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Spotted at the Governors Club: The last troubadour of Real Florida

Jeff Klinkenberg is not the kind of guy who does “luncheons,” but there he was at the Governors Club Tuesday, entertaining Friends of the First Amendment — some real, some fake — at the First Amendment Foundation’s annual fundraiser.

He looked a lot more comfortable later that day at Sally Bradshaw’s bookstore, telling true tales about things that “make Florida unique” to an appreciative audience of people who like to choose their reading material in a venue that does not sell toilet paper and tampons.

Klinkenberg coined the term Real Florida and cornered the knowledge market on everything worth knowing about people who do not need Disney to fire their imaginations or casinos to pump their adrenaline. To people genuinely committed to Florida, Klinkenberg is the Scheherazade of storytelling, revered by regular folks and by fellow A-list writers.

One of them, FSU professor and National Book Award winner Bob Shacochis showed up at Klinkenberg’s book signing to pay his respects. It was like watching Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page trade licks.

“Did you ever skinny dip with Jane Wood Reno?” Sachochis asked Klinkenberg. It was a question that could have come only from an author and journalist who knew and loved Florida long before the state became an international punchline.

Skinny dipping with Jane Wood Reno is one of the few Real Florida experiences Klinkenberg has not had. But she and her famous offspring have been in his database since 1966, when Klinkenberg was a 16-year-old stringer for The Miami News, where Reno was an esteemed reporter in an era when newspapers didn’t even have to pretend to take women seriously.

As a kid in Miami, Klinkenberg developed a passion for fishing, playing with snakes, and reading the inspired “About Florida” columns of the Miami Herald’s Al Burt. “I wanted to grow up to be Al Burt,” Klinkenberg said. “Back then, every paper had a person who wrote about Florida” so it seemed like a reasonable career goal, and a pretty good way to pay for the bait and tackle.

Great editors like the late Gene Patterson and Mike Wilson, now with The Dallas Morning News, saw the Al Burt potential in the young Jeff Klinkenberg, and turned him loose to travel the state in search of stories to inform, inspire, delight and dazzle readers of the St. Petersburg Times. Klinkenberg faithfully delivered for 37 years.

Telling real stories of real people was never just a job to Klinkenberg. It’s a calling, and he’ll be pursuing it until his last breath, or until they pave over the last square inch of Real Florida, whichever comes first.

Jeff Greene’s lawyer calls out Tampa Bay Times

Jeff Greene‘s lawyer is berating the Tampa Bay Times over a story on its settlement of Greene’s libel suit against it.

Greene, a Palm Beach billionaire, also is “demand(ing) that the Tampa Bay Times now disclose the amount publicly.” He sued the Times and the Miami Herald in 2010 but settled confidentially with both papers in recent weeks.

Times attorney Alison Steele, who negotiated the settlement, could not be immediately reached by phone Tuesday afternoon.

The real estate developer, who ran as a Democrat, claimed both newspapers derailed his U.S. Senate campaign that year with coverage of alleged fraudulent real estate deals and wild parties on his 145-foot yacht.

Democrat Kendrick Meek, a former state senator, went on to win the Democratic primary. The seat eventually was won by current Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

The newspaper ran a 226-word story on the settlement last week.

In it, Times editor Neil Brown said the settlement “represents our insurance company’s calculation of acceptable legal expenses. On the central dispute, the Times does not retract or correct our coverage, nor will we limit any future reporting.”

On Tuesday, Atlanta attorney L. Lin Wood fired back with a nearly 800-word statement released to FloridaPolitics.com and other news media.

“The statement of Neil Brown is false and misleading,” Wood said. “The Tampa Bay Times is attempting to spin this settlement as a victory for the newspaper when, in fact, it was a well-deserved defeat for the Times and a victory” for Greene.

“I stand by the statement in the previous article and the Times has nothing further to add,” Brown said in an email Tuesday evening.

