect such a career to be rewarded. After more than 40 years in the newsroom, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist is now freed from daily editorial decisions to be a columnist. Twice a week, at age 76, he writes "On My Mind," a reflective op-ed regular with a title suggesting recompense for a long journey in the same direction.
What not to expect from Mr. Rosenthal in the twilight of a bronzed career?
You would not expect him to take up a cause that big-city papers typically regard as boobish. That is exactly what he did when he wrote his first column concerning Christian persecution a year ago. Some columns, he wrote then, "have to be written as soon as information is collected, no matter how late."
Confessing to a latter-day conversion regarding the cause of persecuted Christian believers in places like China and Sudan, he said: "If I were a Christian I would complain that Christian leaders, political, religious, and business, around the world have failed in their obligations to fight oppression of their co-religionists. I am complaining anyway." He chastised Jewish groups and government leaders, too, for failing to take up the cause. He concluded, "And, personal note: Once awake, don't fall asleep again."
In his own state of wakefulness, Mr. Rosenthal went on to write 20 more columns in 1997 devoted to Christians under siege. He told readers about imprisonments of pastors in China, enslavement in Sudan, and church burnings in Pakistan. He took on the conservative business community as well as liberal watchdog groups like Amnesty International for turning a blind eye to those abuses. He lectured corporate heads and heads of state for not agreeing "that the altar must stand higher than the cash register."
Mr. Rosenthal regularly examined connections between belief and public policy, bringing the persecution theme to bear on the year's hot political stories: illegal fundraising by the Clinton administration involving China, debate in the U.S. House over extending China's Most Favored Nation trade status, and arms dealing with Beijing. He pushed for passage of a religious persecution bill that failed last year but looks more likely to succeed now, with support promised by the congressional leadership.
For the Christians who have been behind this effort a long time, Mr. Rosenthal represents muckraking at its best. In the year Mr. Rosenthal calls "one of the most awakening years in my lifetime of newspapering," persecuted Christians found unexpected, regular exposure in one of the country's highest-circulation newspapers by a Jew from the Bronx willing to go to the mat for them.
"He has gone at it with passionate enthusiasm, but I imagine without the fullest enthusiasm from those who pay his salary," said McCandlish Phillips, a colleague at The New York Times (now retired) and an evangelical Christian. Passion for this particular cause, however, should not be confused with allegiance to Christianity itself.
Mr. Rosenthal always refers to the Christians he loves to champion in the third person. "Christian theology is not my specialization," he wrote in one column. Abraham Michael Rosenthal says his grandfather was "a very devout man," but his father, a fur trapper and trader on Hudson Bay, was "not religious."
Born in Ontario to Russian Jewish parents who had immigrated to Canada, young Abe moved with his family to New York during the Depression. He had five older sisters, and no brothers. His father became a house painter. When Abe was 12 years old, his older sister Bess died of pneumonia. At 13, his father died after a fall from scaffolding. During his college years, another sister, Elizabeth, died of cancer. Later, his sister Ruth died after giving birth. A fourth sister, Anne, died of cancer.
But Mr. Rosenthal became a survivor. A bout with osteomyelitis took him out of school for two years and forced him to use crutches and a cane as a teenager. His family became poorer, but in a column on families last May, he wrote: "In that working-class neighborhood in the Bronx everybody had a family. In the cluster of apartment buildings, in school, on the street, in the park, families. So even with my father gone, I felt part of a whole universe of families, bereft but not outside."
The timing of his father's death, however, was significant. "It was the age people get bar mitzvahed," he told WORLD. "I did not, and I never had any religious training at all. As I got older, about once a year I would get very angry at my father. Usually it was while at a Passover service at someone's house. I'd had no religious education, no Hebrew."
Six years ago, Mr. Rosenthal said, he realized it was finally time to "grow up." At age 70, he was bar mitzvahed. Did anything change in his relationship with God or his understanding of Scriptures? "It was a 'press-pass' bar mitzvah," he replies with a laugh. A rabbi took him through the ceremony with very little of the religious training associated with the coming-of-age ritual.
Does he believe in the God of the Scriptures? "I have religious feelings, but I don't mean the same thing Christians do by that." His less inscrutable answer comes when asked why a late-bar mitzvahed Jew would angle so much attention toward Christian persecution: "Because it exists."
Mr. Rosenthal says he was "seized" by the news that Christians suffer for their faith in the same way many Jews have, and dismayed that he did not know about it "after being an editor for a billion years." His consciousness on human rights, however, goes back to 1964.
He was the Times' city editor when, on a bright May day, Catherine Genovese was raped and murdered in Queens. In her Kew Gardens apartment building, 38 people saw her violated and stabbed more than 30 times. The crime was gruesome enough, says Mr. Rosenthal, but what people talked about-"and are still talking about," he says-were the people who did nothing about it. "What kind of people are we?" he wondered both then and now. "Suppose the screaming was a block away, another city, another country-thousands of miles away? Does God have a geographical limitation on your responsibility? If so, how far away does he allow you to be before he passes judgment?"
Not very far, he believes: "Whether the person was on Boston Street in Queens or in Warsaw or in China ... I am not going to be one of the 38." Mr. Rosenthal's tenacious and passionate reporting became evident prior to the Genovese incident. In 1959, he was expelled as a foreign correspondent in Poland because the communist government said he "probed too deeply" into its affairs.
