First Amendment Service Award

This award honors professionals in local or network news who work in an off-air, management, largely behind-the-scenes capacity.

David Rhodes
President, CBS News

David Rhodes, CBS News President in Studio 57 at the Broadcast Center, NYC. Photo: John Paul Filo/CBS ©2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Acceptance Remarks

Thanks, Margaret. Like anyone should, Gayle really did have difficulty with those images. And who wouldn’t, because seeing a school shooting unfold isn’t anything that we should want to witness on tape. Or to hear, because probably the sound is the most difficult part of those smartphone recordings of the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. That’s not the only material that’s hard to watch, disgusted even. We recently showed 60 Minutes viewers horrific images of a chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria. Hard to witness.

Putting a camera in two billion pockets around the world is just one thing that’s different about news coverage since 9/11, when we had just one film of the first plane hitting the towers and the terrible events that day unfolded with very little sound for most people experiencing them at home. Now people can easily document an incident like Parkland, and so our discussion was: who are we to decide that the truth shouldn’t be seen by a wider audience? If these images can be put in appropriate context by our reporters, aren’t they important for people to see?

Our job as a news organization is to reveal these events not conceal them. Now, it was a fair criticism the day of the Parkland attack that these images needed to be accompanied by warnings, need to be labeled appropriately.  And we take on criticisms of the first airing which came in a special report interrupting our broadcast network at CBS. But not showing these pictures at all just aids bad actors who fear that the truth could lead to policy consequences, or, much worse, conspiracy theorists who want you to think that it didn’t even happen. You have to ask yourself, who is being helped by us not doing this coverage?

Our job as a news organization is to reveal these events not conceal them.

I’m so pleased to be joined by a number of colleagues tonight. Nancy Cordis is here – no one is better on the Hill covering Congress. She’ll probably get the first criticism when we do something that upsets lawmakers. Jeff Begays, taking a couple of hours off of the lively federal law enforcement beat. Chip Reed picking up the slack on his old White House assignment earlier in this week while will we go through a transition there. Rita Braver, who is part of America’s most beloved news magazine which isn’t in print, it’s Sunday morning.  David Begnaud, who I’m kind of surprised is not still in Puerto Rico. Still!  Ed O’Keefe, who we hired just in time for this event, is here. Ed is our new CBS News political correspondent. Welcome, Ed. Paula Reed, who lets us know every time Bob Mueller goes out for coffee or James Comey moves his car.

Margaret emceeing tonight is finding out that moderating a studio show each Sunday means presiding in a Washington hotel ballroom each Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, but on her path to “Face the Nation,” Margaret’s press conference appearances did include a London Q&A with John Kerry that changed the course of the conflict in Syria, and a Trump Tower confrontation with the president that revealed his true feelings about last summer’s events in Charlottesville, so thank you, Margaret for that.

And our Washington bureau leadership is here. Mary Hager had a late conflict, but Bureau Chief Chris Isham is here, which means this is 3 hours of the week that I won’t be calling Chris Isham. And more than all of that, my wife came, so Emma, thanks for everything.

When the RTDNF reached out to me about this award I loved the idea behind it. What your program says about recognizing what goes on behind the scenes, because it’s often there that the snap decisions on these issues need to be made – and by humans, since we don’t have an algorithm in charge of press freedom, which I’ll get to in a moment.

But the First Amendment is a pretty thin read, just four words in a subordinate clause: “or of the press,” give us constitutional protection. Thin, but not fragile. You were granted these freedoms. Use them!

You were granted these freedoms. Use them!

As Margaret noted, that’s why we put the First Amendment on the wall in our broadcast center in New York: to remind people to use them.

I said news gathering has changed and on behalf of everyone that I work with at CBS News, I hope no one tails you on the way home just for having been here. And thank you! And please stay dedicated to the principles that we’re celebrating here tonight. Thanks so much.


David Rhodes was named president of CBS News in 2011. He is responsible for all news content for the CBS Television Network, CBS digital platforms, and CBS News Radio.

Rhodes oversaw the creation of “CBS This Morning,” a morning show with a serious news focus, in 2012. Since its launch, the broadcast has added more than a million daily viewers and is delivering the network’s largest morning news audience in nearly 30 years.  During his tenure, he also hired Jane Pauley to be the anchor of “CBS Sunday Morning” and promoted John Dickerson to be the anchor of “Face the Nation.” Most recently, he named Jeff Glor as the next anchor of the “CBS Evening News.”

In 2014, Rhodes, with CBS Interactive, launched CBSN, which live-streams CBS News’ journalism to new audiences and is available 24 hours a day on mobile, CBSNews.com, and streaming services.

Rhodes joined CBS from Bloomberg LP, where, as head of U.S. Television, he was responsible for all programming, development, editorial, and newsgathering. He began his career at the Fox News Channel in 1996 and later became the channel’s vice president of news, where he was responsible for the network’s daily news reports and breaking news—including overseeing the Fox News’ Assignment Desk on September 11, 2001.

He has twice been named to Fortune magazine’s “40 Under 40” list, he’s also been named to the Hollywood Reporter’s “35 Most Powerful People in Media” and to GQ’s “50 Most Powerful People in Washington.”

Rhodes became a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum in 2013 and is a member of the International Media Council at the World Economic Forum’s annual meetings in Davos, Switzerland. He is on the Board of Trustees of Rice University and the advisory board of the James A. Baker III Institute. Rhodes serves as the chairman of the advisory board for the Edward R. Murrow Center for a Digital World at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

First Amendment Service Award 2018

Updated on 2019-01-11T17:14:37+00:00, by firstawards.