About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for The Credibility of the Fourth Estate, Past and Present

McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
October 23, 2019

Good afternoon, and welcome to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m pleased you could join us for this evening’s program, whether you are here in the theater or joining us through Facebook or YouTube.

We are presenting this program in partnership with the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress and the Democracy Fund, and we thank them for their support

Before we begin our discussion of “The Credibility of the Fourth Estate, Past and Present,” I’d like to tell you about two other programs coming up soon in the McGowan Theater.

On Saturday, October 26 at 7 p.m., we will show the documentary film Summoned: Frances Perkins and the General Welfare. Perkins—the first woman to serve in a Presidential cabinet—was President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor and the driving force behind Social Security, the 40-hour work week, the eight‐hour day, minimum wage, and unemployment compensation.

And on Tuesday, October 29, at 7 p.m., we welcome Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who will tell us about her new book, Undaunted: Surviving Jonestown, Summoning Courage, and Fighting Back. In 1978 Speier survived a deadly attack in Jonestown, Guyana, and later became a vocal proponent for human rights.

To keep informed about events throughout the year, check our website, Archives.gov, or sign up at the table outside the theater to get email updates. You’ll also find information about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Check out their website—archivesfoundation.org—to learn more about them and join online.

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A desire for a free and active press was evident at the very beginning of our national government. After receiving word from James Madison of the new Constitution for the United States, Thomas Jefferson replied: “This constitution forms a basis which is good, but not perfect. I hope the states will annex to it a bill of rights securing those which are essential against the federal government; particularly trial by jury, habeas corpus, freedom of religion, freedom of the press. . . .”

And from those earliest days, there has also been tension between those who govern and those who report on them. The Records of Rights exhibit upstairs in the Rubenstein Gallery documents a number of instances—congressional legislation and Supreme Court cases—that bear on the First Amendment to the Constitution, both restricting or defending freedom of speech and the press.

We prize our First Amendment rights and regard them as part of what defines us as Americans. I return to Jefferson’s words, but 35 years after his comments to Madison. In a letter to the Marquis de Lafayette, Jefferson listed several conditions that “will go far towards keeping the government honest and unoppressive. But the only security of all is in a free press.”

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Now it is my pleasure to welcome Martin Frost to the stage. He is the president of the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress and served 26 years as a Congressman from the 24th District of Texas, from 1979 to 2005. During that time, he served eight years in the House Democratic Leadership, four years as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and four years as chair of the House Democratic Caucus. Since leaving Congress, he served four years as chair of the National Endowment for Democracy, and he is an adjunct professor in the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Martin Frost.