Florence Snyder - 5/8 - SaintPetersBlog

Florence Snyder

Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant.

On Election Day, let’s talk baseball …

Grumpy and possibly jealous old men — some with newspaper columns — disapproved of Saturday’s comedy debut of Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, and Tallahassee homeboy David Ross.

Fresh off their World Series win, the trio swung by Saturday Night Live to sing “Go Cubs Go” with superfan and trained professional comedian Bill Murray, and to bump and grind with Benedict Cumberbatch in a tasteless-by-design sketch starring cast member Aidy Bryant, a gifted practitioner of physical comedy who makes anyone who shares her stage look terrific.

The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal dissed the whole thing as an “error,” leaving those who thought it adorable and hilarious scratching their heads and seeking second opinions.

One was provided by Peggy Gossett-Seidman, who is highly qualified to weigh in on all sorts of sports. Gossett-Seidman was a trailblazing, groundbreaking, pioneering member of the generation that proved women can report and write sports with the best of the boys.

As a sportswriter for The Palm Beach Post, she was the first woman to cover the Miami Dolphins from inside the locker room. Her resume includes extended tours of duty as personal assistant to actor and football guy Burt Reynolds, and, later, tennis star and philanthropist Chris Evert.

We put the question to Gossett-Seidman, who concluded that the trio had “earned the right to act silly and marginally seedy on SNL.” In support of her viewpoint, and working from memory, Gossett-Seidman offered up short bios highlighting ties to Florida and random acts of pure class.

Even if you know nothing and care less about baseball, it makes for feel-good reading on a day when many of us could use it:

“Anthony Rizzo grew up in Parkland, attended Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. Barely 18 years old, he fainted in a locker room and found out he had cancer. He was newly signed with the Boston Red Sox, and they stuck by him and he had support from pitcher Jon Lester, who successfully fought off the disease. Both players ended up being traded eight years later to the Cubs where they share a special bond.

“The ‘old guy’ David Ross is the father of three who was traded around to at least five different teams while battling for a starting spot as catcher, dragging his family all over. He was likely better than most catchers on those teams but did not get the breaks. As a kid, he attended FSU’s elementary school and played college ball at Auburn and Florida. At 39, he is the oldest player to hit a World Series home run.

“Dexter Fowler apparently is the nicest guy in baseball. He called the team meeting with all players, no coaches, during the rainout in the final Series game. He delivered a mesmerizing, supportive message that teammates say inspired and propelled the team to pull together and win. A very religious guy in the sense that he tries to do the right thing always, Fowler is from a small Georgia town. He originally signed to play baseball for the University of Miami but needed the money so turned pro.

“So, if these fellows wish to dance around a late-night stage in short shorts or anything else, they have earned it.”

 

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In remembrance: Janet Reno

Newspapers were rolling in dough in the late 20th century. Reporters had expense accounts and plenty of public officials were happy to let them pick up the check.

Not Janet Reno. She paid her own way, spoke for herself, and did not require those around her to bow, scrape, or screen calls to her home phone, which was in the book and accessible to the folks who paid her salary.

The former Dade County state attorney and United States attorney general under Bill Clinton needed no help to “craft the message.” She did not lard the public payroll with puppet masters to put words in her mouth about the “Hot Topics” of the day.

Harry Truman had done all the “message development” Reno would ever need.

Time after time after time, Reno faced hostile citizens, taxpayers, Congressional committees, and reporters. Her talking point never varied. “The buck stops here. With me.”

Reno was the state attorney in 1980, when riots broke out in Miami after her office failed to convict four white police officers accused of beating an unarmed black man to death. A dozen people died, and hundreds more were injured before the National Guard could restore order. Reno walked through the wreckage —alone, unarmed and unguarded — to take accountability with angry, distraught survivors.

Reno came from a storied Miami family that knew the difference between real friends and transactional friends. She was a star in a generation of lawyers that knew you can’t win if you’re afraid to lose. All of that would serve her well in jobs where making life-and-death decisions was just a normal day at the office.

Reno had hoped to continue in public life as her party’s standard bearer against Jeb Bush in the 2002 governor’s race. But the denizens of the Democrats backed the more malleable Bill McBride, leaving history to wonder if Bush could have crushed Reno as easily as he demolished McBride.

