Remarks at the 78th Annual Maria Moors Cabot Prizes

The Cabot Prizes honor journalists for career excellence and coverage of the Western Hemisphere that furthers inter-American understanding. Godfrey Lowell Cabot of Boston founded the Maria Moors Cabot Prizes as a memorial to his wife in 1938. They are the oldest international journalism awards.

This is a very moving and special night. Of all the evenings and awards and events that we have, I find this one unbelievably compelling. The integrity of the journalism, the courage of the people.. its just incredible. We all admire the awardees, and it is a great privilege for us to extend these awards, and we're grateful to the Cabot family for endowing this tradition.

On this campus, as Steve said, there are many things happening connected to trying to advance freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of the press. We're the only Ivy League school with a journalism school, and we're very proud of that. We think it's absolutely essential to a great research university to have a journalism school, and Steve himself represents the best of journalism at all times, and of course the faculty [applause] and the students just give a real vibrancy to the campus and to the profession. 

If you go to the School of International and Public Affairs, you'll find courses--Anya Shiffrin is here teaching a course now on the Pentagon Papers. If you go to the law school you'll find great scholars of the First Amendment--Vince Blasi and others--if you go around the institution there are many people working on important issues of transparency in government, freedom of speech. 

At the University level we just announced the Knight Institute on the First Amendment, a collaboration with the Knight Institute, where we'll start with about 50 million dollars to really set out to defend the First Amendment in an aggressive way. Not just doing research, which is very important of course, but also engaging in litigation and policy work to make sure that cases like the Pentagon Papers are dealt with in the right ways. We also have a Global Freedom of Expression Project, believing that the internet and world issues require more attention to the development of international norms, we have a website with all the major cases around the world assembled, digested and we're doing that in Spanish as well as English. We have a program to educate judges on issues of free speech and free press--that is also taking place in Latin America. There are many things we're working on that are connected to this. 

And the last thing I'd say is that this is obviously a very difficult time in the world, including in this country, but you look around the world and its hard to feel really good about the state of free speech and free press. when I started this project on global free expression it seemed like we were on the trajectory to increasing freedom of the press around the world, and today it feels quite the opposite.

The only thing I say to myself and I would say to you, is, as a scholar of a First Amendment, it's really only about 100 years old, the first Supreme Court cases were in 1919. So we'll be celebrating the hundredth anniversary of jurisprudence of the First Amendment, and during that time there have been these incredible periods of intolerance and repression and censorship. I think it's really important to remind ourselves not to be naive, that this is going to be the case probably forever: there will be periods where we're really called upon to defend and define and articulate the rationales for free speech and the free press, and this is surely one of them. These prizes are one way that we try to do that. 


Held on October 18, 2016 in Columbia's Low Memorial Library, the 78th Annual Maria Moors Cabot Prizes ceremony honored five outstanding journalists: Rodrigo Abd, The Associated Press, United States Rosental Alves, The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, University of Texas at Austin, United States Margarita Martínez, Independent Filmmaker, Colombia Óscar Martínez, El Faro, El Salvador. The Maria Moors Cabot Special Citation was awarded to Marina Walker Guevara and the Panama Papers Team, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, United States.