But last Monday night, the festive evening was held once again at the Elks Lodge on Boulevard East, enjoyed by a packed audience of approximately 150 people.
Representatives from the Jersey Journal and Weehawken Reporter were on hand and spoke to the eager crowd.
DeFazio and the press Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio, who was raised in Weehawken and then lived in the township as an adult for a period of time, was the featured speaker.
"I was lucky enough to have been raised in this beautiful town," DeFazio said. "You don't know how fortunate I was to have been raised here. I love Weehawken and always have. I am also an Elk, so I was very happy to receive the invitation to speak."
DeFazio spoke of the "symbiotic, yet tense relationship" he has shared with the media during his tenure with the Prosecutor's Office.
"It all comes down to what we think is important and should be released and what the press thinks is more important," DeFazio said.
DeFazio mentioned how the press can exaggerate some things, like the coverage of the incidents that took place in New Orleans after the Hurricane Katrina nightmare.
"A lot of what was being reported, like helicopters being shot down, like people being raped and killed inside the Superdome, was simply not true," DeFazio said. "We understand that the media has a responsibility and that it is a business, that to some degree they have to market their product by sensationalizing the story. The press should have the responsibility to make sure the story is accurate first. If a story gets out and it's not accurate, then who repairs that?"
DeFazio said that he is not allowed by law to sensationalize news, simply because most of the information with which he is entrusted has to be kept confidential because of ongoing investigations.
"I can't sensationalize," DeFazio said. "In fact, I try to do the opposite. I give out as much information as is necessary, the who, what, where, when and why. I've made some mistakes with the press and I take responsibility for that. We have to give out information, but we don't have to editorialize in doing so. Sometimes, it's the presentation and not the content that is the issue. You don't want to be blinded by everything. You want things in the open and you want the truth. But the press has a responsibility as well, because we do have to depend upon the press for information."
The appearance of DeFazio brought Superior Court Judge Fred Theemling to the event. Theemling, who is still a resident of Weehawken, was the Hudson County Prosecutor before DeFazio until being promoted to the bench three years ago. Theemling and DeFazio worked together in the Prosecutor's Office for a few years. Councilman Rober Zucconi also worked in the Prosecutor's Office for several years before becoming the township's deputy police director, and now is a township councilman-at-large.
A student's view of the press Another part of the evening is the presentation of the annual student essay contest concerning freedom of the press. Weehawken High School junior Cynthia Martinez was the recipient of the award from the Weehawken and You Civic Association for her prize-winning essay, which was read to the audience.
"Our perception of what goes on in the world comes from the information we receive from the media," Martinez said. "It would be a lot different without receiving the proper information. I remember as a child sitting right alongside my parents as they watched the nightly news or reading the paper and getting all caught up in what the media had to say. We tend to forget that not everyone has that freedom. When my parents lived in Honduras, the general public was kept in the dark and they were not informed. By blinding the general public, it made things easier to keep the administration in office. A freedom and liberty like freedom of the press is taken for granted in the United States. It signifies that our liberty is secure."
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner was happy to participate in the event.
"It's one of the longest-standing Elk traditions, and since the Elks Lodge has reopened, it can accommodate more patrons more comfortably," Turner said. "It's a very nice evening. It's educational and entertaining. The prosecutor gave a very poignant speech in terms with dealing with the press. Over the years, we all take the press to task for many things, but this is our night to praise the press. I think we have a good, broad-based opinion about the press and what they mean to us."
Dominic Facchini, the event's chairman, likes the way the entire community gets behind the event.
"The Weehawken Elks is all about community involvement," Facchini said. "This is an ideal example of that. We had the high school Peer Pride group donating their time and the National Honor Society. We had politicians present and members of the school board. It's an educational night and it illustrates what Elkdom is all about."
Facchini said that the group also used the evening to raise funds to send to Camp Moore, a summer camp for handicapped children that the Elks help to sponsor each year.
All in all, the 57th Annual "Salute to the Press" was a memorable one, and there's sure to be a 58th annual next October as well. Some traditions never die.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.