The memory of Reno standing in front of a bank of microphones, answering hostile questions truthfully until her interrogators gave up in exhaustion, is a source of pride to Florida, and an enduring example of what real accountability looks like.

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Censorship and ‘censorship’

AT&T, the communications conglomerate which owns Direct TV, was hauled into the court of public opinion Friday, charged with censorship for pulling the plug on Fox News.

Irate customers of the satellite television subscriber service took to the internet to voice their suspicions, tar and feathers at the ready.

They did not for one New York Rigged-System Minute believe that “technical difficulties” caused Fox News in high definition to go dark. Among the cyberspace social commentators was an individual who self-identifies as “Cuckooroller.”

He — or is it she? — summarized the case against AT&T succinctly: “Another globalist corporation controlling the media content to help Hillary Clinton get elected.”

Some of Cuckooroller’s fellow censorship conspiracy theorists gave their real names and spoke on the record to local reporters employed by the #DishonestMedia. If Fox was off the air, there must be, as Donald Trump would say, “something going on.”

Except there wasn’t.

While censorship conspiracy theorists gathered at the corner of Oliver Stone Street and Why Don’t We Teach Civics Anymore? Boulevard, cooler heads were surfing the standard definition (SD) end of the Direct TV spectrum, where Fox News was working just fine.

The folks at Fox, to their credit, tried to calm things down, reporting that BBC World News, CNN, Comedy Central, Fusion (which makes its home in a retrofitted Florida warehouse), the Golf Channel, NBC Sports, and something called Ovation had also been booted off the high-def line by whatever gremlins had inflicted technical difficulties on Fox News.

Fusion followers and Anglophile admirers of the BBC had real reasons to riot: those channels were fully shut down by Direct TV’s technical difficulties, and couldn’t even be accessed on the low-tech standard definition spectrum.

AT&T issued the usual “apologies for the inconvenience” but really, the dust-up at Direct TV is a useful reminder of how many of our fellow Americans know little and think less about what real censorship is.

Consider, for example, Turkey, which used to be a democracy and a nice place to visit. In recent weeks, more than 160 of its news organizations have been closed for “spreading anti-government propaganda.” Some of the laid-off journalists are risking their lives to fight back with a fact-based, social media-based newscast.

Censorship is a big story in Turkey, and all over the world. But you wouldn’t know it from the folks on Fox, nor the leftist lightweights at MSNBC, and the food-fight freaks at the Childish News Network.

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In memory of Steve Carta, reporter’s lawyer

steve-cartaLibrary patrons in North Tallahassee are competing this week for parking spaces with throngs of early voters. Signs in the makeshift precinct warn partisans and press people where, exactly, the “solicitation boundary” lies.

For Florida First Amendment junkies, the signs are a melancholy hat tip to attorney Steve Carta, who died of cancer in September.

The longtime lawyer for the Ft. Myers News-Press is remembered for a long list of groundbreaking media victories, including that time in the ’80s when Carta smacked down an unholy state effort to prohibit photographers and reporters from covering the comings and goings at the polls.

Carta was a reporter’s lawyer. They loved him for his willingness to fight with everybody about everything that stood between News-Press readers and the news. He worked untold unbillable hours to keep his press cases on budgets that didn’t get editors in trouble with their publishers.

If there were no precedent for what the newsies wanted to do, Carta would create one.

Lee Melsek was the first reporter who ever thought to ask Lee County officials for a look at employee personnel files. Officials told him to pound sand. Carta pounded back. His work in News-Press v. Wisher carved into stone a right the press and public now take for granted.

Melsek retired in 2004, but fired up his keyboard to remember Carta in a Sept. 9 News-Press op-ed:

“When we investigated the shenanigans at Lee Memorial Hospital and its longtime president in 1979, Steve again was with us, literally. When hospital security guards pinned me and reporter Barbara Johnson against a wall as we came to ask for public records, Steve rushed to the hospital and made it clear to administrators the paper would not tolerate that kind of bullying of its reporters. In case after case, hearing after hearing, Steve Carta defended this community’s right to know what its government was up to and opened so many dark corners to the daylight the law requires. He was working for this paper, but in so many ways he was also the community’s lawyer. He worked hard to see that government lawyers didn’t succeed in their specious arguments to keep the public’s business private. Gradually, as they lost case after case, these local governments began to understand that the old ways of secrecy and operating in dark rooms was no longer going to work.