The trait followed him to the city desk in New York. "He had a way to get all over a story, to think of every way it should be covered" said Sam Freedman, a reporter under Mr. Rosenthal in the 1980s who is now an author and associate professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. "He also had a commitment to fairness and accuracy that should not be rare in journalism, but is." As an editor, those traits earned criticism along with respect.
After 20 years as a correspondent for the Times, he became the newspaper's edito-first as associate managing editor, then as executive editor-for 20 more years. He is credited with eliminating the late-afternoon card game in the Times newsroom, as he pushed for more complexity and substance in reporting.
Editing in the 1960s and 1970s "was an ordeal by fire," says conservative Michael Horowitz. "Abe believes there is fact and fiction, truth and a lie. It is what allowed him to deal with those times. Abe is really neither conservative nor liberal; he's simply old-fashioned."
Old-fashioned conviction returned when Mr. Horowitz, a former Reagan adviser who is also Jewish, called Mr. Rosenthal early last year about the persecution of Christians. "He told me I was not paying attention," Mr. Rosenthal recalled. "It did not take a lot of thinking about it. I knew he was right." Mr. Rosenthal describes his realization as a kind of conversion. "I have always been interested in human rights, but they were always secular human rights.... It was not a proper view of justice to ignore religious human rights. The only chance for having people interested in real human rights is to have religious human rights united with them. They are not a detriment but an asset."
The February meeting in Washington brought Mr. Rosenthal together for the first time with religious leaders pressing for legislation to fight persecution. Shouldered by Richard John Neuhaus and William Bennett at the head table, Mr. Rosenthal was the guest of honor as the proponents of the legislation, which would restrict trade and U.S. aid to countries that persecute, met to discuss their strategy.
Christians from a broad spectrum attended the meeting: Family Research Council's Gary Bauer and the Southern Baptist Convention's Richard Land, along with Sojourners editor Jim Wallis and Evangelicals for Social Action head Ron Sider. Ministry leaders Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ and Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship were also there. Delegates outside Christendom-most prominently, The International Campaign for Tibet and several Jewish groups-came too. Despite its diversity, the group rallied around the 'poison' pen of Mr. Rosenthal.
Mr. Bennett said his columns on persecution "are piercing not the silence but the noise of our day." He presented Mr. Rosenthal with a framed page out of a first edition King James Bible, containing Isaiah 58. Afterwards Mr. Rosenthal said, "I have been in a warm, soaking, delightful, hot, cleansing shower. It has removed from my mind all the muck and shame and sense of betrayal coming out of Washington."
Mr. Rosenthal seems encouraged by the evangelicals his columns have brought him in contact with. "The people involved in this are not bigots," he said. "I have learned particularly that there is much more variety among evangelicals." He receives letters from Christians about his persecution columns, "the warmest mail on any particular topic I have ever received." He says it is also the most mail on one topic since The New York Times released the Pentagon Papers while he was its editor.
Returning from a vacation earlier this year, Mr. Rosenthal found two cartons of mail awaiting him. Among the many letters on persecution were two family Bibles. He was touched by the generosity but did not keep them. For a man of words, ironically, the people who read the Word are his passion, but not the Word itself.
February 14, 1997
Freedom is not a menu. Democracies cannot convince dictators that political persecution is permissible but that it will struggle against religious persecution-or the reverse. Dictatorships do have human-rights policies. Act against any variety of our oppressions and we will punish you with loss of trade. The West answers forthrightly: Yes, master.
April 25, 1997
Some Christian groups that "witness" in China warn that public "shaming" of the Chinese government, or economic sanctions, will convince Beijing that Christians are a threat, and increase their persecution. Makes my skin crawl with memories about blaming Jews for upsetting the Nazis.
April 29, 1997
They are outsiders among us. They use their foreign religion to poison our wells, and destroy our belief in ourselves and the God we must follow. Throughout the persecution of Jews, that has been the accusation and justification: an evil religion of the evil outsider. In their terror and helplessness, sometimes victims pleaded that the charge of foreignness was not true-look at us, we are like you-almost as if being different made their persecution at least explicable to the human mind. Now foreignness is the weapon used by persecutors of Christians in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Islamicist inquisitors use the weapon in the name of heavenly righteousness, the Chinese political police in the name of their frightened, last-ditch nationalism.
June 27, 1997
In every struggle for human rights, the time comes when governments that rule by repression can no longer block penalties by the democracies. They lose that power when people of free countries who differ on other important matters decide to use their combined political weight against religious and political persecution in the dictatorships. Movement toward that unity of purpose is beginning between many American conservatives and liberals. Some are motivated by longtime revulsion against China's system of rule by oppression and U.S. appeasement of Beijing during the Bush and Clinton Administrations.
September 16, 1997
Once, Americans could say that they did not know that Christians who tried to worship freely were persecuted in China and in a variety of Muslim countries. Now Americans can say only one of two things: We will help, or we don't care.
December 30, 1997
Mr. Clinton knows the full failure of his promise that he could enrich China economically but somehow sweet-talk Beijing into loosening its strangulation of human rights; a fraud from the beginning. U.S. businesses know that investment in China makes them servants of its war against human rights. The administration-business partnership has dredged up some classic pieces of hypocrisy. Most shameful is that opposing persecution would just bring more. Once that was said about the Nazis. Ask the prisoners.