Leonard Zeidenberg First Amendment Award

This award is presented to a radio or television journalist or news executive who has made a major contribution to the protection of First Amendment freedoms. It is named for the late Broadcasting & Cable senior correspondent, Leonard Zeidenberg.

David Muir, ABC News

A past RTDNF Scholarship Recipient, ABC World News Tonight Anchor David Muir delivers exceptional journalism with his own dispatches from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Beirut, Mogadishu and Tahrir Square among countless other global hotspots. Muir has been recognized with numerous Edward R. Murrow Awards.

Acceptance Remarks

Surreal. I’m not quite sure what you say after that. I could try to turn attention to Lindsey Davis’ rock star year or share this moment with all the honorees in the room which I think is only appropriate: Senator Blumenthal Bob, Barb, Steve, who couldn’t be here, the team at 60 and Lori who said earlier about that moment with her son, and just please tell your son that we can continue that conversation anytime you’d like.

I am honored, I am filled with profound gratitude I stand before you here tonight. I want to thank RTDNF.

I want to thank my colleagues: Robin, Diane, Martha, who’s here, the whole team from Washington and the team from New York and this is a family that I’ve been working with since the very beginning long before this current job that I have but the weekend news, putting it together with an extension cord and a magic marker. They’ve been with me from the very beginning and they’re all here tonight.

The news division president James Goldston sitting here with me as well and Almin Karamehmedovic the executive producer who often leaves right after the newscast with me, carrying his camera. Grateful to have you all here with me tonight. I do realize that after that video tonight I will never be allowed to hold any new born again. But I mean come on look at how it turned out I don’t think anything went wrong but mentioning Fukushima in the maternity ward I mean should have thought about that. There are so many moments that shape us along the way – all the journalists in this room.  There are the adversities that we face through childhood, adolescence, in our adult lives and let’s face it we have all faced those moments and and hopefully we cherish those moments because I think it’s the tolerance born from that adversity that makes us better, stronger, more tolerant journalists later on.

I remember as a boy in upstate New York I would excuse myself from the backyard – everybody else would be playing and I’d be the only one to go in to watch the news. I’d watch the local news, I’d devour World news tonight with Peter Jennings and it’s true although I probably could not have put words to it at the time why I was drawn necessarily to Peter although I would try to guess who the person of the week was with the clues that he would offer and I recognize now that he was having a conversation with America and I somehow wanted in on that conversation and he was the globetrotter.

Certainly Dan and Tom were on the air at the time and they all traveled all over the world, witnessed such historic moments and Peter was always right there too and so there was something about that that gave me a little bit of hope as a kid from upstate New York that maybe one day I would see the world too. I did do the news from a cardboard box in my living room at one point and I also wrote to the local news reporters.

I think I was twelve, thirteen years old and some of them probably look back on that and think, oh why did we write back to this kid but they did and they invited me in and I began interning I think at fourteen years old carrying all the equipment and there was a fair amount of hazing involved and that would make sense when you’re fourteen and your voice hasn’t changed yet and you’re going to the newsroom and they would on school breaks and vacations march me right up to that doorway in the newsroom and measure how much I had grown from year to year and how many octaves my voice had fallen from year to year and I’m grateful that it did otherwise I wouldn’t be here. You know there are so many moments in that video as I was watching that remind me of the lessons I’ve learned along the way and I’m sure many of you in this room have learned in Katrina we were sleeping on the floor the Superdome.

The hurricane hadn’t hit yet and I’ll never forget when it did hit the top of the roof of the Superdome begin to peel back and I watched as the families of New Orleans who had been told to go to the Superdome with their belongings to seek shelter it was literally raining on them and I thought the indignity of what what it was they were going through and little did any of us know that the true horror hadn’t even set in yet. The levees would then break and all of these families would be told to go to the convention center where there would be help, food and medicine and the families listened and I remember traveling to the convention center. We wanted to check in on the families. We turn the corner and we were in whatever rental car we could get our hands on the time and I distinctly remember it was overflowing with people. They were out front, the families, the mothers and we drove.

