Monday, April 04, 2011

We Need A Better Tallahassee Press Corps

The Sunshine News is the last place you would expect to see a love letter penned to the late Molly Ivins. Columnist Nancy Smith cites Ivins take no prisoners approach to political reporting as what is needed. Smith says members of the Florida legislature have made the Tallahassee press corps their bitches.

Smart legislators in Florida don't fear the press. They take reporters out of their pocket when they feel like it, dance them around on a string for awhile, then stuff them back in.

In the year I've been in Tallahassee, I've seen it close up.

Smart legislators give up the colleagues they don't like or trust. Turn "secret" info about some poor representative or senator over to their favorite reporters, who are happy to jump on the stories. And all of a sudden we're reading some press guy/gal's great "investigative scoop." It's a scoop all right, and it may or may not be great. There just isn't much investigation involved.

I believe it. I remember the lame excuses given by the St. Petersburg Times for sitting on the Mark Foley predator story. The teen told St. Petersburg Times reporters that he felt uncomfortable with Foley emailing him and asking for a picture. Scott Montgomery, St. Petersburg Times Government & Politics Editor, wrote, "We found the Louisiana page and talked with him. He told us Foley's request for a photo made him uncomfortable so he never responded, but both he and his parents made clear we could not use his name if we wrote a story."

Short answer: the St. Petersburg Times blamed the teen's parents for them not covering the story. Did it ever occur to The Times to ask Foley if he sent the emails? That would be investigative reporting. More likely, The Times did not want to anger a Florida Congressman. Montgomery claimed, "There was nothing overtly sexual in the emails." Foley also asked the teen if he worked out. I guess that would be okay if someone on Facebook sent those kind of emails to the children of The Times political reporters. Somehow, I seriously doubt it.

Florida's most powerful newspaper was willing to roll over for Foley. Do you honestly expect the Tallahassee press corps to grill the legislature and Gov. Rick Scott? We need a better press corps.

Update: Peter Schorsch points out that Sunshine News's Lane Wright has been hired to be Gov. Rick Scott's press secretary. Schorsch sees Smith's op-ed as hypocrisy. I think Wright's hiring proves Smith's point that the media is too chummy with the Tallahassee political establishment.

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