By Noor Odeh, Northwestern University in Qatar and Jazmin Goodwin, Howard University
Hundreds of journalists and storytellers gathered for RTDNF’s 27th First Amendment Awards Dinner. The annual awards, hosted by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, honored five journalists and newsroom leaders for their passion and commitment to upholding the First Amendment.
Five awards were presented: First Amendment Award, First Amendment Leadership Award, First Amendment Service Award, Leonard Zeidenberg First Amendment Award, and RTDNF Lifetime Achievement Award. Mike Cavander, Executive Drector of RTDNA and RTDNF shared the importance of the First Amendment and RTDNF’s growing role in protecting it, saying, “This organization has formed a task force on media freedom and protecting first amendment rights. It is a cornerstone of what we do."
The First Amendment Award was presented by host Chris Matthews to Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, creators, executive producers, and co-hosts of Showtime’s The Circus. Both are political analysts and co-authors of New York Times bestsellers Game Change and Double Down. When John Heilemann stepped to the podium to make his remarks, he shared, “I am deeply proud of to be a part of a profession that fights for something so essential.”
The First Amendment Leadership Award was presented to executive chairman, chief executive officer and president of Hubbard Broadcasting Inc. Stanley S. Hubbard and tthe founder of Hubbard Broadcasting, his late father, Stanley E. Hubbard. Hubbard Broadcasting was the first television station in the world to broadcast newscasts completely in color as well as one of the first two stations to have weather, radar, and the first television newsroom in the country to practice investigative reporting.
Robin Sproul, Vice President and Washington Bureau Chief of ABC News and a former RTDNF First Amendment Award winner, presented First Amendment Service Award to ABC News Radio Vice President and General Manager, Steve Jones. Jones covered a wide range of major news headlines such as the Iran-Contra affairs and the First Gulf War. This award is presented to professionals who work behind-the-scenes coverage of news. When Steve Jones stood to accept his award he said, “ABC News Radio has 1500 affiliates and I have 1500 reasons to say thank you. Press freedom is an essential thread of the fabric of our democracy. Nothing is more important to a professional journalist than accuracy. Being right is more important than being first.”
The Leonard Zeidenberg Award was presented by Marsha Cooke, VP CBS News Services to Bill Whitaker, 60 Minutes Correspondent at CBS News. The award honors radio, television journalists and news executives who had made a major contribution to the protection of First Amendment freedom. Whitaker has covered many presidential campaigns including George W. Bush’s campaign in 2000, and the funeral of Nelson Mandela among many other events. Whitaker said, “There is surely a reason that amendment comes first. It is in those 45 words that guarantees our democracy will always remain vital and relevant.”
Nina Totenberg, Legal Affairs Correspondent at NPR News was presented the RTDNF Lifetime Achievement Award by Michael Oreskes, Vice President of News and Editorial Director of NPR. Oreskes said, “Today we honor the journalist who is not just known to large audiences but known in a special way to her peers.” Totenberg personally helped defend the first amendment when she was once subpoenaed by the Senate to disclose sources. She refused, and protected her sources.
Three journalists who passed away in 2016 were also honored for their courage, legacy, and lasting bodies of work. The honorees included David Gilkey, NPR photographer; Gwen Ifill, PBS NewsHour Anchor and managing editor; and longtime PR executive George Glazer, who chaired the committee that launched the First Amendment Awards in 1990.
For complete coverage of the First Amendment Awards, visit our coverage page, which includes video of the entire event, along with interviews of honorees and presenters, photos, the event program and more.