By Chris Ingram
The Tampa Bay Times seems to be in a funk. Of late, the newspaper has shown poor judgment and a lack of journalistic standards. On two recent occasions the paper has shown why readers may be abandoning it – it lacks credibility. Meanwhile, cross-bay rival the Tampa Tribune’s (which I contribute a column to, but am not employed by) circulation numbers have increased – one of just two Florida dailies to post increased circulation numbers last year.
In addition to perpetually having a thing for publishing exhaustingly long, one-sided, front-page stories about the Church of Scientology, the paper is starting to show low standards of journalism and good judgment. Unfortunately for readers, they may not even recognize it.
Here are two examples:
Proving the Times‘ bias against Rick Scott
On Friday, the Times’ online “Buzz” section posted a story by the paper’s political editor, Adam Smith about how Florida “political insiders” view a variety of state and local political matters. The insiders survey is something Smith does on occasion, and which I have regularly participated in. Friday’s “Buzz” post was about what insiders think about the governor’s race and likely match-up between Governor Rick Scott, and former Governor Charlie Crist (among other subjects). No harm there, but the devil is in the details.
As part of Smith’s posting, he includes a list of all of the “insiders” who participated in the poll (participants must be invited to do so by Smith). On the list this week were the usual assortment of regulars, but one name on the list struck me as odd and inappropriate for being a participant. That name: Charlie Crist.
Yes, the Tampa Bay Times conducted a survey about Florida politics and included one of the candidates being surveyed about for his opinion about his own race! That’s like asking the CEO of McDonalds, “Who makes the best hamburger?” What do you think he is going to say?
To make matters worse, when I inquired with Smith about how inappropriate this was, he did not see any fault in including Charlie Crist as a respondent to a survey that included questions about Charlie Crist. Not only that, when I asked if Rick Scott had been invited to participate as an “insider” (as Crist had been), Smith gave this flippant reply, “No elected politicians is the criteria. Crist knows Fla (sic) politics better than most, I’d say. And we have many more scott (sic) supporters than crist (sic) supporters on the list…”
Smith’s defense that the list of invitees has more Scott supporters than Crist supporters may be true, but not only is that not relevant to the matter of Crist being on the list and Scott not being on the list of “insiders,” it’s Smith’s own damned fault because Smith controls the list.
The Times should be ashamed of itself for calling this legitimate news. Favoritism like this is exactly why many Republicans and independents believe there is a liberal bias against the GOP in the news media and particularly on the pages of the Tampa Bay Times. Adams Smith just proved it.
What is more unfortunate is that when I inquired about this matter, Smith could have easily chalked it up to being an error in judgment to include Crist, or an oversite to not have taken him off. Alternatively, he could have said he would be sure to include Rick Scott in future surveys about the governor’s race. But he didn’t do either of those. He actually thought about what he did, he justified it, and he deemed it acceptable.
Readers deserve better.
Peter Schorsch: Lay with the dogs…
Of even far greater concern and consequence is the Times‘ relationship with, and reporting about local blogger Peter Schorsch.
To be clear, I don’t like Schorsch. He is a bully. He lacks any journalistic standards of ethics. He is a black-eye on the profession of political consulting.
On October 25th, Adam Smith wrote a post about Schorsch on the Times‘ “Buzz Blog.” Here is part of what he wrote about Schorsch:
“Looks like blogger/consultant/man about town Peter Schorsch pulled the permit for Crist’s first campaign rally/announcement. Now I’m a big fan of Schorsch’s web site and more than once have enjoyed a martini or three with Schorsch.
But Crist already has a history of lousy judgement (sic) in leaning heavily dubious supporters (Scott Rothstein, Jim Greer, Alan Mendelsohn, Greg Eagle) who have a knack for winding up in prison. Count on that to be part of the campaign against him over the next 12 months.
Still, for his very campaign event Crist turned to Scorsch who routinely and unapologetically lies publicly to the press, who owes nearly $68,000 in outstanding fines to the Florida Elections Commission, who six years pleaded no contest to grand thef (sic) and scheming to defraud charges. Really?”
That Smith wrote this about Schorsch didn’t come as a surprise to me, as he has told me on several occasions what he thinks of Schorsch. He has also told me that the Times‘ newsroom has an unwritten policy that any story remotely related to anything about, related to, or that comes from Schorsch, is to be quadruple checked by news staff.
