Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, was honored with the 2021 Franklin Founder Award during a virtual celebration of Benjamin Franklin’s 315th birthday.
The celebration, usually held in Philadelphia, was conducted online on Friday, January 15th, two days before Franklin’s birth date. The event was established to “bring international attention to Franklin’s ideas and accomplishments, and to highlight his relevance in the modern world,” and the award is presented to someone who has excelled in the theme highlighted each year. This year’s theme: “The Disintegration of Trust: Restoring Confidence in American Institutions.”
In introducing Jamieson, Donald Smith, chair of the Franklin Birthday Celebration, noted that last year National Academy of Sciences President Marcia McNutt said Jamieson’s “nonpartisan, evidence-based approach to science communication and political analysis is an invaluable national treasure.” In 2020, Jamieson was awarded the NAS Public Welfare Medal — and that, Smith said, is “certainly in the Franklin tradition.”
In her acceptance speech, Jamieson spoke about the resilience of democratic institutions in the face of a pandemic, a divisive presidency, ideological polarization, and disinformation. Though current events have shaken our democratic institutions, she said, they “remain durable because we have an independent judiciary that has protected them, and we have individuals who across time have exercised their constitutionally protected freedoms to secure those for others who are left out of the founding documents, and in their use of the mutually reinforcing freedoms of speech, press, petition, peaceable assembly, the increased opportunities to vote … and helped bend the arc of the country’s history towards justice.”
Jamieson said that the independent court system is responsible for ensuring citizens’ right to vote in the face of political pressure from the executive branch. The right to elect leaders is an essential feature of democracy, but what good is the right to vote if one’s vote is not counted fairly? Because voting rights are protected by an independent judiciary that makes court decisions based solely on facts, not fabulation, the “outcome of the 2020 election was not undone by what judges recognized as ‘speculative accusations … unsupported by evidence.’” Jamieson added that “disinformation has no place in court opinions,” and that, in dismissing politicized conjecture about the veracity of the election results, judges demonstrated “that they are in fact a protection against the lure of the irregular passion and the power of artful misrepresentation” at play in these court proceedings.
Jamieson argued that the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, press, right to petition, and peaceable assembly are similarly instrumental to protecting the nation’s democratic foundations:
With the press as a key way to communicate and petition as a way to establish that large numbers of people are exercising their right to petition the government, we have interlocking rights, used well by John Lewis at Selma, used well by Martin Luther King, Jr. … and Benjamin Franklin. All three used their constitutionally protected freedoms to tell the public and those in power that, in King’s words, ‘Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.’
Jamieson elaborated on these arguments in an op-ed published on January 11, 2021, in The Philadelphia Inquirer: “Our democracy remains intact, thanks to our courts, free press, and right to assembly.”
View Kathleen Hall Jamieson’s talk:
The Celebration! Of Benjamin Franklin, Founder, also featured a discussion, moderated by National Constitution Center President and CEO Jeffrey Rosen, with Margaret Levi of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University; Ken Frazier, chairman and CEO of Merck; and Dr. Paul Offit, the Director of the Vaccine Education Center and an attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and himself a past recipient of the Franklin Founder Award.
Each January, the Franklin Birthday Celebration is held in Philadelphia to commemorate Franklin and to explore ideas important in his time and ours. Prior themes have included “Race Awareness,” “Criminal Justice Reform,” “Increasing Wealth and Income Inequality,” and “Exploring the World Around Us.” Past honorees include journalists Linda Greenhouse, Cokie Roberts, and Bill Keller; economist Dr. Anne Case and Nobel Prize winner Sir Angus Deaton; former Secretary of Energy and Nobel laureate Dr. Stephen Chu; and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.
In 2022, the theme of the Franklin Birthday Celebration will be “The Future of Food.”