Fox News Channel chairman Roger Ailes accepted the RTNDF’s 2007 First Amendment Leadership Award tonight. In a wide-ranging speech, he thanked reporters like Steve Centanni who “faced death for a single reason — they’re journalists.”
He recognized the assistance other news organizations provided in obtaining Centanni’s release from kidnappers last August, adding: “I just want everybody to know that if any of your people are in trouble, Fox will be there, too.”
He took a crack at Larry King, saying he watches the CNN show because “I like to keep up with what’s happened to Lana Turner,” before adding that he and King are old friends.
He delivered a few funny “headlines,” encouraged diversity of thought in newsrooms, said “freedom depends on fairness in the press,” and concluded with thoughts on religion.
Click continued to read the full text of the speech…
Thank you all very much. Good evening. Thank you for this important and prestigious award which I accept on behalf of the Fox journalists.
Thanks to my colleagues for that great tape. I guess they got the right people, that could have been ugly, but —
Thanks to Barbara for putting this event together and running this organization. Ever since they announced I was getting a freedom of speech award she’s been holding her breath. You can exhale now, it’s ok, I promise to behave. I know that’s a disappointment to some of you.
I’d like to also thank Phillip Balboni for his distinguished career in cable and news. I can’t say much more about Kimberly and Bob, other than you have my personal deep admiration for your superb journalism and your courage. It was interesting as I watched each of you up here enjoying this evening and thinking what the last year must have been like for each of you. The pain, the difficulty, and yet, your determination was astounding. Just astounding.
My special thanks to Steve Centanni, who along with Olaf Wiig and the two other recipients, faced death for a single reason — they’re journalists.
I must add for a second that the real heroes of this story aren’t here tonight: Anita McNaught, wife of Olaf Wiig, reporter Jennifer Griffin, our reporter in Jerusalem. They stayed in Gaza, they stayed in the fight. They held demonstrations. Women held demonstrations in the street in front of the Palestinian authority. It was a very difficult time for everybody. I had other people working with me that I can’t talk about, but they did a terrific job.
And I’d also like to thank the other news organizations. I contacted each of them and all of them said ‘whatever you need, we’ll be there,’ and I just want everybody to know that if any of your people are in trouble, Fox will be there, too.
Journalists being honored tonight once again prove not only is journalism a dangerous profession, but journalists often go above and beyond the call of duty.
My wife’s here tonight, my beautiful wife, Beth. She and I were watching Larry King — oh, oops! watching Larry King. I like to keep up with what’s happened to Lana Turner [laughter] — but as the story of Bob unfolded, I was watching you on Larry — Larry’s an old friend of mine — Beth and I were both moved by the pain and the suffering and the courage, but also, of your wife, Lee, and her friend, Melanie Bloom, who lost her husband, David Bloom, a great journalist. The families of the journalists have many of the same problems as the families of the military. They go through so much, but the families did not choose this life. So when they’re called upon, they have to hold everything together and rise to the occasion.
So I’m sure Bob and Kimberly and Steve will join all of us in acknowledging and thanking the families for what they do when journalism demands difficult choices.
And I wouldn’t be here in it wasn’t for my wife Beth. Being me ain’t easy, and being her is really hard. Before I comment on the first amendment — I know it’s getting late, but forgive me, because I’ve had to add a couple of minutes here.
First of all, I was told I should do some headlines, so I’m only anchoring this, re-reporting. I think we all need to go very slow on this global warming thing. I realize saving energy is good, but I think it may be a trick to get our anchors to stop using blow dryers.
A man in France was arrested today for using his car to run down a pedestrian. He said he thought it was Osama bin Laden. Ok, it was a mistake, but it still ranks as France’s biggest military victory ever.
John Seigenthaler and I are the same age. Look at how he let himself go.
It is true that I said Britney Spears looked great at the Academy Awards. and I later found out it was Jack Nicholson.
It is true that just in the last two weeks Hillary Clinton has had over 200 phone calls telling her in order to win the presidency she must stay on the road for the next two years. It is not true they were all from Bill.
And it is true that Barack Obama is on the move. I don’t know if it’s true that President Bush called Musharraf and said, ‘Why can’t we catch this guy?’
I feel compelled, however — on a serious note — to say a few words. We’re headed into covering a tough political season and all of us will be called upon to do our best and be fair. Recently pressure groups are forcing candidates to conclude that the best strategy for journalists is divide and conquer, to only appear on those networks and venues that give them favorable coverage.
There’s a long tradition of news organizations, national and local, sometimes together, sponsoring presidential and other candidate debates. The organizations and the panelists have been the objects of a lot of advice and even pressure as to how these debates should be conducted and what questions should be asked. This pressure has been successfully resisted, but it’s being tried again this year with the added wrinkle that candidates are being asked to boycott debates because certain groups wants to approve the sponsoring organizations. This pressure must be resisted as it has been in the past. Any candidate for high office of either party who believes he can blacklist any news organization is making a terrible mistake about journalists. And any candidate of either party who cannot answer direct, simple, even tough questions from any journalist runs a real risk of losing the voters.
The public knows if a journalist’s question is unfair. They also know if a candidate is impeding freedom of speech and free press. If you are afraid of journalists, how will you face the real dangers in the world?
The first amendment allows us the right to assemble. So we’re constitutionally legal, although the constitution actually says peaceably assemble and the night’s not over, so we’ll see how it goes.
But it also allows us freedom of the press, which gives everyone in this room a lot of power and a lot of responsibility. It is important to remember that while the constitution guarantees freedom of the press, freedom depends on fairness in the press.
Only people who understand different points of view can exercise an informed decision in the voting booth. Freedom of the press did not invent democracy. Democracy invented freedom of the press. For saying that, I sometimes get accused of being too pro-American or too pro-Israeli. I just happen to like democracies. But it don’t mean we can’t cover the news fairly. Bias is not necessarily what you believe in, but it can be reporting a story and leaving out other people’s valid beliefs. The first amendment also guarantees freedom of speech, which is linked to another favorite word in today’s world, ‘diversity.’ But diversity is not just skin color, economic status, geography and religion. It is also diversity of thought.
The greatest danger to journalism is a newsroom or a profession where everyone thinks alike. Because then one wrong turn can cause an entire news division to implode. We must respect and encourage diversity of thought and speech in the newsroom.
Of course journalists have opinions. If you don’t have an informed opinion, you might not be too smart. And if you can’t cover something you don’t agree with fairly, you might be a weak journalist.
If you noticed, I’ve listed the freedoms in reverse order. The founding fathers actually started with freedom of religion. Now, maybe they thought it was unimportant or they thought they’d get it out of the way early. Maybe they thought it was the most important, because they started with it. Rarely do we hear the complete sentence that is in the constitution which says, quote, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of a religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’
it did not say that a couple of weeks a year we couldn’t be more tolerant, respectful of others’ beliefs, and honor publicly or privately the symbols of whatever religion we choose to follow. The constitution of the United States was not written to protect us from religion, it was written to protect us from the government interfering with our right to express our religion.
Most religions were established thousands of years ago. I haven’t heard of the government trying to establish one recently. But religion, speech, press and assembly freedoms will be protected as long as there’s an America.
Recently a man in Iran said that not only should we wipe Israel off the face of the earth, but we must imagine a world without Americans. And I thought to myself, imagine a world without America. And then I thought if that were to happen, God help the world. Thank you.