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Medred, Dispatch News fall short of journalistic standards

  • Author: Wally Page
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published September 26, 2014

My name is Wally Page. I've been a Cook Inlet commercial fisherman since before statehood. I'm nobody special, just a regular Alaskan working hard to support my family. I'm not someone "in the news." Nevertheless, on July 21 of this year, the Alaska Dispatch News published a long article entitled, "Fish wars obscure need to manage for economic yield." It was written by regular Dispatch columnist Craig Medred and focused on me.

While labeled as opinion, the article included several defamatory "facts" that hurt me personally and publicly held me out as a bad man. When I showed Mr. Medred's editor and publisher that his statements about me were false, and asked for a retraction and an apology, they refused my request. They did, however, agree to publish these comments.

Mr. Medred's column began by claiming that on July 18, 2014, I deliberately piloted my 42-foot fishing boat, the Peregrine, close to the north shore of the lower Kenai River with the deliberate intention of swamping and endangering wading dipnetters. As far as I can tell, the only basis for this lie about me is the fact that I fish commercially and that a member of my crew posted the comment, "Dipnetters go home," on a Facebook page.

With no other justification than those three words on Facebook, Mr. Medred concludes and asserts that I am so personally hateful toward every last sockeye dipnetter that I willingly endangered my boat, my crew and myself in an attempt to assault anonymous men, women and children along the shore.

Imagine having your neighbors -- your children, for god's sake! -- read something like that about you in the newspaper.

Later in the article, Mr. Medred further spins out this revenge fantasy by asserting -- as fact -- that "Page tried to swamp some dipnetters because he is angry they are taking 'his fish.'"

This is bad, conscienceless journalism of a very brazen sort. Mr. Medred is apparently unfamiliar with the old journalistic saw: "If your mother says she loves you, check it out." In this case, he made no effort whatsoever to contact me to ask about the purported incident. He did nothing to check his assumptions about me. Though we have never spoken, Mr. Medred presumed to know my thoughts and emotions (Page was "angry they are taking 'his fish.'")

He just made it up.

The truth is, I did not "cut in close" to shore to harm any dipnetters. I wasn't angry at anybody. I was just coming home from work, navigating up the designated Kenai River channel at the minimum speed necessary to maintain control of my boat, exactly as I have for more than 35 years. And if Mr. Medred had talked to me, he might have learned that rather than trying to hurt dipnetters, only a few years ago my crew and I literally saved the life of a dipnetter adrift near Rocky Point in Cook Inlet after he was swept out of the mouth of the Kenai by the current.

But then, had Mr. Medred done such basic journalism, I couldn't have served as the villainous commercial fisherman foil he needed to construct his "opinion column."

This is only the latest example of Mr. Medred making up facts, misrepresenting facts or suppressing facts, whatever is required to shore up his bias against Alaska's commercial fishing industry.

I brought all of this to the attention of Mr. Medred's employers at the Dispatch News. Their lack of concern for my reputation, and reluctance to be accountable for what they publish, was deeply disappointing.

I and two friends flew up from Kenai to meet with publisher Alice Rogoff and editor Tony Hopfinger on Aug. 14. We explained what had happened. We showed them the navigational charts for the lower Kenai River. We showed them a video taken from the Peregrine on the day of the non-incident. The video, which was also posted on Facebook, clearly shows that we were hundreds of yards from shore, and squarely in the proper navigation channel on our way to the dock. I told them Mr. Medred had never tried to talk to me.

I asked for a retraction, an apology and removal of the article from the newspaper's electronic archives. Ms. Rogoff said she would consider our request and get back to us. A week passed with no word. We sent an email asking again for a response. The next day, on Aug. 22, Mr. Hopfinger replied by email:

"We spoke with Craig, too, and he stands by his column. Still, we have decided to add a clarification to Craig's column that addresses Wally's contention that he did not swamp dipnetters. We also revised the column to reflect Wally's statement. We plan to run the clarification in the paper, too."

No formal retraction, no apology, no purge of the archives.

If you were to look at the "before" and "after" columns, you'll see that the "clarification" effectively reverses much of the original column -- but without taking responsibility for the false, irresponsible statements. The "swamping" lie has been reduced to he-said-he-said. The video, which shows what really happened, is never mentioned. The fanciful account of my "anger" about the taking of "my fish" is airbrushed out. Unfortunately for me, the only person who will ever see the "clarified" column is someone rooting through the bins of "yesterday's news."

What Mr. Medred did to me was shameful, and stains the work of all real journalists. Frankly, I never expected he would have the integrity to take responsibility for unjustifiably defaming me. But I did expect more of those who own and manage the newspaper. Now I know better.

Wally Page is a longtime Alaskan and Cook Inlet commercial fisherman.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com

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