“Steve was as important to that mission as any editor or publisher or reporter who ever worked here. He was the sharpshooter armed with the law and a very special ability to aim well.”

Barbara Johnson Liston is still a reporter, writing for Reuters and otherwise keeping alive the values that animated Carta’s life and work.

“I have such great memories of going to court with him or going over story drafts on what seemed like a daily basis. It was an exciting time for both of us,” Liston recalled. “Steve is frozen in my mind as young, aggressive, and brilliant. Getting sued or accused of nefarious things is part of the job for investigative reporters. But Steve helped make sure all of our reporting was rock solid. No one ever got past his motions to dismiss.”

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Above the Fold: Free, but worth its weight in gold

Most free stuff is worth what you’re paying for it.

An exception is Above the Fold, a compilation of the front pages of Florida’s newspapers, produced by Cate Communications and delivered to your inbox daily by 8 a.m.

In time it takes to drink a mug of coffee, you can take in a drone’s-eye view of what’s important to citizens and taxpayers outside #TheProcess.

The aerial maps provided to Above the Fold readers are revealing.

Recent example: Times-Union readers were horrified to learn a domestic violence arrest warrant for frequent felon Darryl Whipple gathered dust for 47 days, and might still be sitting on someone’s desk in Jacksonville had Whipple not walked into a Golden Corral restaurant carrying a can of lighter fluid and a match, which he used to set his estranged girlfriend on fire.

Meanwhile, down in Orlando, Sentinel readers were waking up to a story about a spike in arrests of witnesses to crimes at the behest of prosecutors whose balancing of priorities was open to debate.

Taken separately, these stories are interesting.

Side-by-side, they’re a wake-up call for people who work in and care about the criminal justice system.

For folks who love to connect dots and look at big pictures, Above the Fold is pure, addictive fun. For managers in Florida’s understaffed print and broadcast newsrooms, it’s a vital resource.

But it began life modestly as a labor-saving device for Kevin Cate, who needed to track “above the fold” news coverage of Barack Obama‘s presidential campaign and wanted to spare his interns the boring task of doing it by hand.

The tech-savvy Cate could pull Florida’s front pages out of the ether, but he pays well over $2,500 per year for actual subscriptions.

He understands the collective judgment of local editors is valuable, and he’s justifiably proud of the large volume of traffic he drives to newspapers’ websites.

“We’re trying to provide context,” Cate said. “Just because something gets aggregated somewhere, that doesn’t mean it’s actually important.”

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No good deed — honest cop writes own red light camera ticket, gets reprimand

Everyone enters “the helping professions” with high ideals.

Forty years later, some emerge as cynics who think it’s OK to “help” themselves if no one’s looking.

Not Tim Glover. After decades in Polk County law enforcement, he has his ideals, and a well-earned front page shoutout from the Lakeland Ledger headlined “Officer writes red light ticket to himself.”

Following 30 years with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Glover took a retirement job at the Haines City Police Department, reviewing tapes and writing $158 tickets to drivers caught-on-camera playing chicken with oncoming traffic.

Piggybacking on to the vehicle in front of you is so common, even a traffic cop might not realize he’s cruising through the intersection of Downright Rude and Downright Dangerous.

Glover’s moment of truth came when he was reviewing video from an intersection near the Cuban sandwich joint where he’d taken his Sept. 8 lunch.

“There was a large box truck in front of me,” Glover told Ledger reporter Suzie Schottelkotte, “and I just drove on through behind the truck. It was just me in a hurry to get back to doing what I was supposed to be doing. I fell into that rut of follow-the-leader instead of looking at the light. I made a left with the truck …”

Glover could have cut himself a break by hitting the delete key on the video evidence, but, said his police chief, that is not “the type of person he is … The honesty he shows in his job — it’s always been there.”

