The previous honorees of "Honor the Free Press Day" presented by the Marine Corps League of Naples and the Naples Press Club.
2005 — Ernie Pyle
2006 — Eddie Adams
2007 — Lou Reda
2008 — James Brady
2009 — William C. (Bill) Gallo
2010 — Jim Lehrer
2011 — Mark Russell
2012 — Francis J "Bing" West
2013 — Mark Potter
In the 1980s, Mark Potter knew drug smugglers like no one else.
The current NBC correspondent rose to fame after uncovering the marijuana smugglers of Florida’s “last frontier:” Everglades City.
Even though many of the residents continued smuggling up to a year after Potter’s story broke, the town’s hatred is still directed at him for the numerous arrests, not the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“I’ve gone back (to Everglades City) many times,” said Potter, who was recently featured in the documentary “Square Grouper,” “but quietly. There’s a lot of anger there.”
Potter was anything but quiet Wednesday, as nearly 200 attendees came out to honor the journalist at the ninth annual “Honor the Free Press Day” luncheon in Naples. The event, which is conducted by the Marine Corps League of Naples and the Naples Press Club, honored Potter for his outstanding career.
“I’m still a working journalist. I’m still getting on planes everyday and in my 38-year-long career I have never had the privilege of attending a gathering like this. I’ve never heard of a gathering like this,” Potter said, “The fact we are here today honoring the free press is most humbling to me.”
The Marine Corps League of Naples chooses a journalist each year to emphasize the importance of free press in the U.S. They are the only military group with a focus on honoring journalism.
Potter was adamant that should the U.S. ever lose free press, Fox News would be the first outlet to go.
“We are blessed to be able to celebrate ‘Honor the Free Press Day’ today,” moderator Mike Trephan said, “In this country we take free press for granted.”
While this event honors a journalist who has shown an exemplary body of work promoting unfettered press, it also pays tribute to the Marines and journalists who have given their lives defending American’s First Amendment rights.
Former honorees of Free Press Day include journalistic knockouts such as, James Bradley, Jim Lehrer, and Mark Russell.
Potter’s name now joins this esteemed list.
From the Caribbean, to Israel, and most recently Venezuela — covering Hugo Chavez’s death — there are few places Potter has yet to report from. However, he still believes Florida is a journalist’s gold mine.
In 1976, Potter moved from Missouri to Miami but did not intend on staying put for long. He originally planned to stay in the Sunshine State for no longer than five years. However, by the time 1980 rolled around, Miami had become one of two (the second being Beirut) major hubs of journalistic activity.
From the “Cocaine Cowboys” to Elian Gonzalez, South Florida has kept Potter busy.
To this day, he said his big break into journalism took place only 36 miles from Naples. He still remembers the federal agents closing State Road 29 to make dozens of drug trafficking arrests and an Everglades City resident who tried to run him off the road.
His next story will keep him in Naples as he reports on the dangers of red tide along Southwest Florida’s coast.
“Florida is one of the best news states in the country. I built a career here,” Potter said. “We often joke that without Florida we’d have no news.”