Mike Jones - KEEPING UP

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Tuesday, January 29, 2019
Westward Ho!
Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Snap, crackle, text

These days, the word “leak” as it applies to the press sometimes has negative connotations. Leaking information, to some, carries with it a vague sense of disloyalty. I choose to think differently. Granted, there can be a dark side to the process, especially when the goal is to hide the corruption, not expose it. But, the danger comes when leaks are all lumped into the same category.

Like it or not, decisions about the outdoors are often made without our direct participation. By the time we hear about something important to our world, it can be too late. The power brokers in government or business have already made the deal and outdoorsmen are the last to hear the news. Enter the leaker…

Having been on the receiving end of leaks, I can tell you from personal experience, it is not something to be taken lightly. Without solid information about the source, more specifically about their motives, this can be a very slippery slope. No responsible writer wants to risk their reputation and possibly their livelihood on the word of someone else. You have to be very careful.

Complicating matters even more, you’re dealing with some very smart and very well-connected people who also expect you to respond professionally. A good chunk of them are lawyers. This is the profession that has spawned as many jokes as politicians, who, to a large degree, often began their careers as litigators. Like you, I’ve heard most of them. What do you call ten lawyers at the bottom of a pool? (A good start) Why won’t sharks attack attorneys? (professional courtesy) The list goes on.

Of the people who have fed me information over the years, two of my most productive relationships were with lawyers. Patrick J. Marley was one of them. On the bass fishing side, he was my conduit. A funny and flamboyant firebrand, Pat loved fishing as much as he enjoyed doing the right thing, which, most of the time, was pro bono. In legalese that means for free. Unknown to most anglers, Marley was the velvet hammer that got things done whether it was exposing water department misdeeds or fish and game shenanigans. And, if it required going a little back-channel, he didn’t hesitate. That’s where I came in.

To understand the process, you have to first understand government and big business. To these entities, the threat of legal action only goes so far. They’ve got plenty of attorneys on their payroll and politicians in their pockets. In many cases, the playing field is tipped in their favor. They can outlast you and they can out-spend you. But, combine the specter of legal recourse with public outcry and the game changes. The powerbrokers can throw wrenches into the legal process, but quashing public opinion is something else.

In the early stages of any issue, it seemed as though Pat would bring a knife to the knife fight. Without bullying, he wanted to give people the opportunity to act responsibly. It was the classic Teddy Roosevelt “speak softly and carry a big stick” situation. If that failed, he brought out the howitzers.

My role in these dramas was calling the necessary office or department armed with some sensitive facts and then act clueless just long enough for someone to tell me something contrary to what I knew to be true. Then, I would politely ask for a “clarification.” In doing so, I would use words or references alerting them to the fact that I was in on the game. Strangely enough, they rarely disputed my assertion. In most cases, there would be a pregnant pause at the other end of the line as they began passing the buck up to their superior. As much as I would have liked for the boss to come clean, they never did. But they knew we were on to them. Whether it was a British Petroleum spill off the coast or a Department of Water Resources attempt at draining Silverwood Lake without mitigation to the fishery, they knew Pat Marley was a capable adversary.

Equally capable and equally irascible was another attorney, Barret McInerney. Just as driven as Marley and just as dedicated to the good fight, I came across Barrett’s radar in 1984, not long after local fly fishing legend, Dick Dahlgren, had discovered trout in Rush Creek. After El Nino storms had sent the water over the dam at Grant Lake, reinvigorating a stream that had been dried up by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) in 1941, McInerney became the legal pit bull dedicated to maintaining the flows, revitalizing Rush Creek and saving Mono Lake in the process. Compared to Dahlgren and McInerney, I was a bit player in this scenario, but a willing one.

At the time, what I knew of the DWP was probably the result of the 1974 movie, “Chinatown.” It didn’t take long to figure out that, for once, the Hollywood version was not an exaggeration. Water companies only care about water and the money that flows from it. If some deception is required, so be it. In my experience, their media representatives often had a very tenuous relationship with the truth. In the case of Rush Creek, McInerney and Dahlgren did the unthinkable: They crushed a behemoth. To me, they are folk heroes.

From Marley and McInerney, I learned lessons that served me well in other battles to come. When Diamond Valley Reservoir was being proposed, the language being put forth by Metropolitan Water was not foreign to me. Nor was it to the angling public. By then, we all knew the game being played. As much as Metropolitan may have wanted to keep fishermen off their water-storage facility, it was too big and too visible to be treated like a Lake Mathews. Not to mention the fish swimming in the lake and the professionals charged with their care were both being paid for by us.

So the next time you hear the word “leak,” don’t think the worst. When the powers that be would rather keep you in the dark, remember what McInerney said – “The one thing those people don’t like is sunlight.”

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