By Mitchell W. Pearlman
The Connecticut Foundation for Open Government (CFOG) presented its Walter Cronkite Freedom of Information Award to Attorney Floyd Abrams. It was only the sixth time the award has been given in the 23-year history of CFOG and the first time it was presented to an attorney.
Floyd Abrams is America’s widely acknowledged dean of First Amendment law. When challenges to free speech and open government unendingly emerge, the nation so often wisely turns to Floyd Abrams to lead the fight to preserve these basic liberties. He has fought, he has taught and he has preserved our rights in uncountable critical battles.
Litigator, educator and author, Floyd Abrams has been at the forefront of the nation’s most significant free speech issues. From the Pentagon Papers to the most recent effort to limit freedom of speech, his work again and again has kept open the public’s right to know what its government is up to and to be able to speak its mind without fear of suppression. He has been a constant voice – and fighter – for American liberties no matter how the winds of controversy or expedience might try to buffet him.
Attorney Abrams joins a distinguished list of Cronkite Award winners, including Walter Cronkite, for whom the award is named. Other winners include: Jim Lehrer, Louis Boccardi, Seymour Hersh and Bob Woodward.
In accepting the award, Mr. Abrams recounted some important lessons from the beginning of our nation’s history to the present, in which freedom of speech and freedom of the press were challenged and even suppressed. He sprinkled his remarks with some interesting, and sometimes amusing, anecdotes from his career defending freedom of the press, including his representation of news organizations in the seminal 1971 Pentagon Papers case before the U.S. Supreme Court. He concluded by reminding the audience – primarily comprised of lawyers, journalists, educators and students – that freedom of expression requires constant vigilance based on an understanding of its fundamental importance in a democratic society.