When he was working as a political reporter for the Miami Herald, Thomas Fiedler often would find himself reaching out to media relations liaisons for information. Now, with the 2020 presidential primary race underway, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist is going to be the one sought out by members of the media.
Fiedler, 73, who is retiring next month after 11 years at the helm of Boston University’s College of Communication, is switching gears to volunteer on presidential hopeful Cory Booker’s campaign.
Sitting at the large cherry wood desk in his light-filled BU office, Fiedler says transitioning to his new role isn’t as tough as one might think.
“I made the decision that I am not going back to journalism. I don’t have the discipline,” he says. “I’m too caught up right now in my own belief that the current situation in our country has to change to try to go back and be objective about it.”
Referencing “The Man in the Arena,” a passage of a speech given by former President Theodore Roosevelt in 1910 to students at the Sorbonne in Paris, Fiedler says he wants to be in the thick of things – in the arena – helping to bring about change rather than stand on the sidelines.
Surrounded by shelves containing hundreds of books – several of which he has authored – Fiedler reads from the passage of Roosevelt’s speech he pulled up on his desktop computer: “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.”
Pausing for a moment, he adds that the following passage is what is most meaningful to him: “…Who spends himself in a worthy cause; who knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
Fielder says he came across the speech about six months ago – around the time he was trying to decide what to do after his retirement – and carried a copy of it in his wallet for several months afterward.
“So I knew that the person I was going to work for has to be somebody who, in these words, is a ‘worthy cause,’ ” he says. “I also knew I would go about it the same way I would go about hiring a staffer or a faculty member or really anyone who I would want to employ. I have always thought of the president not as somebody we look up to, but as somebody we would want to hire.”
So Fiedler got to work, creating files on all of the Democratic candidates, and filling folders labeled “2020” with articles about each of them.
Fiedler’s choice came down to two candidates: Booker, the former Newark mayor and current US senator from New Jersey, and Kamala Harris, a US senator from California who formerly served as that state’s attorney general. While both were “very interesting to me,” Fiedler says that there were two additional considerations that swayed him: the fact that Booker has – and plans to continue – to focus much of his campaign efforts in New Hampshire (Fiedler and his wife, Suzanne, a retired nurse, own a condo in Ashland, a town in central New Hampshire), and Booker’s background/political experience.
While he says he intends to be a “full-time volunteer” for the campaign, Fiedler’s exact role hasn’t been determined.
“His staff has already talked to me about becoming a ‘press wrangler’ – their term, which I love,” he says. “The challenge I think [Booker] faces first and foremost right now is how to distinguish himself from the huge and growing pack that is now at two dozen.”
Chris Moyer, Booker’s New Hampshire communications director, says that he and his team are “thrilled” that “someone with Tom’s decades of experience in both communications and presidential campaigns is supporting Cory and will be volunteering for his campaign here in New Hampshire.”
Fiedler’s career includes 34 years at the Miami Herald, where he covered Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign, the Persian Gulf War, and was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for its coverage of a religious cult. Also, in 1987, his reporting exposed the extramarital affair of 1988 presidential hopeful Gary Hart.
After leaving the Miami Herald in 2007 – where he had served as executive editor since 2001 – Fiedler went on to teach a graduate course at Harvard University before arriving at Boston University, where he had earned his master’s degree in journalism in the early 1970s (after earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the US Merchant Marine Academy).
Fiedler also is looking forward to spending more time on some of his favorite activities, including cycling, golfing, and running – he’s completed 40 marathons over 20 years, including the 2008 Boston Marathon, which was his last.
For now, Fiedler is focusing on wrapping things up at BU and preparing for his new role.
“The only trepidation would be, am I deluding myself into thinking that I actually have something important to add on that side? I don’t want to be a failure,” he admits. “I want to actually do something that matters, but I’m outside of my comfort zone. I’m going to push myself into an area where I have no experience, so to that extent, it’s a bit of a gamble.”
“But,” he emphasizes, “gambles also mean adventure and I’m looking forward to that, too.”Juliet Pennington can be reached at email@example.com.