Wood added that the “requirement that the amount be confidential and not be disclosed was a condition imposed by the Tampa Bay Times.”

“Having focused on defamation cases for over 20 of my 39 years of law practice, I would accurately characterize the amount paid as a significant payment for the settlement of a public figure libel case, consistent with an acknowledgment of wrongdoing,” Wood said.

He added: “I can state unequivocally that the settlement amount bears no reasonable relationship to the amount of legal expenses that would have been incurred by the Tampa Bay Times if it had elected to have the case resolved by a jury trial, as opposed to a settlement.”

Greene, Wood said, “did not file and pursue this litigation for the primary purpose of financial gain.”

Rather, he did so to publicly correct the false and defamatory statements which impugned his personal and business reputation. Mr. Greene’s primary goal was accomplished by the publication of the Editor’s Notes for each article.

Mr. Greene is a multi-billionaire and philanthropist who, along with his wife, Mei Sze, have signed the Giving Pledge started by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates. While Mr. Greene was less concerned with the settlement amount, he wanted to make certain that the amount was large enough to be consistent with an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and could never be correctly characterized as a “cost of litigation” payment – which is exactly the mischaracterization set forth in the Brown statement.

The Tampa Bay Times did not attempt to contact Mr. Greene or me for comment prior to publishing its own self-serving article based on the Brown statement. The circumstances surrounding the Brown statement, and the Tampa Bay Times article based on it, should raise serious questions of journalistic integrity and credibility in the minds of readers of the Times.

A Miami-Dade circuit judge dismissed Greene’s suit in 2012, saying he couldn’t “prove the paper acted in malice,” a legal standard in libel actions brought by public figures.

Greene would have to show the Times and Herald knew their stories were wrong or that they had a “reckless disregard” of whether their reporting was false or not.

An appellate court reversed the judge’s decision and revived the suit, saying Greene’s claims were “legally sufficient” to move forward.

Tampa Bay Times settles suit with Jeff Greene

The Tampa Bay Times settled a libel suit filed against it by Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene, the newspaper reported Thursday.

The terms of that settlement were not released.

“We have been in this legal standoff for nearly six years,” Times Editor Neil Brown said in a statement. “The settlement represents our insurance company’s calculation of acceptable legal expenses.

“On the central dispute, the Times does not retract or correct our coverage, nor will we limit any future reporting,” he added.

Greene, a real estate developer, ran as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate in 2010. The seat eventually was won by current Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

Greene claimed that both newspapers derailed his Senate campaign with coverage of alleged fraudulent real estate deals and wild parties on his 145-foot yacht.

Democrat Kendrick Meek, a former state senator, went on to win the Democratic primary.

One story insinuated that former boxer Mike Tyson – best man at Greene’s wedding – had used drugs on the yacht. The Times later ran a rare front-page clarification, with Tyson saying he did not use drugs on Greene’s yacht.

A Miami-Dade circuit judge had dismissed Greene’s suit in 2012, saying he couldn’t “prove the paper acted in malice,” a legal standard in libel actions brought by public figures.

Greene would have to show the Times and Herald knew their stories were wrong or that they had a “reckless disregard” of whether their reporting was false or not.

An appellate court reversed the judge’s decision and revived the suit, saying Greene’s claims were “legally sufficient” to move forward.

Greene already settled last month with The Miami Herald, the Times’ co-defendant in the case. The terms of that arrangement also weren’t disclosed.

Whither Jeff Greene’s lawsuit against the Tampa Bay Times?

The last week of April has come and gone without a trial on billionaire Jeff Greene‘s libel suit against the Tampa Bay Times.

“We have a trial date set for the end of April,” Times attorney Alison Steele told FloridaPolitics.com last month.

With no trial, is a settlement in the offing?

Greene already settled last month with The Miami Herald, the Times’ co-defendant in the case. The terms of that arrangement weren’t disclosed.

On Friday, Steele was mum and didn’t return calls.

