With a probable war in Iraq dividing world and U.S. public opinion, a theme
of Thursday night's Radio and Television News Directors Foundation First
Amendment Dinner in Washington, D.C., was summed up by host Lesley Stahl of CBS News:
"This seems an appropriate time for all of us to reaffirm our commitment to
publish and broadcast a wide-open, no-holds-barred debate on the big problems of
the day ... There may be no more important expression of patriotism and our
commitment to the First Amendment," she said, "than to do our best possible work
to educate and inform the American people of all sides of the debate."
"Zeidenberg Award" winner Judy Woodruff echoed that sentiment, saying, "At a
time when much of the press is being criticized for being arrogant and out of
touch, we can't be deterred from the fight for the people's right to know."
Woodruff said that should mean full access to the coming war, including the
ability to file.
First Amendment lawyer and "First Amendment Leadership Award" recipient Floyd
Abrams said it was hard at times like this to strike the correct balance between
civil liberties and national security.
That said, he added, in terms of the First Amendment, it was
"especially important not to compromise in times like these."
Abrams also said it is crucial that the press be "vigilant and serious and
knowledgeable, as it serves as a check on the government."
Woodruff got the biggest laugh of the evening when she had a little fun at
the expense of her Cable News Network bosses and the ongoing changes at her shop.
After thanking CNN newsgathering head Eason Jordan, Newsource sales president
Susan Grant and News Group president Jim Walton for being in attendance, she
added: "I say they are CNN executives, but let me check my