Tuesday, November 14, 2017

What I didn't say ... by gimleteye

Sunday by the Biscayne Bay Nature Center, a small crowd gathered to remember the life of Juanita Greene, a former newspaper reporter for the Miami Herald and, after she retired, a leader of a small local environmental group, Friends of the Everglades. It was unseasonably warm, as we are getting used to.

In the patio area, groups clustered around cement tables and curved benches shaded overhead from the sun and heat. The average age, seventy.

At the high end, Lloyd Miller and his wife, Dottie. Lloyd is 96. Still sharp and remembers the days he, Juanita and a brave band fought against industrial development and a port terminal in the middle of what they helped create: a national monument then a national park in Biscayne Bay. At the youthful range, Juanita's granddaughter who is now an environmental consultant.

In the mid 00's, Juanita recruited me to the board Friends, founded by Marjory Stoneman Douglas during the battle to stop a major commercial airport from being built in the middle of the Everglades. By the time I joined the board, I had already spent fifteen years as an activist and writer for the environment; for Florida Bay and the Everglades.

I took my speaking task on Sunday as a matter of recounting some of Juanita's accomplishments. For example, a federal Clean Water Act lawsuit she helped to shepherd into the courts resulted in a major victory in 2010, a ruling by Judge Alan S. Gold who sharply rebuked the EPA and State of Florida for failing its obligations to protect the Everglades. A few years later, Gold's judgment triggered a commitment by the state of Florida to spend nearly $900 million to reverse Big Sugar's pollution of the Everglades.

I noted that Florida Governor Rick Scott made this announcement as though it was his achievement and not a major loss in federal court. I explained the state of Florida -- during the Jeb Bush years -- had to be dragged kicking to court to do what it had promised in an even earlier federal state settlement, adjudicated by Judge William Hoeveler in the 1990's. I also pointed out that Gov. Scott never acknowledged either Friends of the Everglades or the co-plaintiff, the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians who brought the case, nor had his omission been acknowledged by the press.

One by one, retired Miami Herald employees also took turns eulogizing their late colleague. Each brought to the microphone a wistfulness of a disappeared newsroom, of a shared community that joyed in capturing the facts of life in the Miami melting pot every day.

Martha Musgrove spoke. She is a former associate editor of the newspaper and during her career at the Herald as sharp an observer on the editorial page of the Everglades morass as ever graced the reading public.

Here is what I didn't say and would like to say now.

30, 40, 50 years ago, the Miami Herald was not a friend of the Everglades or the environment.

There was never a golden age when it came to telling the facts about special interests -- whether defined as Big Development, bankers, or Big Sugar -- who turned Florida's natural heritage into sacrifice zones for their profits.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas was the daughter of a Miami newspaper publisher and a reporter herself in the early part of the 20th century whose conversion to advocacy to the Everglades was not only heart-felt but also a mea culpa for the profits wrung from advertisers that kept a version of reality in front of daily subscribers.

In the 1970's, Juanita Greene struggled from inside the newsroom to get the Knight brothers, John and James, to put column inches on Biscayne Bay in front of readers. They were indifferent as their advertisers went about the job of building condos on the shoreline and carving "affordable" housing into new suburbs and out of Everglades wetlands. Same, for their successors: no one got a performance bonus or a pension for saving the environment.

Juanita Greene loved the Everglades and she knew very well that the decline of America's most unique wetlands ecosystem was a reflection of the corrosive effects of greed, money and power here, in Tallahassee, and in Washington DC. She also knew the Miami Herald had done a poor job explaining the high stakes or diving into the toxic culture that allowed blind eyes to be turned to the destruction of the Everglades. She became an activist, proudly, in a town whose newspaper never valued or promoted activism because it ran against commercial interests and the public good as defined by the Chamber of Commerce or Big Sugar in the shadows.

But running down the media or the Miami Herald is not the point I want to make. I have another point to make: about the public mistrust of the media as fomented by the radical right.

The digital age and internet-based sources of "news" wreaked havoc on journalism in general and print newspapers in particular. The threats to fact and truth are mainly through disinformation tactics embraced by the radical right. The very people, led by President Trump, who decry "FAKE NEWS" are the ones hell-bent on tearing down the laws and institutions that protect our democracy.

Juanita Greene was representative of the small band who gathered last Sunday -- environmentalists, former newspaper reporters and editors, fishermen, scientists, friends and family -- who struggled to get fact of Everglades decline out of government agencies and into the hands of elected officials or the courts because laws were being violated and unenforced. Newspapers like the Miami Herald -- and certainly not television -- were part and parcel of the problem, but pale in comparison to today's conflagration.

Today, the United States is literally the only non-signer of a global agreement to fight climate change. Governor Rick Scott, a climate change denier. Senator Marco Rubio, a climate change denier. We have actors who have so hammered the idea that government is "the problem", we are all shrouded in darkness. Malignant media empires like Rupert Murdoch's Fox News are mightily profiting from discord, fear and division. And on the internet, readers are herded and silo'd by hostile foreign powers without any kind of balance or reckoning and supported by corporations using first amendment rights as their fig leaf.

Defenders of the environment see these mechanics clearly because the polluters have the upper hand in steering democracy toward their toxic goal: to make as much money as fast as they can before sea levels rise. In the Trump administration, a combination of unqualified judicial appointments to the federal bench and agency disintegration, like that of the EPA under administrator Scott Pruitt, are doing vast damage to the intent of environmental protection.

Juanita Greene fought to get her reports of Biscayne Bay -- a jewel -- into the pages of the Miami Herald and it wasn't enough. She faced the bad news and still picked up the pen and sword, every day. We need more soldiers like Juanita, and that is a fact.

The Case for Buying the Everglades Agricultural Area by Juanita Greene, 1999 by Alan Farago on Scribd


Anonymous said...

Thank you Juanita, Lloyd, Alan and all the others who put in the hard work to buy a few more decades of life for Biscayne Bay. The future is bleak, however. It may be for the best for you to not live to see what seems to be its inevitable demise. Sadly, the love of money in this town far exceeds the love for the Bay and what lives in it. What ignorance.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Alan for another great piece and the tribute to Juanita. We were fortunate to recently attend a luncheon for Lloyd Miller and his wife, Dottie sponsored by Redland Citizens Association. They are truly a wonderful couple who have done so much good by helping save our beautiful Bay. Please keep up your informative reporting. EOM is a treasure chest of information seldom seen in the Miami Herald.