Greene’s attorney, Lin Wood of Atlanta, was not in the office Friday.

Coincidentally, the trial had been scheduled the week before the Times’ purchase and closure of its cross-bay rival, The Tampa Tribune.

On Friday, The Associated Press reported the paper still wasn’t saying what it paid for the Trib.

But the Times reported Wednesday it took on about $13.3 million in new debt just before the purchase, according to a mortgage filed Wednesday in Pinellas County … The new mortgage is the latest installment of financing the Times has taken out over the past three years with Crystal Financial of Boston. The Times now owes Crystal $18 million, the Times reported.

Greene, a Palm Beach real estate developer, ran as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate in 2010. The seat eventually was won by current Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

Greene has claimed that both newspapers derailed his Senate campaign with their reporting of alleged fraudulent real estate deals and wild parties on his 145-foot yacht.

Democrat Kendrick Meek, a former state senator, went on to win the Democratic primary.

According to a New York Times account, one story insinuated that former boxer Mike Tyson – best man at Greene’s wedding – had used drugs on the yacht.

The Tampa Bay Times later ran a rare front-page clarification, with Tyson saying he did not use drugs on Greene’s yacht.

A Miami-Dade circuit judge had dismissed Greene’s suit in 2012, saying he couldn’t “prove the paper acted in malice,” a legal standard in libel actions brought by public figures.

Greene would have to show the Times and Herald knew their stories were wrong or that they had a “reckless disregard” of whether their reporting was false or not.

An appellate court reversed the judge’s decision and revived the suit, saying Greene’s claims were “legally sufficient” to move forward.

Former St. Pete Times sports columnist Hubert Mizell dies at 76

Maybe sports were bigger then. It’s certain that sports columnists were.

For 27 years, Hubert Mizell was the most recognizable face in the employ of the St. Petersburg Times. In a time before the Internet or cable TV channels, his was the voice that guided Tampa Bay through the arrival of hockey and baseball, through the days when the Bucs became presentable, through the great seasons of Florida and FSU. Few others cast a shadow as large as his in the press boxes of Tampa Bay.

Mizell, 76, died Wednesday from cancer of the blood, kidney failure and congestive heart failure.

In a career of writing, Mizell knew most of the greats: Bobby Knight was a favorite. So were Steve Spurrier and Bobby Bowden and Don Shula. He covered 42 college bowl games, 33 Masters golf tournaments, 10 Olympics and eight Wimbledons.

Once, as FSU came behind to tie Florida in the “Choke at the Doak,” Mizell was assigned to do the FSU column. Fine, he said. I’m going to do it on quarterback Danny Kanell, who had been terrific in the comeback.

But when Mizell arrived at the FSU news conference, something bigger grabbed his attention. When Bowden went to sit at the head of the room, his chair slipped off the back of the stage. He tumbled and almost fell. In the video, you can hear Mizell’s booming laughter.

“Don’t laugh at me, Hubert,” Bowden said.

Right there on the spot, Mizell changed tactics. Others could pick up the Kanell stuff. Mizell wrote about Bowden, and the near-catastrophe that had befallen him. It was probably the most-read piece in the newspaper.

He was there when there was an earthquake during the World Series. He was there when Lee Roy Selmon entered the Hall of Fame. He was there when the Lightning and Rays were born.

And so Mizell went about his job, crafting every day. He left once to go to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution — he covered Princess Diana‘s wedding — then came back. (I joined him on staff in 1990 and as a co-columnist in 1992).

He was boisterous, proud of his position on the staff and in the state.

There were not many columnists who mattered more.

Mizell was an unapologetic supporter of sports in Florida and in the Tampa Bay area. In Barcelona at the Olympics, he referred to the day the Giants were sold to St. Petersburg as one of the great days of his life.

Of course, Mizell didn’t have many bad days, not from his first day in a press box to the farewell dinner thrown for him by the Times – and attended by Spurrier, Bowden, Tony Dungy and others.

