Using Freedom of Speech Wrongly

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CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour received Quinnipiac University's Fred Friendly First Amendment Award at a June 16 luncheon in New York City. What follows is an edited version of her acceptance speech.

I came over to America a week ago. I felt that something strange was going on: this bashing of an entire nation [France]—its people, its culture and its history. We hear politicians—in my view, disingenuously—saying that it's the American people who feel this way because of the way France behaved during the war. I believe it was led from the top, that it was something that happened in Congress, in the punish-the-French brigade at the White House, even in the press. It was a joke when it was ... freedom fries and freedom toast. We all enjoyed a jolly good laugh.

In recent days and weeks, I have been reading about French students who were uninvited from a long-standing exchange program in Philadelphia because parents didn't want to house French children and some others felt they couldn't guarantee their safety. The Air Show in France, which is always attended by the U.S. military and U.S. industries, has been boycotted. French journalists [were] sent back from the Los Angeles airport. ...

In my 13 years of covering turbulent parts of the world, I have seen the problems speech can do if it's misused. I have seen how jokes and ribbing lead to violence, unpleasantness and mass killings. I am not suggesting that's going to happen here, but I feel very strongly about it. ...

I feel particularly that all the institutions of the establishment, including loud and leading voices in the media, hew in a ... [conservative] political direction. That's fine. That's their right. That's the way the system works.

Those of us who have alternative views need to raise these alternate views and not be afraid to stand up for what's right and what's true. ... I don't think our patriotism or sanity should be impugned.

I believe we went to war with Iraq with so little debate ... and now look at what's happening. There are legitimate questions: Where are the weapons? Were we prepared for the post-war in Iraq as we prepared for the war? These need to be debated in my view.

I have never felt more anxious or more fearful about the world and America's role in it. I don't remember ... America being so vilified, so mistrusted, so feared. ... There is something wrong going on ... and the relationship is not all that it should be between America and the rest of the world. ...

I think that jokes, miscommunication and using freedom of speech wrongly can lead to the wrong end. ... After seeing what misused speech can do whether it be on the battlefields of Yugoslavia or Rwanda or anywhere, I personally have resolved to try ... never to abuse the privilege of the First Amendment and the freedom of speech that we have been given and I have the honor to serve.

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