John W. Kifner, Class of 1963
Received the Bicentennial Medal in 2002
“The crackle of rifle volley cut the suddenly still air”-thus your description of the shooting at Kent State, which added, “This reporter, who was with the group of students, did not see an indication of sniper fire, nor was the sound of any gunfire audible before the Guard volley.” The report failed to add that this twenty-eight-year-old from The New York Times was the only reporter on scene. You have been where the fur is flying ever since, writing for the newspaper of record the first draft of the history of virtually every story of action and conflict from the campus of Kent State to the caves of Tora Bora. The Iranian Revolution, war in the Middle East, drug battles in the Bronx public understanding of these and so many events has been advanced by your dedicated and careful work. Whether you are stationed in Chicago or Boston, Warsaw or Beirut, readers know that when crucial news happens, John Kifner somehow will be there. Your uncanny instincts are matched by your magical touch with sources. They respond to your honest attention so that, for instance, at Wounded Knee you earned the respect of both Indians and FBI agents. At the same time, your writing, always on deadline, puts the reader vividly at the scene and presents issues and events in historical context. No wonder your trophy case overflows. Deeper reading into your account of Kent State reveals that you had been ten feet from one of the students shot dead. How often you have risked your life in pursuit of the truth we will never know. But, at a time when the world is painfully aware of the dangers reporters face in bringing the news, we are all the more grateful that this former editor of The Williams Record has so many times, as one admirer put it ” gone to the heart of the story and … told it straight.