As the Honor the Free Press luncheon moderator, NPC member Michael Trephan began by introducing the video of NPC honorary member Peter A. Thomas reciting his moving “Omaha Beach” poem about D-Day, 1943, the more than 200 attendees fell silent. Even though Thomas was not well enough to attend in person, his memorable voice filled the room as he again recited his solemn poem, ending with: “Those wonderful soldiers who died so young, they died so we could be free.”
Trephan continued: “The Free Press is all about knowing all the facts; without accurate reporting we will fail.” Trephan then introduced previous honoree, Mark Potter, formerly a news correspondent for NBC, CNN and ABC, who introduced the speaker, 2016 Honoree General Barry R. McCaffrey, U.S. Army (retired).
Potter said that McCaffrey is considered one of the great military leaders of our time. McCaffrey now informs audiences on national security and terrorism as a prominent journalist and analyst on NBC News. He served as the nation’s drug “czar” during the Bill Clinton administration, and served in the Army for 32 years. He was awarded three Purple Hearts, two Distinguished Service Crosses and two Silver Stars for valor. “McCaffrey speaks his mind, pulls no punches and speaks on the record,” said Potter.
McCaffrey began his talk with a question: “How do you deal with the challenge of the U.S. media?” He explained that the change in technology is unbelievable in the last 25 years. “The Pentagon runs a top secret live video like CNN,” said McCaffrey. “We should remind ourselves that we’re the wealthiest society on the face of the earth. We have never been safer as American people than we are today, and the armed forces have the best people we have ever had in uniform. But the American people do not feel safe, and there is a general distrust in media, across the board.”
McCaffrey communicated several points about the media:
1. The media will keep their word.
2. They will be shamed if they get the facts wrong; give them the facts.
3. It’s amazing how decentralized and fast news gets out there and updated today, and they do it with manpower that’s anemic compared to the number of people in the industry before.
4. Mostly, the media will give you a balanced report.
5. Serious reporters may know more about the subject than you do.
6. Read the op-eds from the great American newspapers, such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post.
“So, what’s the problem?” asked McCaffrey. “At the end of the day, there is an ethos coming out of J-schools; some of today’s journalists are looking at public officials and trying to report negative aspects and personal aspects instead of the subject. Americans feel that politicians are speaking nonsense, and they blame media when they print it. Also, the American public has become more insular; they’re more interested in their local affairs than national or international news,” he stated.
During the Q&A time, in a question about Trump’s run for the presidency, McCaffrey said: “American people are angry.” In another question about a physical wall, he said, “It’s in the best interest of our military. As far as illegals are concerned, they grow our food, they take care of our children, they do hard physical jobs. It’s an outrageous statement to send them all away. If we do that our country would be bankrupt in nine months.” He added: “We do need to control all of our borders, but we need to step back and take another look at this. We should and we can build a barrier system along the border. When I was Drug Czar, we built a fence from San Diego to Tijuana. It made a difference. But we have never adequately worked with Mexico. Our Number One trade partner is Canada, and our Number Two trade partner is Mexico.”
When asked a question about previous Army draftees vs today’s Army volunteers, McCaffrey said, “The draftees that ended up in the Army, in Vietnam, in my B Company were wonderful soldiers. And, today’s volunteers are incredible soldiers. Our armed forces are enhanced by having women involved, but not in the infantry.”
Following the luncheon, attendees proceeded to the front of the Hilton for the Tribute to Fallen Journalists by the flagpole, with the Marine Corps League firing detail and bugler Robert McDonald.