Last night Jon Stewart showed off his Arabic -- or rather, his ability to make up Arabic-sounding phrases on the spot.
“Mush Malacha,” he said in the Waldorf Astoria ballroom on a break from his chocolate cake.
His dining companion and fellow satirical broadcaster, Egyptian Bassem Youssef, said he didn’t understand -- in his best New Jersey accent.
“We’re learning how to caricature each other,” Stewart said.
The friends were together for the Committee to Protect Journalists annual benefit, where Stewart presented Youssef with an International Press Freedom Award. On Nov. 1, Egyptian satellite television channel Capital Broadcast Center shut down Youssef’s show.
“So it turns out the new regime in Egypt has less of a sense of humor than the Muslim Brotherhood,” Stewart said.
The Comedy Central show host also directed a zinger at CBS News, which yesterday put “60 Minutes” correspondent Lara Logan on a leave of absence for not properly vetting a source in a story.
“I just want to assure them that I am who I say who I am,” Stewart said. “Is there a committee to protect comedians?”
That kind of humor, in a room full of new and old rivals including Buzzfeed Inc., Vice, NBC News, and the New York Times, was welcome during an event in which the main storyline was the gravity of defending journalists’ press freedom outside the U.S.
“A whole society can be forgotten simply because no one is left to tell its stories,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director, speaking of CPJ’s annual counts of murdered journalists.
“There is no democracy without journalism,” said Scott Pelley, anchor of the CBS Evening News, who served as emcee.
Pelley, Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, and Jonathan Klein, co-founder and chief executive of Getty Images Inc., presented the International Press Freedom Awards to three journalists in addition to Youssef.
Janet Hinostroza of Ecuador took a leave of absence from her show after receiving anonymous phone calls threatening her safety; she feared for her children.
Blogger Nguyen Van Hai is serving a second term in prison in Vietnam. Nedim Sener, an investigative journalist with Turkish daily Posta, spent more than a year in jail accused by the Turkish government of being a terrorist.
“We’re starting to hire foreign correspondents and we thought it would be inspiring for our reporters to hear these stories,” said Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed, one of the newer purchasers of a table.
“This is the organization that looks out for journalists in peril -- there’s no one else like it,” said Jake Siewart, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. global head of corporate communications. Goldman had a table, as did Credit Suisse AG, which brought along Fred Terrell, vice chairman of investment banking.
Signs in hand-written calligraphy identified the tables and the dress code was black tie. Buzzfeed’s Smith wore one, its legal editor Chris Geidner did not. “I don’t own a tuxedo,” Geidner said.
Paul Steiger, founding editor-in-chief of ProPublica and a CPJ board member, expressed alarm at “excessive government secrecy” in the U.S. as documented in a CPJ report last month. He also said the changing media industry puts pressure on CPJ.
“We need a hand to help get us through this transition,” he said, “where there are more people CPJ needs to be there for who don’t work for big news organizations. They’re bloggers, freelancers.” Steiger was honored with the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award.
Google Inc., Conde Nast Publications Inc., and public relations firms Brunswick Group, RLM Finsbury, and Abernathy MacGregor had tables, as did Bloomberg LP, whose president and chief executive, Daniel Doctoroff, was dinner chairman.
Tables cost $10,000 to $50,000, said CPJ spokesman Magnus Ag. Donations made during the event brought the total raised to $1.85 million, said CPJ chairman Sandra Mims Rowe.