Middle River Dispatches is a gumbo of posts about fly-fishing, conservation, politics and days afield.

Not the Enemy

On February 17, 2017, the President tweeted:  “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”

If that tweet was an isolated event, a pique of anger or frustration, not uncommon for elected officials caught on the receiving end of “bad press” then perhaps it could be ignored. That is not the case however. Since taking office the President and his staff have made the news media the whipping boy for things they don’t like. And while their anger may be understandable, their response has not been. They appear to not only wish to silence their critics, they are ignoring a foundational tenet of freedom in this country.

On February 24, 2017,  Trump doubled down on the characterization.

“A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people, and they are — they are the enemy of the people,” said Trump to the attendees at Conservative Political Action Conference.

For those who need a refresher, here is the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Of special note, the First Amendment specifically names the PRESS under its protection.  As a journalist and having run a trade association for journalists that is of significant professional interest and comfort.

Attacks on the First Amendment therefore are both personal and professional attacks to me. I don’t take kindly to my colleagues being labeled “the enemy of the American People!” And, I am not a lone voice of concern about the cause for that characterization.

For me, the most important voice of concern was that of William H. McRaven, who on February 23, wrote an essay titled Journalism: Essential to Democracy. McRaven’s bona fides are legendary; University of Texas journalism graduate of 1977, U.S.Navy Admiral SEAL who commanded the Joint Special Operations Command.

If we are to challenge the sentiment that the news media is the enemy of the people – and challenge it we must – then journalists must do their part.

We need journalists with the courage to speak truth to power.

But it has to be the truth, not just their truth.

Truth means getting the facts right, every time.

It means having multiple solid sources to confirm those facts.

It means eliminating bias and hubris from reporting.”

There have been notable voices from our past who have voiced concern when free speech and the press were threatened:

The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.” -Theodore Roosevelt

“We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep into our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to associate, to speak, and to defend the causes that were for the moment unpopular.” -Edward R. Morrow

“Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed—and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment—the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution—not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply ‘give the public what it wants’—but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.” -John F. Kennedy

As McRaven said “the United States has the finest press corps in the world, bar none.”  I could not agree more and feel privileged to count myself among the ranks of U.S. Navy officers and journalists.

My grandfather Sadler told me long ago, don’t pick a fight with people who buy ink by the 55 gallon drum. Looks like a few drums will get tapped in the coming months.

A Sea Change

“We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep into our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to associate, to speak, and to defend the causes that were for the moment unpopular.” -Edward R. Morrow

This week I let the members and supporters of the Outdoor Writers Association of America know I was leaving my position as Executive Director and going to work for the Marine Fish Conservation Network. It was a difficult decision and one I did not make hastily or lightly, but in the end my heart and Morrow’s words won out.

I need no more reason why than this…

Truth be told the future of our marine resources for my grandchildren and their grandchildren weighed on me. I didn’t want to look back on my life and think I could have done more.

Jim Range and Jean Ince (courtesy of John Ince)

Memories of an old friend, Jim Range, reminded me; “Tommy we have to protect the wild things. If we don’t do it, it won’t get done.

I still have some fight left in me and want to get back in the game more directly.

Here is what I told the OWAA members and supporters:

It has been my pleasure and honor to serve as OWAA’s executive director for almost four years, but the time has come for me to move on. On Jan. 1, 2017, I will return to the advocacy world and join the Marine Fish Conservation Network as deputy director.

I assure you my leaving OWAA has nothing to do with the organization or anyone associated with it, but is solely motivated by my desire to “get back into the fight” and use my advocacy and organizing experience to protect our marine resources and the people that depend on them.

OWAA’s mission has never been more important, but my heart lies elsewhere. I know the organization is stable, has good leaders and will continue quite well without me. With Colleen Miniuk-Sperry taking over my duties, I know the day-to-day operations will continue seamlessly and the membership will be well served. I look forward to seeing and being part of OWAA’s continued success just in a different role as a member and a supporter.

During my time at OWAA I learned that we are a tribe, a guild, the keepers of the flame and take the work as chroniclers seriously. We are, in fact, the Voice of the Outdoors. OWAA is serious about our work as journalists and will vigorously defend the First Amendment. Our Circle of Chiefs are our conservation conscience and continue to remind us of important issues facing the future of the outdoors. And our conference is the best opportunity for liked-minded journalists to gather, learn and share.

Today, more than ever in OWAA’s 90-year history, the work we do as outdoor journalists is critically important, and we need to do it as well as we possibly can. To quote Edward R. Morrow, “We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep into our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to associate, to speak, and to defend the causes that were for the moment unpopular.”

I hope to see many of you in Duluth, Minnesota, Ft. Wayne, Indiana, or at future conferences.