So it did come as a surprise when I heard Schorsch – who conveniently claims he is not a journalist or member of the media – had been approved by the Florida Press Association as a member. And guess who his sponsor was? The Tampa Bay Times. Specifically, Joe DeLuca, publisher of the Tampa edition of the Times and Tampabay.com.
I emailed Paul Tash, Chairman and CEO Tampa Bay Times/Times Publishing Company to express my dismay at his paper sponsoring someone who says he is not a journalist to be a member of the Florida Press Association. The FPA bills itself as an organization “promoting higher standards of journalism.” Well you can’t get any lower, than Peter Schorsch. The paper put itself in a real pickle by sponsoring Schorsch. Because Schorsch is an individual whom the paper is very familiar with, having previously and extensively reported on his antics, lack of credibility, criminal record, and overall unethical business, political and media/journalistic practices. The Times even recently referenced how Schorsch had lied to the paper in a campaign stunt Schorsch was behind in the St. Peterburg mayoral race.
Whether out of embarrassment, arrogance, or both, Tash hasn’t bothered to respond.
But Dean Ridings, the executive director of the FPA did. Ridings replied by email, telling me, “This issue will be discussed by the FPA board of directors at their next board meeting in January,” in one email; and, “I have been in communication with Tampa Bay Times staff today about this issue, and we mutually want to know all the facts and to handle the situation appropriately,” in another.
Perhaps in an effort to make itself appear more distanced from Schorsch than it actually is (the paper publishes copy-ready columns from Schorsch’s company), today the Times ran a front-page story on Schorsch titled, “Cash for coverage? Questions arise about local political blogger Peter Schorsch.”
The well-written story by John Woodrow Cox delves into what everyone in Florida politics knows about Peter Schorsch – he’s the Mafia of Florida politics and a media whore. Cox’s story can be summarized by the third line of the report, “Want him to write a flattering story or remove a negative post he already wrote? Buy an ad [on his site].”
Cox’s story also mentioned what most insiders in politics and the media already know about Schorsch: his criminal record. It includes pleas of no contest to grand theft and scheming to defraud charges. Schorsch also owes outstanding fines of nearly $68,000 to the Florida Elections Commission.
Cox also noted that Schorsch is now a member of the Florida Press Corps which gives him media credentials when visiting the state’s legislative chambers. The story mentioned how odd this is, given that Schorsch has repeatedly said he isn’t a journalist/member of the media. But Cox’s report fell short, by failing to mention Schorsch’s sponsorship into the FPA or that it was done by Tampa Bay Times.
I am frequently asked why I don’t like Peter Schorsch. What I want to say in reply to that question is, “What is there to like about Peter Schorsch?” The guy is bad news. He’s bad for journalism and he is bad for politics. The Times’ report in today’s paper will hopefully answer the question about Schorsch for a lot of people who have previously had their heads in the sand, or too afraid to stand up to this bully.
Life is about patterns. The Peter Schorsch as outlined in the Times, is exactly who he is. It is who he always has been, and who he will always be. Political candidates, consultants, journalists, and others in the media should take note of that.
As the Tampa Bay Times has learned, if you lay with the dogs, expect to get fleas.
Birds of a feather
Chris Latvala, who is the son of state Senator Jack Latvala, and himself a Republican candidate for the state Legislature, showed his racist side this week when he Tweeted “don’t you have some grass to cut?” The Tweet was directed to Javier Manjares, who is Hispanic and a long-time critic of Latvala’s friend, Peter Schorsch. Latvala apparently believes that Hispanics are limited to remedial jobs such as lawn care and that working hard in such a job should be considered an insult. Latvala is an example of what is wrong with politics. That he’s pals with Schorsch should not be a surprise.
Ed. note: References to Peter Schorsch’s membership in the Florida Press Corps and clarification of the distinction between it, and the Florida Press Association, were made to this column at 4:30 p.m. on 11/16/13.
Chris Ingram is the president and founder of 411 Communications a corporate and political communications firm, and publisher of Irreverent View. Ingram is a frequent pundit on Fox News and CNN, and has written opinion columns for the Washington Times, UPI, and National Review online. He is the Republican political analyst for Bay News 9, the only 24 hour all news channel in Florida’s largest media market. The opinions expressed here are those of author and do not represent the views of Bay News 9. E-mail him at: Chris@IrreverentView.com.
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