In addition to the three-figure fine, Glover’s honesty cost him a written reprimand “for not exercising good judgment when using a department vehicle on duty.”

Writing for The Permanent Record, his sergeant said, “You are a good officer and I hope this letter will be received in the spirit of its intentions, as a learning tool.”

Glover appears to have learned everything there is to know back in grade school. “There wasn’t any doubt when I saw [the tape],” he told The Ledger. “I had to take responsibility for it.”

___

Photo courtesy of The Ledger.

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In violent homes, every night is Halloween

On Halloween, Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter Katie Kustura brings us a timely reminder that for many women and children, every night is “dark, and full of terrors.”

Domestic violence is a notoriously underreported crime, but available statistics place Volusia County near the top of what State Attorney R.J. Larizza calls an epidemic. Larizza is fed up, and is putting together a broad-based community task force to bring the numbers down.

Abusers are adept at convincing victims that they are to blame for the black eyes, broken ribs, and bloody noses inflicted upon them. Domestic violence can go on for years under the oblivious noses of friends, family and co-workers, and it ends amicably about as often as the Cubs make the World Series.

Ekara Nichols‘ story is typical. She was a young single mother when she met Brenson Burns, who was 17 years her senior and very good at playing Prince Charming. By the time his Prince of Darkness emerged, they had a child together, and Nichols was convinced that the problem was some combination of her looks, her personality, and her housekeeping skills.

In fact, Burns was a garden-variety serial abuser who needed no “provocation” to use a woman as a punching bag. Unbeknown to Nichols, Burns had done time in the 20th century for attempted murder, having inflicted 24 stab wounds on a woman who had the bad fortune to be the subject of his “infatuation.”

In Volusia County the focus is beginning to shift from “Why do victims stay?” to “Why do abusers abuse?” Often, the answer can be found in the tree from which the abusive apple fell. Parents tell themselves that the kids can’t hear the slamming of fists on flesh in the room behind the closed door. Daytona Beach Police Victim Advocate Sophie Vessa calls that idea “laughable … you don’t sleep through domestic violence,” she told the News-Journal.

Much more likely you grow up to be a lead actor in a new generation of domestic violence. Take it from Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood, who has been around long enough “… to see the kids that were in the house when we arrested Dad, we’re now arresting the kid who is in a relationship as a domestic batterer.”

Larizza’s task force was hailed by Tiffany Carr, CEO of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. She told the News-Journal it’s a “groundbreaking effort for a community of Volusia’s size.”

Breaking the cycle of family violence is a neat trick, and Kustura’s story is a Halloween treat.

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Florence Snyder: Postcard from Halloween

How did Halloween come to be first runner-up to Christmas among holidays that excel at separating families from their money?

We can thank people like John Murdy, creative director and executive producer of Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood.

In an interview with Marketplace Weekend’s Eliza Mills, Murdy recalls growing up in the ’70s, when Halloween was just a small treat on the run-up to winter. Murdy was just 10 years old, but already developing tricks that would help elevate a minor annual diversion into a major year-round economic engine.

Armed with little more than chicken wire and imagination, Murdy turned the family garage into a Star Wars-themed Halloween House and charged 25 cents admission. By the time he reached middle school, the show had expanded from the garage to every room in the house and into the backyard. The crowds numbered in the hundreds.

These days, Murdy has no trouble finding seasonal employees for Universal’s multi-sensory fright-fest. He’s hired doctors, lawyers, 70-year-old grandmothers, and mechanical engineers to dress up and scare people.

Horror may not get a lot of respect as a genre, Murdy notes, but its fans are ferociously loyal. Universal’s Horror House is not a cheap date, but patrons know they’ll get a very generous shot of adrenaline.

People who do what they love don’t need metrics mavens. They trust their own eyes and do their own polling.

“I don’t need to look at a survey or any kind of data,” Murdy said.” I just stand outside and look at the crowd.”

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Florence Snyder: Memo from The Moon, ‘641 Muriel Court’

641-muriel-courtKyle Jones‘ mother was among the hundreds who packed The Moon last night for the Tallahassee premier of the Florida State University senior’s first foray into filmmaking.

