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Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright used a wide-ranging speech heavily laced with her biography Saturday in Salt Lake City to talk about the crucial role of independent journalism.

The first woman to hold the top diplomatic post in the United States, she described breaking into that all-male "fraternity," that has more recently been dominated by women ­— from Condoleezza Rice to Hillary Rodham Clinton.

And she joked about how current Secretary of State "John Kerry must be an inspiration to little boys everywhere."

It wasn't so much foreign governments that gave her problems, "because I would arrive in a very large plane with the 'United States of America' on it," she said. "I had more problems with the men in our own government."

Several hundred people attending the eighth annual McCarthey family lecture series laughed and applauded as Albright recounted experiences from her childhood growing up in German-occupied Czechoslovakia to her teenage years in Colorado and her ascent to the halls of power in Washington.

Albright, 76, is a professor of diplomacy at Georgetown University, sits on the boards of several foundations and is the author of five books, including her memoir.

Throughout her life experiences, she has always recognized independent journalism as a vital weapon against totalitarianism and "part of the foundation of any democracy," Albright said.

She pointed to areas around the world today where journalists who practice their craft do so at risk of their own lives — from Turkey, where "more journalists are in jail than any other nation" — to Egypt, where reporters are often kidnapped for ransom — to North Korea, "where the media's sole function is to praise the powers that be."

Behind all of the press censorship and intimidation, Albright said, is the truth that "having information is power…. Governments want to control the information to have the power."

At the same time, she was harshly critical of Wikileaks and former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

They have "done more damage to this country and our diplomacy than anything I've seen in a long time," Albright said.

Asked why the American don't have the right to expect to know what information their government is collecting and what activities the intelligence agencies are engaged in, Albright argued against the Snowden/Wikileaks model of releasing massive amounts of data without regard to the consequences.

"We need to have a huge public discussion about what is appropriate or not … without all the damage that has been done."

Albright said her biggest regret in public service was the inaction of the United States to stop the genocide in Rwanda during her term as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations.

"We didn't know exactly what was going on at the time. Rwanda was a great regret for anyone involved in it."

By contrast, Albright named the NATO air war on Kosovo as her proudest achievement in government.

"We won, and now there is an independent Kosovo," she said. —

Westminster student wins essay contest

Westminster College student Pratik Raghu was presented a $2,500 check as winner of the eighth annual McCarthey family essay competition. The essay contest, open to all Utah college students, focused on the theme of "The role of independent journalism in diplomacy."