Secretary Kerry Remarks

It’s a special privilege for me to join the International Center for Journalists in celebrating the essential role all of you play in promoting freedom of expression and fostering democratic principles around the world.

As you know, I spent quite a number of years in the United States Senate. And just as the Senate’s oversight role is enshrined in the Constitution, yours is in the fabric of the Bill of Rights. In fact, an earlier draft of the First Amendment written by James Madison was explicit about the media’s watchdog role. “The freedom of the press,” it said, “as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.” That was the first draft, but as any newspaper reporter can tell you, and many probably have, sometimes the editors cut the best parts.

I’ve always believed that America is stronger when we not only proclaim free speech, but listen to it; when we not only demand the truth, but heed it. After all, the truth is the American bottom line. It’s fundamental to who we are and all of you at heart are truth-tellers.

You know when I came back from Vietnam, I got my first sense of trying to tell truth to power in protesting the war. And I remember vividly how journalists just like you came together to help change our nation with the printing of the Pentagon Papers, which was a seminal work that actually wound up saving American lives and helped to turn the course of that conflict. The world is a better place because journalists were willing to fight for the truth, and are willing to fight for the truth and do what’s necessary to make a difference.

And I’m proud of the difference that you are making today. This year, ICFJ is recognizing three exceptional journalists who exemplify that special brand of courage in reporting. So I want to offer my congratulations to Roman Anin, to Umar Cheema and to Richard Engel who have richly earned their awards. Thanks to Roman we have a deeper appreciation of corruption in Russia and its debilitating effects across borders. And Umar has set a new standard for courage and quality investigative reporting in Pakistan, exposing corruption and abuse of power, and at great personal risk I might add. And Richard Engel of NBC News has brought the tumultuous situations in Egypt, Libya and Syria directly into American homes with unparalleled grit and tenacity and with a great sense of reality. All of you are truth-tellers in a noble cause and today we recognize and honor your work.

We stand in solidarity with journalists the world over, those who have lost their lives and sacrificed their freedom to promote the freedom of others and those who continue in that struggle. When we protested back in the 1970s the war in Vietnam, some people would weigh in against us and I remember some people saying “Hey man, don’t you know it’s my country, right or wrong.” Well, our response was very simple, we’d say “Yes, my country, right or wrong. When right, keep it right and when wrong, make it right.” That’s our mission as citizens and that’s exactly what journalists and the free press can and continue to do. They go out and they try to make it right.

Thank you and congratulations to those being recognized tonight.