Tonight we celebrate the 28th annual Radio Television Digital News Foundation First Amendment Dinner, one of the most important evenings of the year for press freedom in our nation’s capital and around the country.
Tonight’s event comes at a critical time not just for press freedom but for every single pillar of the First Amendment.
Never in modern times have American’s constitutionally-guaranteed rights to freedom of speech or of the press, peaceable assembly, establishment of religion, and ability to petition the government for a redress of grievances been under such sustained, vitriolic attack.
Every single day in the United States someone, somewhere, is working to deny their fellow citizens their First Amendment entitlements. And the attacks are coming from those who fall all along the political and ideological spectrum.
Compounding the problem, of course, is that the current president of the United States routinely decries responsible journalism that he doesn’t like “fake news.” He calls responsible journalists “haters” and the “enemy of the American people.” He feeds off of the manner in which he is portrayed by responsible journalists to issue sometimes-bizarre tweets meant to disparage or provide a distraction.
Even more perilous, the president’s attacks on responsible journalism have emboldened those who either don’t like, or don’t understand the role of, the news media to threaten, harass, obstruct, arrest and even assault reporters and photojournalists merely because they are fulfilling their duty to help create a more informed society.
In 2017, there were 34 arrests of journalists in the U.S. There were 44 physical attacks on journalists; 30 reporters were assaulted while covering protests – at least two were assaulted by politicians. And there were countless occasions on which public officials hindered journalists’ efforts to obtain public records or have access to public meetings and court proceedings.
The good news is that throughout the land, journalists have responded to these attacks on journalism by producing more and better journalism. Reporters and photojournalists have doubled down on responsible journalism in cities and states and, perhaps most consequentially, here in Washington, D.C.
Tonight we honor some of the most notable defenders of the First Amendment: Cable news hosts who speak truth to power, a cable news anchor who was among the first to have the courage to speak up in what is now called the #MeToo movement, the head of a network news division with a storied history of outstanding journalism, the longest-running program on television that provides badly needed context to the events of the day, and a morning news host who has devoted her life to seeking and reporting the truth.
I also honor you, for your support tonight and for everything else you do to support RTDNF’s efforts to defend the First Amendment and help broadcast and digital journalists become even better at their craft.
If you're not joining us in person, watch live at 7pm Eastern at firstamendmentawards.org and join the conversation online with #RTDNFirst.