And the RBG Award goes to … Elon Musk and Rupert Murdoch?


Since 2020, a foundation has honored prominent women with the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Leadership Award, named after the late Supreme Court justice who championed women’s rights and liberal causes. But this year’s lineup stands out: Four of the recipients are men. Two of them have done prison time for financial crimes. One founded Fox News. Another is Elon Musk.

[Update, Friday: Ginsburg family objects to award honorees]

Musk, Martha Stewart, Michael Milken, Rupert Murdoch and Sylvester Stallone are the “five iconic individuals” who will receive the Ginsburg Leadership Award next month at the Library of Congress in an exclusive ceremony and gala, according to a news release from the award’s organizer, the Dwight D. Opperman Foundation.

Musk will receive the award for entrepreneurship, Stallone for being a cultural icon, Stewart for industry leadership, Milken for philanthropy and Murdoch for being a media mogul, the news release said.

Stewart was on Ginsburg’s “original wish list of potential honorees,” the news release said. But the foundation, which did not say how the honorees were picked, decided on a dramatic change this year.

“Justice Ginsburg fought not only for women but for everyone,” said Julie Opperman, chair of the Dwight D. Opperman Foundation and widow of the foundation’s namesake, in the news release. “Going forward, to embrace the fullness of Justice Ginsburg’s legacy, we honor both women and men who have changed the world by doing what they do best.”

Irin Carmon, co-author of the book “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” said Ginsburg did champion gender equality but said Opperman’s characterization is at odds with Ginsburg’s views on the topic.

“I think it’s worth clarifying that the cases [Ginsburg] brought on behalf of male plaintiffs in the 1970s with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project were about challenging gender roles and stereotypes,” Carmon said. “They were men who were engaged in caregiving, or being supported by breadwinning spouses. They were not men who were fulminating about how birth control makes you fat,” she said, referring to comments made recently by Musk.

“When she said that she wanted men and women to be partners in gender equality, I do not think this is quite what she had in mind,” Carmon said.

In announcing this year’s awards, the Opperman Foundation praised Musk for being a free-speech advocate. The Tesla and SpaceX CEO, who bought Twitter (now X) in 2022, certainly grapples with free-speech issues. But this week he was lambasted by Don Lemon for canceling a deal on X with the former CNN star a few hours after being interviewed by him.

“His commitment to a global town square where all questions can be asked and all ideas can be shared seems not to include questions of him from people like me,” Lemon wrote in a statement.

Ginsburg was the first Jewish woman to serve on the Supreme Court when she joined in 1993. The X owner has been accused of contributing to the rapid increase in antisemitism on his social media platform by amplifying anti-Jewish tropes. Some major brands have fled the platform after seeing their advertisements placed next to antisemitic content.

Murdoch, whom the Opperman Foundation’s statement called “the most iconic living legend in media,” was a trailblazer in conservative media.

Federal Election Commission records show that Julie Opperman has donated more than $200,000 to Republican politicians and organizations since 2014.

Milken has been a major philanthropist for cancer research and public health — after he served prison time in the 1990s on six felony counts, including securities and mail fraud. He was pardoned by President Donald Trump in 2020. Stewart, the beloved lifestyle personality, served five months in federal prison after being convicted in 2004 of obstruction of justice, conspiracy and lying to federal investigators.

Stallone will appear in the upcoming action thriller “Armored.”

The honor was originally called the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Woman of Leadership Award when it was first awarded in 2020. Its first recipient, philanthropist and arts patron Agnes Gund, was presented with the award by the justice herself, and subsequent awardees were Barbra Streisand, Queen Elizabeth II and Diane von Furstenberg.

Ginsburg was longtime friends with Dwight Opperman, who served as president of West Publishing Co., which created the online research service Westlaw. He died in 2013.

Matthew Umhofer, the Opperman Foundation’s president, told The Washington Post that “the RBG Award celebrates the achievements of individuals in their chosen fields without regard to politics.”

Laura Wagner contributed to this report.

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