By the window was down in the car, we had our camera trained on the faces and the moms were crying out literally saying we need help and I thought at the time and this is probably from my own childhood and and being a fairly young reporter at ABC that this was a terrible invasion of their suffering, me in this car with our camera trained on them. I wanted to sink down in the seat but that was a turning point in that story and I know many people in this room were also down covering Katrina and I think that was a powerful lesson not only for me but for all of us down there about the power of an image of letting those voices be heard because it was after those images from a number of us that the help finally arrived and I carry that lesson with me through all of the reporting that we do.

It’s a fundamental responsibility I think we have in this job to exercise that right truly the right that comes with the First Amendment, which is to give a voice to those who otherwise would not have one.

I think about the child refugees in Syria. We hopped on the back of that flat bed with them. They were going out to the potato fields singing songs. These are children have been ripped from their schools and from everything they knew in Syria. They were on the Lebanon border and they were filling potato bags, six seven eight hour workdays and yet they were so cheerful, they were so happy I was in the back of that pickup truck to tell their story and I and I’m sure many of you do this too but on my iPhone I’ve carried for years I haven’t downloaded any of these photos.

I carry all of the still photos I take of these children that I meet along the way and it wasn’t terribly long ago we were in Beirut and I wanted to try to see if we could find one of those children and it was in the middle of another breaking story so there wasn’t a lot of time to do that but we went to what had been a makeshift auto repair shop that the father had set up. The mother had been a school teacher in Syria. Both had lost their jobs obviously and we turned the corner we were just going up and down. I had a sense of the neighborhood but wasn’t sure which street it would be and we pull up and I recognize that this repair shop and the father has a beaming smile immediately as soon as the door opened. He remembered us from years earlier and he said Rami is out the soccer fields.

I wish you could see him, and I said well that’s why I’m here and so we waited and we went on a quite a hunt through the soccer fields of Beirut and we could not find him and hours later before we were getting ready to go on the air I got a call that Rami was home and they wanted to see us so we went over and it’s really striking when you return, see a boy become a teenager and to have him tell you that he still was dreaming of a country he could call home and to me that’s a reminder that you know we all we all get to parachute in to these stories but then we leave and they continue to live.

Live the story, the suffering and that’s why I think it’s so important that we return and it goes back to that fundamental definition of the First Amendment which is not about us. It really isn’t. I don’t think it’s really about any one individual in this room, any one voice but it is about our power to give others a voice and we need to continue to protect that and to exercise it. You know just a couple weeks ago we went to Auschwitz. Took a break from impeachment and thought we go back on the seventy fifth anniversary and we had followed the survivors for weeks as they prepared to go back on this trip and I’ll never forget Tova.

Tova Friedman and she had sat down with us for quite a lengthy interview long before we actually made the trip and she told me and her story mirrors so many others and it will sound familiar to you but she told me that she had been separated from her mother shortly after she arrived at Auschwitz and that she remembers time had gone by and it it came to the day when they showed up at the barrack and said all of you come with us and they brought the children to one of the crematoriums and Tova said she remembers being walked along a fence on the way to the crematorium and she could hear voices and she didn’t recognize the voice at first and she then realized it was her mother crying out asking where you going and she was just a child and you can imagine how she would answer in a sort of matter of fact way she said they’re taking us, it’s our turn now this is where children go and she told me how when she was taken into the crematorium they then said take your clothes off and anyone who has read and reported on the Holocaust knows that so many of the children and these families were told to take off your clothes hang them on the hook, remember the number where you’re putting your clothes, leading them of course to believe that they would return to them and while so many did not, on that particular day Tova remembers the adults in the room with the clipboards the anger in the room and the chaos that ensued and she suddenly said that they all said to the children put your clothes back on so she did and they marched again along that fence and as they were walking back along the fence she then heard her mother again and her mother she said asked what happened and she said well something went wrong but they’ll bring us another day mommy because that’s what a child whose horror becomes reality will do.

