First Amendment Award
This award honors an outstanding individual or organization which champions the First Amendment and press freedoms.
Jeff Zucker, President, CNN Worldwide, accepting
– Excerpt –
So let me start by thanking the Radio TV Digital News Foundation for this wonderful honor. I’m here tonight representing nearly 4000 CNN journalists around the world who are the real recipients of this award. As we sit here tonight they’re in Venezuela, they’re in eastern Syria, they’re in Sudan, they’re in Ethiopia and they’re a mile down the block at the White House. And in every one of those places their mandate is the same: to hold those in power accountable and to tell the truth. I could not be prouder of the work that they do. So while I am thrilled to be here to accept this honor on their behalf, this recognition belongs to them. Let me also pay tribute to the other recipients here tonight. It is a very special group. We salute those whose lives have been lost and commend those who everyday honor their memories by continuing to fight for answers and the truth. To each of the recipients here tonight: congratulations. And I especially want to congratulate Shep, who I admire greatly.
We are here tonight to celebrate the First Amendment and oh how do we love that First Amendment. If we could we’d kiss it like Donald Trump kissed that flag. But did you ever stop and realize that if our founding fathers had their way, we’d be here tonight celebrating the third amendment? That’s right. This would be the Third Amendment Dinner if Madison had his way. Now what am I talking about? Go down the street sometime to the National Archives and look at the Constitution in all its glory and you’ll see that the men who understood how important it was to protect a free press actually had the First Amendment as the third amendment to the Constitution. Go look at the document. The first two amendments to the United States Constitution dealt with first, what the size of the Congress would be, and, second, how much Congress would be paid. I know, what a shock, they were worried first and foremost about their packed paychecks even back then.
But as it turned out the thirteen states failed to ratify those first two amendments and thus the third amendment, the one that protects freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the right to assemble, the third amendment, became the First Amendment. That’s a true story. Go look it up. And it is that First Amendment which sets this country apart from every other. It is the First Amendment that makes us great. As we’ve heard here tonight this is an incredible time to be part part of the American media. Not since McCarthy in the 50s and Nixon in the 70s has journalism been so important, and as Carl just said, it has never been better.
Whether you like Donald Trump or you dislike Donald Trump, the one thing that I think we can all agree on is that Donald Trump has made American journalism great again. The other thing we can agree on is that the media is not the enemy of the people. At CNN our core mission is to tell the truth. To hold those in power accountable even when it’s uncomfortable – especially when it’s uncomfortable. Last November we made the most uncomfortable and easiest decision of my career we sued the president of the United States for taking away the press credential of our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta, all because he didn’t like the questions that Jim was asking him. We didn’t pick that fight. We didn’t want that fight. But the decision to fight for our right was easy.
The day that we allow those in power to determine who gets to ask them questions, and what kinds of questions we ask, that is the day that this dinner ceases to exist. Some things are bigger than us, and sometimes the right thing to do is extremely clear. As you know we won that case. A judge appointed by Donald Trump restored Jim’s White House credential almost immediately. And today, like every day, Jim was there asking the questions that still make them uncomfortable, as it should be. We sued the president of the United States because on that day it was CNN, but on any other day it could have been any one of you.
This administration has made it abundantly clear that they do not have respect for or tolerance of a free and independent press. They call us the enemy of the people. They limit our access. They selectively grant interviews most often outlets that assured them that they will follow the script. Quite literally, they put our lives at risk with their words and their actions. When they took Jim’s press credential they were sending the strongest signal yet that they truly did not understand the mandate of a free press, and we felt it was our responsibility, on behalf of everyone in the media in this country and around the world, to respond. The swift response from the court and ultimately the administration’s capitulation was a good thing. It was the right outcome. The fact that we had to do it at all remains troubling. There is a long history of those who have occupied great seats of power in this country not agreeing with everything that is said and written about them, as I have said many times before. This administration need not like what we say, but they should respect our right to say it. That’s what our lawsuit was about.
The president has treated our CNN journalists with disrespect on more than one occasion. The name calling and the insults are, sadly, something that has become the norm when covering him. We don’t like it and it is wrong. But it will not stop us from doing our jobs. Revoking a press pass does, and that is something that no media organization should ever be okay with. We are living in extraordinary times. What we do has never been more important. The First Amendment grants us the right to ask any question we want, and that responsibility is not something that should be taken lightly. Suing the White House is not something that should be taken lightly either. I am proud to be part of an organization that was willing to take the bold step that we did. I want to take this opportunity to also thank every organization here tonight for supporting us through that.
We must all always stand up for the First Amendment. Even if it was originally third. Thank you very much.
Launched in 1980, CNN is widely known to be the most trusted source for news and information. The CNN umbrella includes nine cable and satellite television networks, two radio networks, the CNN Digital Network, which is the top network of news Web sites in the United States, and CNN Newsource, the world’s most extensively syndicated news service. In 2018, CNN was a target of multiple anti-First Amendment threats and terrorist incidents, including the delivery of explosive devices to their office in New York City and the revocation of White House correspondent Jim Acosta’s press credentials.
Acosta’s U.S. Secret Service “hard pass,” which granted him access as a member of the news media to the White House, was revoked hours after he asked tough questions during a presidential news conference. CNN filed a lawsuit seeking the restoration of the press credentials, arguing that that the president and five others – including Chief of Staff John Kelly and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders – violated Acosta’s First Amendment rights of freedom of the press and Fifth Amendment rights of due process. RTDNA and other press freedom groups voiced their support for CNN’s lawsuit, and more than a dozen major news organizations, including Fox News, filed a “friend of the court” brief advocating on behalf of CNN and Acosta. U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly ruled in favor of CNN and reinstating Acosta’s press credentials, upholding fundamental tenets of the U.S. Constitution and defending press freedom.
Jeff Zucker has been the president of CNN since 2013. He oversees all of CNN’s businesses, including the CNN US television network, CNN International, HLN, all of CNN’s digital properties, and Great Big Story.
Zucker has had one of the most storied careers in media. He took over the Today show at the age of 26 and re-invented the historic morning news program, went on to a 25-year career at NBC Universal, co-founded the online streaming service Hulu, and is currently leading a dramatic turnaround at CNN.
Prior to coming to CNN, Zucker spent more than two decades at NBC Universal, where he rose through the ranks to become the company’s president and CEO. He headed up the global media and entertainment company, which includes the NBC broadcast network, its news division and all of its cable properties (including MSNBC, CNBC, USA, Bravo, Oxygen and Syfy), Universal Pictures and the Universal Theme Parks.
First Amendment Award
Updated on 2019-03-14T18:48:11+00:00, by .