Remarks by WHCA President Steven Portnoy at the association’s annual dinner on April 30:
President Biden, Dr. Biden, Ladies and Gentlemen:
We journalists are the inheritors of a public trust.
We’re the guardians of the people’s right to know what their government is doing in their name, with their money. We are the questioners, the contrarians, posing provocative queries so that government officials may be made to explain their views and defend their actions for posterity and for the whole free world to see.
And as in the case of the women we’ve honored here tonight, we are a privileged few, uniquely positioned to bring public concerns directly to those who hold — or seek — power.
There is no perfect way to do this work. It is as it ever was. But it is now at all times and increasingly for profit subject to derision and suspicions of bad faith or political motivation.
Working journalists in the United States have come under assault: harangued while covering street demonstrations, taunted at political rallies, harassed on social media, their equipment gleefully destroyed at the Capitol on January 6th.
In dangerous places all over the world, journalists are subject to jailing and intimidation for their use of pen, pad, camera and keyboard. They’ve been tortured, murdered, kidnapped, and we must never forget.
Mr. President, at Table 48 tonight is a woman named Debra Tice. Mrs. Tice, would you please stand?
Mrs. Tice’s son, Austin, is a colleague of ours at the Washington Post, McClatchy and CBS, and he should be here with us tonight. But he’s been held captive in Syria since 2012.
As we take note of Trevor Reed’s return, our thoughts tonight are with Austin Tice, and our collective hopes are that after nearly ten years in captivity he will soon return home safely to his mother, his father, his colleagues and his friends.
We are thinking tonight of our colleagues in unsafe places everywhere — of Northern Virginia resident and Washington Post contributor Vladimir Kara-Murza, arrested this month in Russia for the high crime of speaking the truth about Vladimir Putin’s war atrocities in a speech to American lawmakers. The charge is an affront to free people everywhere.
The brave journalists you’re about to see have been killed in the past two months covering Russia’s war in Ukraine.
(VIDEOTAPE OF JOURNALISTS)
Needless to say, our prayers are with their families and with Benjamin Hall of Fox News, who continues his recovery tonight.
Seventy-five years ago, before he demonstrated the power of television to highlight hypocrisy, and allowed Americans to see and reject demagoguery, Edward R. Murrow read to his CBS Radio audience from his contract. He noted that he agreed in writing that his broadcasts would contain facts reported “as fairly as possible to enable the listener to weigh and judge for himself.”
We who enjoy the protections of a free press know and should always remember those protections were established for the people. It is the people’s right to know. It is the people’s right to decide this country’s future course.
To gird our democracy, we reporters believe that in the United States no man or woman who holds — or seeks — power is above being questioned. Our democracy depends on journalists shining light and truth upon darkness and lies, and bringing accountability to officials at every level of our government.
We gather here tonight to honor that work and to celebrate the American freedoms of speech, press, religion, petition and peaceable assembly, without which our democratic constitutional republic could not survive.
And in that respect, we proudly continue our tradition of raising a glass in a toast to the First Amendment and to the President of the United States.