She must be over-the-moon proud.

Jones, assisted by fellow students Elijah Howard, Deanna Kidd, and Michael Walsh, received a loud and warm ovation for “641 Muriel Court,” their documentary about the 50-year-old unsolved murders of Robert and Helen Sims and their 12-year-old daughter Joy, a student at nearby Raa Middle School.

Everyone in the room knew the broad outlines of the story, and many of them were living here Oct. 23, 1966, when news broke that the family had been stabbed, shot, and left to die in their home the night before, while the older Sims daughters were out baby-sitting.

It was a time when Tallahassee people didn’t think to lock their doors, even when away on vacation. There was no 911, and no paramedics to be dispatched to render assistance to the victims who had not yet drawn their last breath.

When they came home to their dead sister and dying parents, the teenage Sims girls had nowhere to turn but the phone book.

Funeral director Russell Bevis got the call. Had he understood the magnitude of the bloodbath at Muriel Court, he might have not brought his son along to help.

Rocky Bevis, who took over the family business in 1998, is still haunted by what he and his dad saw.

Bevis, along with Joy’s neighbors and classmates, local historians, and, remarkably, a person of interest in the murder investigation, granted lengthy and revealing interviews to the student filmmakers. Virtually all the story is told in their voices, and the grainy black and white footage of long-ago interviews with a witness and possible accessory to the murders.

The students frame their film with archival material that reminds us what Tallahassee looked like in its Mayberry days.

Jones & Co. are shopping their project on the Florida film festival circuit.

They should do well; “641 Muriel Court” is a compelling hour of storytelling that would fit comfortably into the lineup of big-budget cold case programming on cable TV.

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Florence Snyder: If you’re laughing, it was probably not a ‘skit’

Pols, pundits and other people in #TheProcess are busy plastering their social media accounts with paeans to the “skits” produced and performed by the stellar crew and cast at Saturday Night Live.

So this is a good time to show our appreciation by resolving not to mention Lorne Michaels’ people in the same sentence with the word “skit” ever again. Men and women who make their living by making us laugh would never use that four-letter word to describe SNL’s version of a presidential debate or TV game show, nor any of the parodies, satires and social commentaries that come out of an improv troupe at Podunk Junior College, let alone an internationally celebrated comedy collective.

Aaron Sorkin, who brought us The West Wing and The Newsroom, explains: A skit is when the football players dress up as cheerleaders and think it’s wit. A sketch is when some of the best minds in comedy come together.”

A more detailed explanation is provided by Tim and Kris O’Shea, who present humor-infused motivational programs to Fortune 500 companies. On their website, the O’Sheas elaborate:

People often say to us, “Oh, I love your skits.” And that’s a great compliment.

But we twitch a little bit inside when we hear that … because we don’t do “skits.” We do sketch comedy.

What’s the difference you ask? Here’s the deal:

A sketch is a skillfully crafted segment of purpose-driven comedic material, written and performed by professionals.

A skit is created by amateurs, and it usually looks that way, too.

Some examples:

Saturday Night Live is sketch comedy.

Performing that funny short play you wrote with your cousins in your grandma’s basement at Thanksgiving when you were a kid … well, that was a skit.

The Carol Burnett Show was brilliant, classic sketch comedy.

What the counselors did at summer camp after the mac & cheese dinner was a skit.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Mad TV, The Tracey Ullman Show, and Laugh-In: you guessed it … all contain sketches.

In high school, when the cheerleaders dressed up as football players and the football players dressed up as the cheerleaders and performed something that wasn’t funny … that was definitely a skit.

A sketch is material that has been drafted, discussed, edited, tried and perfected by trained comedy writing professionals that have hundreds of hours of experience in front of hundreds of audiences of all types.

A skit is “cute.”

So now you know!

Skit: amateur.

Sketch: professional.

We do sketch comedy.

Sorkin and the O’Sheas probably could tell us exactly how many decades ago “football players dressed as cheerleaders” came to be shorthand for the great gaping space between skits and sketches. It’s time to put skits back where they belong … pep rallies, frat parties, and corporate events which were not produced by the O’Sheas.

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