Shepard Smith, James Goldston and the Late Jamal Khashoggi Honored at 2019 RTDNF First Amendment Awards

By A.J. Katz 

The Radio Television Digital News Foundation (RTDNF) held its 2019 First Amendment Awards ceremony yesterday at the Mariott Marquis Washington D.C. The veteran ABC News senior justice correspondent Pierre Thomas hosted the 29th annual event (and is pictured with ABC News president James Goldston, who won the First Amendment Service Award, in the accompanying photo).

“Each year, we honor journalists and First Amendment leaders who have refused to let fear silence facts,” said RTDNF executive director Dan Shelley. “Men and women have fought and died to protect the First Amendment. Our nation’s highest court has consistently upheld its assurances of a free press. Though under threat more than at any time in our modern history, no temporary inhabitant of any public office or institution, no matter how powerful, may usurp it.”

Here are the honorees, also with some notable quotes from their acceptance speeches, according to CNN’s Brian Stelter, TVNewser’s founder, who was in attendance:

  • First Amendment Award: CNN. Jeff Zucker, now chairman, WarnerMedia News & Sports and president, CNN, accepted, and said CNN’s mission is to hold people in power accountable,”even when it’s uncomfortable. Especially when it’s uncomfortable.”
  • First Amendment Service Award: ABC News president James Goldston. “This moment calls for us to be better at what we do than ever before,” said Goldnston. It is our duty to bolster the real news and to discredit news you can’t trust. And when we do that I’m optimistic that good journalism will prevail.”
  • First Amendment Leadership Award: CBS News correspondent David Begnaud, who said, “I’m doing what I always dreamed of doing. …If the heart is leading the way, I don’t know if you’ll ever do something wrong.”
  • Leonard Zeidenberg First Amendment Award: Fox News chief news anchor Shepard Smith, who recalled advice from one of his journalism professors about telling the truth. “I personally believe this is the duty not only of journalists but of every person who has the honor of a platform of influence,” Smith said. “We must never manipulate or invent. We must never knowingly deceive. Because to do so is a disservice to our audience and potentially injurious to our society.”
  • Lifetime Achievement Award: WFAA-TV’s Dale Hansen, who said, “We are not the enemy of the American people, because we are the American people.”
  • First Amendment Clarity Award: NBC News’ Road Warriors correspondents. Kasie Hunt, who announced her pregnancy earlier that day, talked about the importance of showing voters on the campaign trail what journalism is really like: “It’s increasingly important in the face of this vitriolic rhetoric.”
  • RTDNF Citation of Courage: Murdered Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi and the Capital Gazette newspaper, where a gunman killed five staffers last June. Khashoggi’s honor was accepted by Karen Attiah, who said, “All he wanted to do was write.”

RTDNF also honored Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota with the First Amendment Defender Award, which recognizes an organization or person “who takes a public stand in support of press freedom.”