He laughed louder than most sports columnists. He wrote that way, too.

The joy of the games never faded for Mizell. There was always one more game, and one more press pass around his belt. That’s how a life was spent, from going from one field to another.

Those who read him will remember.

Jeff Greene is continuing libel suit against Times, Herald

Billionaire Jeff Greene‘s libel suit against the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald newspapers is still on after a court-ordered mediation in the case didn’t result in a settlement.

Times attorney Alison Steele, a partner in the St. Petersburg law firm of Rahdert, Steele, Reynolds & Driscoll, told Florida Politics on Tuesday that Steele also has filed an amended complaint in his lawsuit.

The new filing “amplified his allegations of a joint venture by the Times and Herald to derail Greene’s Senate candidacy,” she said in an email. A call to L. Lin Wood, Greene’s Atlanta-based lawyer, was not returned.

Greene, a 60-year-old real estate developer from Palm Beach, ran as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate in 2010. The seat eventually was won by current Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, now a presidential candidate.

Greene has claimed that the newspapers derailed his Senate campaign their reporting alleged fraudulent real-estate deals and wild parties on his 145-foot yacht. Democrat Kendrick Meek, a former state senator, went on to win the Democratic primary.

According to a New York Times account, one story insinuated that former boxer Mike Tyson, best man at Greene’s wedding, had used drugs on the yacht. The Times later ran a rare front-page clarification, with Tyson saying he did not use drugs on Greene’s yacht.

A Miami-Dade circuit judge had dismissed the suit in 2012, saying Greene couldn’t “prove the paper acted in malice,” a legal standard in libel actions brought by public figures.

Here, Greene would have to show the Times and Herald knew their stories were wrong or that they had a “reckless disregard” of whether their reporting was false or not.

But an appellate court reversed the judge’s decision and revived the suit last year, saying Greene’s claims were “legally sufficient” to move forward.

Meantime, Steele said the Herald has moved for summary judgment, a ruling by a judge before trial that one side is entitled to win based on the facts and the law. A hearing on that motion has not yet been scheduled, Steele said.

Moreover, the Times withdrew a motion to dismiss on grounds of “technical errors in the amended complaint” and instead will file an answer next week, Steele said.

Depositions were held for reporter Kris Hundley, political editor Adam Smith, news librarian Caryn Baird and others, Steele added, but not yet for Greene. Also, a trial date still has not been set.

Submit your questions for Pinellas School Board candidates

Got a question you’re dying to ask the Pinellas school board candidates?

Well then, fire away. Right here.

The Gradebook is rounding up questions for an Aug. 3 candidates forum that is being co-sponsored by the Pinellas Education Foundation, the Pinellas County Council of PTAs, WPDS-Channel 14 and the St. Petersburg Times.

All the questions posed to candidates that night will be taken from this Gradebook post. The deadline for submission is Friday, July 16.

If you want to remain anonymous, that’s okay. But if you’d like to include your name and other pertinent information, that’d be good too. It would be nice if we could tell the candidates whether a question came from a parent, a teacher, a student, a businessperson, etc.

Okay? Let ‘er rip

Deveron Gibbons makes appearance at Darryl Rouson campaign event, says he is running for mayor in 2013

There is a city named St. Petersburg and in it, you and I go about our days, enjoying all that the ‘burg has to offer.  In this reality, Deveron Gibbons was just issued a restraining order to stay away from his girlfriend after allegedly trying to run her over with his car.  In this reality, the downfall of Deveron Gibbons is being discussed on the pages of the St. Petersburg Times, on this blog and in hundreds of conversations occurring all over town.  In this reality, the Governor’s Office has been contacted — again — with detailed reports about Gibbons’ problems, just so that Charlie Crist knows that appointing Deveron to the St. Petersburg College Board would be a mistake, that putting Deveron Gibbons’ name on any more Host Committees for Crist’s campaign would be savaged by his opponents.

