Greeting his "fellow enemies of the people," veteran political reporter and author John Heilemann said Monday that it feels like First Amendment values are more important than ever and potentially more at risk. Fellow honoree Mark Halperin had a slightly different take, encouraging journalists to avoid gloom and doom scenarios. Pioneering broadcast executive Stanley Hubbard said he thought the First Amendment was safe and that Donald Trump has the right to be a jerk just like everyone else.
Heilemann and Halperin—creators, executive producers and cohosts of Showtime’s The Circus, were receiving the Radio Television Digital News Foundation First Amendment award, while Hubbard was honored—along with his late father—with the First Amendment Leadership Award at a dinner Monday night in Washington, D.C.
Saying he was the first but probably not the last to point it out—he wasn't—Heilemann said that the current Administration "seems to think that we in the journalism profession are part of the opposition. Its attitude, both implicitly and explicitly, are more hostile and disdainful of what journalists do than any in his lifetime, he said.
He focused on what he said was the Administration's "wanton disregard for the truth" and "constant lying" about things both large and small, profound and trivial.
He said the business faces an "enormous challenge," both individually and as an institution.
Heilemann said he was asked recently at an event what had happened to objective and dispassionate journalists. He said his answer was that dispassionate journalism was the last thing that was needed. Journalism needs to be "passionate and fearless about what matters most: about what is true and passionate about holding the powerful interests in this country and particularly about those in this administration to account on behalf of the public."
A little more than 50 days into the new Administration, he said he was heartened by how media outlets in print, radio, TV and digital were relentlessly and competitively rising to the challenge.
Halperin, who shared the award with Heilemann, tried to put the best face on a tough situation. He had three things to add about covering the current Administration.
First, he said, journalists should not "make it personal." He said it was a mistake to make it a "personal fight" and to that extent, said journalists do need to be "dispassionate about our role…" Second, while business models in the journalism industry are changing, what can't change is the responsibility to be "zealous guardians" of the public trust that is the First Amendment, regardless of the technology or distribution platform. Third, he said journalists should do their jobs joyfully, just as politicians at their best are happy warriors (the usually smiling progressive Hubert Humphrey's famous moniker).
He advised against becoming "apocalyptically negative" about what is currently going on as though the country is going to end. "I don't think we serve our profession well. I think we can be happy warriors while we fight for the First Amendment and hold all powerful interests accountable."
Hubbard—CEO of Hubbard Broadcasting, who was receiving the First Amendment Leadership Award along with his late father Stanley E. Hubbard—said he was not as negative about the current political situation as some.
"I think the President has the right to be a jerk just like anybody else," he said, adding that it was his right of free speech to say things that might sound stupid. He said not a Donald Trump or anyone else is going to take away the First Amendment. "Just keep doing what you're doing and do it well, and you'll never have to worry about that First Amendment. Everything is going to be fine."