Meryl Streep made a surprise appearance at the annual awards for the Committee to Protect Journalists on Wednesday night to claim that reporters were navigating a “dangerous” and “poisonous” climate in order to protect the U.S. from demagoguery.
She said her own brushes with violent men—including an occasion when she said she had to play dead—had taught her about the bravery and brilliance of women who stand up to powerful men.
“I get to meet my heroes,” she said, speaking at the Grand Hyatt in New York. “I really came here tonight to thank you—that’s all. Really, thank you. Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. You are the Fourth Estate. You are our first line of defense against tyranny and state-sanctioned news.”
The multi-Oscar-winning grand dame of Hollywood admitted that journalism was currently damaging her industry almost as much as some politicians, but she paid tribute in particular to female investigative journalists exposing abuse.
“You are the enemy of the people, yeah! Just the bad people. And I, on behalf of a grateful nation, thank you,” she said.
“Thank you, you intrepid, underpaid, over-extended, trolled, and un-extolled, young and old, battered and bold, bought and sold, hyper-alert crack-caffeine fiends. You’re gorgeous, ambitious, contrarian, fiery, dogged and determined bullshit detectives. You’re persevering, cool, objective, indefatigable, chronically fatigued, pharmaceutically soothed, chocolate-comforted Twitter clickers.”
Streep said there had never been a more dangerous time to be a female investigative journalist. “We do recognize the special cocktail of venom and ridicule which is always tinged with sexual threat that’s served up online for women—any woman in any profession—that stands up to tell the truth. I revere the people who do this because I am not a naturally brave person,” she said.
“But I do know something about real terror—the two times in my life when I was threatened and dealt with real physical violence, I learned something about life that I wouldn’t have known otherwise and I was lucky because my instincts served me well.
“In one instance, I played dead and waited until the blows stopped—watching like people say you do from about 50 feet above from where I was beaten. And in the second instance, someone else was being abused and I just went completely nuts and went after this man. Ask Cher—she was there. And the thug ran away, it was a miracle.
“But I was changed by these events on a cellular level because women do know something particular about coming to the danger place. We come to it disadvantaged through the many millennia preceding our present moment and because of our vulnerability we anticipate danger we expect it, we’re hyper alert to it. This comes in very handy in investigative journalism but also in acting.”
Streep thanked CNN’s chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, who was hosting the awards, for her role in convincing a new generation of women that serious journalism was no longer a man’s job.
“You are the very first female broadcast journalist that I ever remember seeing on TV who was reporting on the ground form the most dangerous points of conflict in the world and you are responsible for making my daughters think there was nothing at all unusual in that,” she said. “For those who grew up in the ’60s, when the narrative of serious journalism was always delivered in a baritone, we knew what a big deal it was and what a trailblazer you are.
“Christiane is the woman who made the safari jacket cute. So much so that poor Steve Bannon in an attempt to be cute or to acquire some frontline authenticity has actually copped your look. Did you realize that?”
Steep said she had recently spoken to a professor from Columbia Journalism School who said there had been a sudden explosion in applications to study journalism across the country.
“I know you’re thinking: ‘Oh, great… young brilliant people after my job,’” she said. “But the good news about the fire hydrant of news now is that there are plenty of stories, there’s more than enough going around. And we, your burgeoning audience, we need every single story covered with care and ingenuity and relentless pursuit because everything counts.”