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Barbara W. Wall: 2012 First Amendment Awards Dinner Remarks

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  1. Freedom of the Press Awards
Thank you, Gracia. And thanks to the Reporters Committee board (especially USA TODAY editorial board member Saundra Torrey),  -to former…

Thank you, Gracia.

And thanks to the Reporters Committee board (especially USA TODAY editorial board member Saundra Torrey),

-to former director Lucy Dalglish,

to current director Bruce Brown,

to the Reporters Committee staff

-and to all of you, who are here to celebrate and support the outstanding work they do.

It feels good to see so many friends here tonight.

I want to start out by getting one thing straight: while I may be the one receiving this First Amendment award, it actually belongs to the reporters, editors, producers and news directors I’ve had the privilege to represent during my 27 years at Gannett.

If I were to start naming them, we’d be here all night.

And, take heart, I am aware that as the last speaker my remarks are the only thing standing between you and valet parking!

But my point is that whatever I’ve accomplished as a First Amendment lawyer, has been done in the service of Gannett journalists.

They are the ones uncovering truths that change lives, and they are the ones holding the powerful accountable. They are my heroes, and I am humbled — and honored — to be able to represent them.

I should also make it clear that the type of First Amendment advocacy Gannett practices does not come cheap. Yet in all my years at Gannett, I have never been told that we can’t afford to go to court on a press freedom issue. That’s because Gannett’s belief in protecting the public’s right to know is unwavering, and because backing down is not in our DNA. I am deeply grateful for the constant support for our First Amendment work from Gracia Martore, from Community Publishing President Bob Dickey, from Broadcast Division President Dave Lougee, from USA TODAY publisher Larry Kramer and from Chief Legal Officer Todd Mayman. So table 11, I salute you.

Rights to this award also belong to another group — Gannett’s local counsel who represent our 82 newspapers and 23 television stations in courts around the country. Several of those lawyers are with us tonight. They’ve travelled over 8,000 miles (collectively) to be here, so I WILL name them:

Luther Munford from Jackson, Mississippi,

Indianapolis Star counsel Jan Carroll,

Cincinnati Enquirer counsel Jack Greiner,

Les Machado and Bob Yates,

Detroit Free Press lawyer Hershel Fink,

Pensacola lawyer Dennis Larry,

Jim Stewart from Detroit, and

Nashville Tennessean lawyer Robb Harvey.

Take a look at table 33 where they’re sitting–they are a First Amendment dream team.

The contributions of two founding members of that team who couldn’t be here tonight — Bob Bernius of Nixon Peabody ( whose partners are at table 38) and David Bodney of Steptoe & Johnson — also deserve recognition.

And special thanks to dream team members Jim Rittinger and Mark Fowler from Satterlee & Stephens in New York City who are at table 35. Satterlee hired me when I was only 23 years old, and gave me the best training any lawyer could have. I am so happy they’re here tonight.

Thanks also to two other DC firms that provide important support for Gannett’s advocacy — Dow Lohnes at table 21, and Sidley & Austin’s at table 34.

And to my colleagues in the Gannett Law Department: congratulations. This award is belongs to them too and they should all be standing on this stage with me: Mark Faris — without whom none of the work we’ve talked about tonight would be possible – Liz Allen, Andrea Shandell, Akin Harrison and my former colleagues Chuck Tobin and David Fleming. So kudos to table 13.

Finally, special thanks to my husband Chris and children Read and Louisa. They have graciously put up with urgent calls from editors that came in while we were on vacation, during the middle of the night, in the middle of birthday parties, during Chris’s senate confirmation hearing and even in the midst of Read’s St. Albans graduation (fortunately they hadn’t gotten to the W’s yet!). You guys are the light of my life.

And with that, I’ll turn the podium back to Tony.