Congressman Robert Menendez (D-13th Dist.) was the keynote speaker for the evening, which was attended by local officials, the Elks, representatives from the local newspapers, and students.
Menendez focused on the rights of journalists to do their job all over the world and the struggles that journalists endure while trying to investigate stories.
"It's a right that people die fighting for," Menendez said. "As we enjoy this celebration, journalists all over the world are suffering. In Peru, a television station was ransacked. In Russia, a journalist was attacked and assaulted with a club. In the country of Georgia, on the Fiji Islands, and in Cuba, where there has been a wave of oppression, journalists have been tortured. All within the last 10 days."
Added Menendez, "We think of freedom of the press, but it's often taken for granted. We live in a democracy that is based on freedom and has survived through two World Wars. And journalism is an honorable profession." Menendez, who is up for re-election Nov. 7, also spoke of the importance of which news items get coverage and which do not.
"For every item that gets covered, there are hundreds that do not," Menendez said. "What is news and what is entertainment? Is it done for ratings or is it truly news? In America, we have this great freedom of the press, but we also have a responsibility to report the truth. A lot of times, both sides are not being presented. Journalists are being assaulted all over the world for trying to tell the truth. If they don't get the chance, how truthful is it?" Added Menendez, "It puts reporters and editors in the position to make the decision of what gets in and what doesn't, how much space a story deserves. Then, it becomes the perception of truth. Our responsibility as public officials is to get to the truth."
Menendez then praised the press for the service that they provide.
"I urge them to stand by their convictions, even if they do get criticized," Menendez said. "They should be bold and daring. In doing so, no matter how much they get criticized, they should trust their freedom. Journalists are a dedicated group of hard-working people and a proud part of our history."
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner also addressed the audience.
"Press freedom is a wonderful thing," Turner said. "But sometimes, it is a difficult thing. As mayor, I have to deal with the press on a daily basis, both in positive and negative stories. But it's part of the job to always be accessible to the press."
Turner also jokingly cited a Reporter story from earlier this year in which a journalist quizzed him and other local officials about who the president of Chechnya was. None of the officials knew.
Also honored that evening was the winner of an essay contest about freedom of the press, sponsored by the Weehawken and You Civic Association, which presented a prize Weehawken High School student Barbara Bialkowski.
"We have so many cultures and backgrounds in society today and we are all influenced by what we read," Bialkowski said, reading from her winning essay. "But we have the ability to influence others. We have a tremendous freedom in the freedom of speech and we've also been handed an abundance of knowledge by that freedom. So it's very important to maintain those freedoms."
The evening also gave the members of the Weehawken Elks a chance to explain all the fund-raising events that they have for charity.
"We have to make people aware of what the Elks are all about," said Paul Novack, the exalted ruler of the Weehawken Elks.
Weehawken's Elks raise the most money per member in the state, nearly $15.50 per member, said Vincent Ruppert, a past exalter ruler.