But what Tova said she didn’t realize at that point she’s just a child and certainly her mother didn’t know either was that the Soviets were about to arrive. The Red Army was going to be there soon thereafter and Tova and her mother would be spared and I just share that story with you because when we returned to Auschwitz I remember waiting for Tova and the group of survivors that we had profiled to arrive and greeting her back where she had been seventy five years ago and there was one of the crematoriums there and she wanted to go in and she felt very strongly about this and so we went into the crematorium and I suddenly I had this feeling that washed over me that was very much like the moment we drove past the convention center all those years ago that this was an invasion of an incredibly personal moment for Tova and so I stood back and just watched from afar. She didn’t say much. She offered a prayer and when she emerged from the crematorium, the tears streaming down her face she said to me thank you and I said to her what any of you in this room would say which is no Tova thank you for sharing your story and she said no thank you because he listens and if you hadn’t listened our story would not still be alive today.

I think that we are reminded of the power of the First Amendment every time we come in contact with someone like Tova and as I was preparing for this award I thought I should share that moment because she reminded me of something which is intuitive for all of us who’ve been on all of these stories of suffering and then and then we have to leave and we wonder how how it all turned out. And Tova told me that it was a gift to her that I listen to her and I quietly thought to myself this is a gift, a huge responsibility for all of us in this room but a gift to be able to listen to her and I think that as long as we think about it in those terms we will always be on the right side of history.

I said at the beginning here tonight that I’m a student of television. I would hope that we all still are. What a gift it is to show up at work every day and learn something new and to be tested in a new way, to try to peel back another layer, and some days we do a better job of it than others, but I’ve learned from many in this room. I mean I grew up watching 60 Minutes. I still watch 60 Minutes. It’s appointment television I watch the competitors at NBC and I have great respect for all of the work that is that we do and you know when we throw out a lead story three or four times in the last hour before air I don’t think wow I can’t believe you’re doing this. Can’t believe we pulled this off again. I think the smart folks in this room recognize that we’re all doing that day in day out. There is exhaustion but we keep doing it and I think more than ever we ought to have each other’s backs in this moment. There are a few people that I want to point out in particular because when I talk about learning from people in the room there was something that I read a couple weeks back and I shared it with Robin and it said no matter how hard it gets keep going on your journey because you’re never quite sure who’s watching you and to me when I read it I thought of Robin Roberts.

You lead by example and I just look around the table. Martha Raddatz who’s fearless, I mean the pictures of us on the Syrian border are nothing compared to what Martha has done. I think of Diane Sawyer and I love that clip from 60 Minutes and I love her stories from 60 through the years and there are countless times when Diane has found a way to signal to me that if you’re in a situation that is extremely uncomfortable and you’re pressing someone of power, keep going. Make it uncomfortable.  Demand an answer. And there was a presidential candidate in particular and and I’ve done a few these campaigns now so I won’t say who the candidate is you can try to figure it out but I was asking the candidate a question didn’t like the question but I pressed and the campaign called right afterward and put enormous pressure on us asking us why would we use that exchange at all and not only did we use the exchange but we used the follow up because word came from Diane and she said you are going to use that exchange and if they don’t like it we’ll do a three part series on that exchange. I love that about her and about the message that that sends and that’s the message I hope we send every night as a team.

I stand here in this room humbled by that video, by the people who have been honored before me and I simply ask let’s all not only celebrate the First Amendment but let’s all continue to inspire each other. Just remember the people like Tova and the children on the Syrian border and the families of Katrina.

We are the caretakers of their words. They share with us their stories but we’re the caretakers we stand as guardians of the First Amendment and I’m really really proud to stand here with you tonight.

Thank you very much thank you.

David Muir

Muir is an Emmy-award winning journalist for ABC News. He is the anchor and managing editor of ABC World News Tonight with David Muir and co-anchor of ABC’s 20/20. For more than a decade, Muir has reported from international hotspots around the world including Tehran, Gaza and Fukushima. Muir’s exclusive interviews generate global headlines. Muir joined the ABC World News Tonight newscast in 2014 after working in various roles at ABC since 2003, including anchor of World News Now, World News this Morning and other newscasts. Prior to joining ABC News, Muir distinguished himself as an award-winning anchor and correspondent for WCVB-TV in Boston. While in Boston, Muir was part of the team that received the regional Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting and Associated Press honors for his work tracing the path of the September 11th hijackers.

Leonard Zeidenberg First Amendment Award

Updated on 2020-04-24T14:53:12+00:00, by firstawards.