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Maxwell Alumni Awards Ken Auletta

Award-Winning Author, Journalist Honored with Maxwell 1924 Award

March 18, 2022

Second in our series of profiles of Awards of Excellence recipients is Ken Auletta ’65 M.A. (PSc), columnist for the New Yorker and author of five national bestselling books.

For decades, Ken Auletta has written about the media business and the movers and shakers of the information age, as the “Annals of Communications” columnist and profile writer for The New Yorker and a best-selling author. His profiles of media moguls such as Barry Diller, Rupert Murdoch, Ted Turner and Michael Eisner, and his reporting on the inner workings of Microsoft, Google, Facebook and more led the Columbia Journalism Review to call Auletta the country’s premier media critic.

Covering the media business isn’t the career that Auletta anticipated when he came to the Maxwell School in 1963 for graduate work in political science—he pictured himself working in government or perhaps joining the foreign service. But reflecting on his career path, he sees a clear connection between his political studies and his beat as a journalist.

“The line I would draw is that I view journalism as public service,” he says. “It’s a public calling, the way government is, and you have a responsibility to report the closest version of the truth you can. One of the essential checks and balances for government—or for anyone, be it a justice, a Hollywood actor, a studio head or head of a media company—is the press.”

In recognition of his career contributions, Auletta will receive the Maxwell 1924 Award, named for Maxwell’s founding year and established to honor an alumnus for distinguished and sustained professional or civic leadership and achievement in the spirit of the school’s mission. The award will be presented in Washington, D.C., on April 7, as part of the inaugural Maxwell Awards of Excellence.

“I view journalism as public service. It’s a public calling, the way government is, and you have a responsibility to report the closest version of the truth you can.”

Ken Auletta ’65 M.A. (PSc)

When Auletta completed his master’s in political science at Maxwell in 1965, he did, in fact, initially focus on government—working as a special assistant to the U.S. undersecretary of commerce; an aide for Bobby Kennedy’s presidential campaign; and a political reporter for The New York Post, The Village Voice, New York magazine and other publications.

The latest result of Auletta’s quest for truth and accountability is “Hollywood Ending: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence,” to be published this summer. The book explores how Weinstein’s sexual predation went unchecked for so many years. “How come that was never reported?” Auletta asks. “People knew. So [the book] confronts those people and those issues of silence and complicity.”

One of the hallmarks of Auletta’s work is looking beyond easy answers. “One of the lessons I’ve learned, as once described, is that truth is a liquid, not a solid, and things are complicated,” he says. “When you study political science at the Maxwell School, you are punched in the nose with complexity all the time. I think my education helped prepare me for complexity.”

By Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

Click here to learn more about the Awards of Excellence and to RSVP for the celebration that will be held on Thursday, April 7, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Related: Compass Award Honoree ‘Embodies the Maxwell Spirit’

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