Features

His brother's keeper

Medal of Freedom | New York Times journalist among winners of highest civilian honor; efforts against religious persecution cited

Issue: "Reaping the whirlwind," July 20, 2002

A.M. Rosenthal, the distinguished New York Times editor, had been a journalist for 40-plus years and accumulated his field's most prestigious awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. But it took a telephone call from a snarling stranger-Hudson Institute senior fellow Michael Horowitz-to make Mr. Rosenthal realize he wasn't doing his job.

"Michael said that the biggest story in the world is the persecution of Christians. I found to my astonishment that it was true," Mr. Rosenthal said.

For the next five years, Mr. Rosenthal wrote repeatedly about the persecution of religious minorities-about Sudanese Christians kidnapped into slavery, about Chinese priests thrown into prison, about tortured Buddhist Tibetans, about Christians mistreated and murdered in Egypt, Iran, and Iraq. As well, Rosenthal wrapped his editorial tentacles around American businessmen who cared more about profits than persecution-and squeezed.

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Not that anyone noticed-at least, anyone outside of America's religious community. But last year, 24 of their leaders sent a letter to President Bush, asking him to honor Mr. Rosenthal with America's highest civilian honor-the Presidential Medal of Freedom-for his "moral voice and mighty pen," which "for decades, taught America and the world the folly and sin of silence in the face of evil." Signatories included former Sen. Bill Armstrong, Chuck Colson, Nina Shea of the Center for Religious Freedom, Catholic social thinker Michael Novak, First Things editor Richard Neuhaus, Rabbi Norman Lamm, president of Yeshiva University-and Michael Horowitz.

On July 9, Mr. Rosenthal stood in the East Room of the White House to receive his medal, along with 11 other recipients. As President Bush noted, while Mr. Rosenthal's calling is journalism, "his passion is human rights." His "outspoken defense of persecuted Christians in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East have truly made him his brother's keeper."

President Bush's words stunned journalists who had accompanied Mr. Rosenthal to the White House-friends who were expecting the award to honor Mr. Rosenthal's decades of work at The New York Times. Their chin-dropping reaction is, says Nina Shea, evidence that most journalists "move in a different world. Rosenthal stands alone within his world on this issue."

The sad truth is that most journalists still tend to view Christians as persecutors, not persecutees, Ms. Shea adds.

Which makes you wonder how many of them have actually been reading Mr. Rosenthal's column in the last few years.

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