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Katharine Weymouth: 2012 First Amendment Awards Dinner Remarks

Thank you, John. It’s a pleasure to co-chair the dinner with you.

The Washington Post has a long history of fighting for press freedom.  You may have seen the movie … and we have done a lot of it with the Reporters Committee.  The Pentagon papers may be the most famous case.  But it is the daily requests for emails, papers and evidence that allows reporters to shine light on anything from critical decision making in the White House to the more mundane matters facing our local governments and courts. 

After my grandmother died, Reporters Committee co-founder Jack Nelson of the LA Times reminisced about an event that occurred when the Reporters Committee was barely three years old.

My grandmother had unexpectedly received a check for $500 – and, remember, this is 1973 dollars – from an Ohio businessman who wanted to thank the Post for leading the pack on the Watergate coverage. He suggested she donate it to the charity of her choice. She turned it over to the Reporters Committee for its “good work in fighting all these legal battles.”

I am proud that the Philip Graham Fund and the Post have continued this tradition of support for the work of the Reporters Committee over the past four decades.

Because of the Reporters Committee, we are able to be involved in significantly more First Amendment cases than we could ever handle alone.

The tools of our trade have changed radically from the time my great-grandfather bought The Washington Post in 1933 to today.   What has not changed is the role of journalism – great reporting that holds the powerful accountable and gives voice to the voiceless.

A few weeks ago, I was at a dinner with Bob Woodward, who was discussing his latest book.  Someone asked him what drives him.  Without missing a beat, he said:  “Every morning I wake up and think to myself:  what are the bastards hiding today.”  They may not all be bastards, but that is the essence of our job – to uncover so that our readers have the full facts before them.

While we in the media may rival members of Congress in our popularity, our mission remains both noble and critical to a free society.  It is good old-fashioned reporting through which we shine a light on corrupt public officials … on horrific conditions at the nation’s largest veteran’s hospital … on neglected bridges on the verge of collapse … on unrestrained violence in public schools. And we bring our nation together in collective tragedy and triumph.

To quote my grandmother when she made the decision – against her lawyers’ advice, I might add – to run the Pentagon Papers: “Let’s go. Let’s publish.”

Thank you.