On May 19, some 500 people gathered at The Pierre in New York City to celebrate four champions of a free press at the Reporters Committee’s First Amendment Awards Dinner.
Honored for their commitment to the First Amendment and the ideals of a free press were: Sharon Percy Rockefeller, president and CEO, WETA; Carol Rosenberg, military affairs correspondent, The Miami Herald; Bruce W. Sanford, partner, BakerHostetler; and Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., chairman and publisher, The New York Times.
Dinner co-chairs were Donald A. Baer, worldwide chairman and CEO, Burson-Marsteller, and chairman, Penn Schoen Berland; and Donald E. Graham, chairman and CEO, Graham Holdings Company. (Read their program welcome note.)
Special Guest Speaker was Kathleen Carroll, senior vice president and executive editor, The Associated Press.
Presenters of the evening’s awards were: Judy Woodruff, managing editor and co-anchor of “The PBS NewsHour” (Rockefeller); Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent and host of “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on MSNBC (Rosenberg);Richard A. Boehne, chairman, president and CEO, The E.W. Scripps Co., and María Luisa Ferré Rangel, president, Grupo Ferré Rangel (Sanford); and Graham (Sulzberger).
The dinner, which raised more than $730,000 for the Reporters Committee, was generously supported by foundation, corporate and individual donors. (See also our Special Thanks.)The evening opened with welcome remarks from Reporters Committee Steering Committe Chair Saundra Torry, an editorial writer and member of the editorial board at USA TODAY, and Executive Director Bruce D. Brown.
“The Reporters Committee has come full circle since its founding in 1970. Back then, a small group of reporters banded together after the Nixon Justice Department demanded that a number of reporters turn over their sources,” Torry said. “Today, nearly 45 years later, the subpoenas are still coming. And the government has become even more aggressive, secretly seizing reporters phone and e-mail records.” Read Torry’s full remarks.
“This is really an exciting time at the Reporters Committee,” said Brown. “In addition to the work we are doing with our traditional partners in the news media, such as helping to organize opposition to the government’s pursuit of reporters and their sources, defense of a free press is taking us in new directions.” Read Brown’s full remarks.
The next remarks came from Baer, who told the audience: “One of the things we believed in the 1980s that I choose to believe to this day is that the foundations of freedom of speech and freedom of the press are still strong in America. At the same time, we all know that these freedoms face stronger challenges every day.
“All of you know all too well, we face severe economic challenges — business model challenges — supporting the kind of journalism required for freedom of the press to matter. We face new and different kinds of threats to freedom from our governments, brought on by unexpected circumstances in our global affairs but also made easier by new technologies.” Read Baer’s full remarks.
The first award of the evening was presented to Rockefeller, who as a young mother became “hooked” on watching the Watergate hearings gavel-to-gavel on PBS, said Woodruff. “She understood immediately the impact of public broadcasting and how it could change lives for the better. Since then, she has devoted a huge part of her time and energy to seeing that the American people have access to the best in educational, entertainment and — most relevant to us here tonight — public affairs programming on television and radio.” Read Woodruff’s full remarks.
“In producing series like ‘Washington Week With Gwen Ifill’ or in doing daily journalism for ‘The PBS NewsHour,’ one comes to accept that doing great reporting usually upsets someone. That may be especially true of public media, since so many of us think of our public television station as “my channel,” Rockefeller said, noting that WETA “will continue to demonstrate our unflinching commitment to a free press.” Read Rockefeller’s full remarks.
Media lawyer Sanford was introduced by Boehne and Ferré Rangel, two of his longtime clients, who talked about their experiences and Sanford’s First Amendment leadership.
“Bruce has been a leader in shaping libel and First Amendment law in courts throughout the nation for decades,” said Boehne. “At Scripps, Bruce served as our legal counsel for years, advising the company and the Scripps family on issues that strengthen our business and enable our newsgathering — and we all know one cannot exist without the other.” Read Boehne’s full remarks.
“In Puerto Rico,” Ferré Rangel said, “Bruce was our champion against the government of Pedro Rosello who would try to intimidate and bully our newspaper, El Nuevo Dia, into backing off investigations of corruption. We stood firm when government pulled millions of dollars in contracted advertising because it didn’t like our coverage. And, thanks to Bruce, we pushed back in court against this challenge to our First Amendment right.” Read Ferré Rangel’s full remarks.
“Tonight,” said Sanford, “I give you my belief that on the other side of the digital divide, we will see a new era of First Amendment cases. Those cases will involve the different vernacular and practices of online journalism as well as the more familiar clash between government and the public’s right to receive information. If we have in those cases the kind of selfless public service journalism that formed the backdrop for our cases in the last quarter of the Twentieth Century, then we will see First Amendment protections for journalists and their media companies continue to advance.” Read Sanford’s full remarks.
Torry returned after dinner to open the second half of the program with an introduction of Carroll, who Torry described as “someone who has done so much to promote a free press, from an organization that is always there when we need them.” Read Torry’s full remarks.
“Tonight, we are gathered in this nice room saluting worthy winners and we’ll go home feeling pretty good about what we do,” Carroll said. “If we leave it at that, we have failed.
“We must begin anew tomorrow. We must train current and future journalists for the fight. We must make this a priority in every corner of every newsroom. And we must make fighting for access as important Twitter followings and prizes for the wall,” Carroll added. “These freedoms are an amazing gift. We must do everything we can do keep them limber, muscular and strong enough to endure for the generations that follow us. It is a sacred responsibility and I ask each of you to recommit to that effort tonight.” Read Carroll’s full remarks.
“Many of us got into journalism because we wanted to uncover wrongdoings, keep the public informed, and explore worlds others were reluctant to navigate,” said Mitchell in her introduction of Rosneberg. “It’s easy to lose that sense of mission along the way — but Carol Rosenberg never has. She has fought against injustice and government secrecy in one of the most difficult places in the world — Guantanamo Bay.” Read Mitchell’s full remarks.
“We went to Guantanamo because my editor decided that if the Bush administration was creating a prison out of reach of the courts, out of reach of the American people, it should not be out of reach of American journalism,” said Rosenberg. “We stayed at Guantanamo because Knight Ridder, now McClatchy, had the guts to keep reporting this extremely unpopular, frequently forgotten story.” Read Rosenberg’s full remarks.
After being introduced by Graham, Sulzberger said he was “honored to accept this award tonight on behalf of my colleagues from The New York Times — past and present.”
Sulzberger honored his great grandfather, Adolph Ochs — “who set the tone when he bought The Times in 1896 and announced that he knew how to publish only one kind of journalism — that which was: ‘clean, dignified, trustworthy and impartial.’” Sulzberger also cited his father, Punch Sulzberger, whom he called “an absolutely fierce defender of freedom of the press.”
“But primarily,” Sulzberger added, “I’m here tonight because of the exceptional work of some of the finest journalists in the world, the men and women of The New York Times.” Read Sulzberger’s full remarks.
All event photos by Jonathon Ziegler/Patrick McMullan.com