In this reality, Deveron Gibbons will never be elected dog catcher much less mayor of St. Petersburg.

In this reality, if you had to bet on whether Deveron will be in jail in four years or in City Hall, on which choice would you put your money?

Yet, there is a different reality that must exist for Deveron Gibbons, who casually stopped by Darryl Rouson’s Campaign Kick-off last night. Deveron told anyone and everyone who would listen that the “case against him has already been dropped” and that the police are going to charge his girlfriend with making a false statement.

Iisn’t Deveron’s argument about his girlfriend making a false statement his typical defense against any accusation?  When his embarrassing driving record was revealed, rather than admit that he had some minor issues — an admission that would have allowed him to move on from the issue — he told Goliath Davis and his other supporters that the Times was going to print a retraction and issue an apology.

Just like he told all of his donors and supporters he was ahead in the polls, just so he could get a few thousand dollars more from his contributors.

Contributors, evidently, who will be asked again to support Gibbons.  As clear as a bell, Gibbons told several people at last night’s event for Darryl Rouson that he will run for mayor of St. Petersburg in 2013, come hell or high-water. I recently outlined 10 reasons why Gibbons will never, ever be mayor of St. Petersburg, but I almost think I need to revise the list with a new number one reason:

DEVERON, YOU TRIED TO RUN OVER YOUR PREGNANT GIRLFRIEND! Such a heinous act is not exactly something that endears you to voters.

Instead of worrying about being mayor,  a close, former supporter of Deveron points out, Gibbons needs to worry about keeping his job with Amscot.  Even a loan-sharking company like Amscot will see that it has a problem on its hands by employing Gibbons as the public face of its company.

I know what it’s like to be down-and-out and the last person in world Deveron is going to listen to is me, but the guy needs to book it out of town for a year or two.  Go to Atlanta, where Gibbons has a lot of friends, and get his shit together.  It’s come to the point that, in St. Petersburg, Gibbons is starting to scare people.

5 things I think about today’s St. Petersburg Times (6/30)

Obviously the story of the day is the shooting deaths of two of the City of Tampa’s finest.  This is an atrocious incident, and nothing I would write hasn’t already been written by better journalists, so I’ll just leave this issue alone — while praying for the families of all those involved.  Today would not be a bad day for a few minutes of daily Mass

There is an incident, far, far less serious than the shooting deaths of two police officers that I will gladly talk about and that is the continuing saga otherwise known as The Fall of Deveron Gibbons.  The latest edition to this story involves him being served with a restraining order after attempting to run down his pregnant girlfriend, the effervescent Rita Wesley.  Undoubtedly, I will be writing more about this episode in a separate post, but make sure you read this story.  And if you know Deveron, keep track of how he tries to spin this story into something else.

Two weeks ago, I wrote Deveron Gibbons is still an SOB and here are ten reasons why he won’t be Mayor in 2013.  Obviously, I will have to update my Top 10 list, but needless to say, Deveron Gibbons (not incidentally Goliath Davis’ closest political ally) is done in elected politics, at least for a decade.  In fact, right now, Deveron needs to worry about keeping his job with Amscot; the public face of a major company doesn’t need to be linked to a restraining order.

A note about the Times‘ coverage of this story: kudos for the newspaper actually running this story — a story so many of us believed but could not prove.  Interesting though, commenting to the online version of this story had to be closed, as Times online editor Karen McAlister graciously explained to me, because so many of the comments were inappropriate.

There was something I found interesting on McAlister’s blog unrelated to the Gibbons story.  It was a request to share tips regarding any developments involving the Tampa Bay Rays and their search for a new stadium:

Have you heard that investors are assembling land in Carillon or that Stu Sternberg has met with bankers in Charlotte? The Rays’ search for a new stadium is going to take years to unfold and the St. Petersburg Times would like your help in staying abreast of developments. Please e-mail reporter Stephen Nohlgren at nohlgren@sptimes.com with any tips about important things going on that we might not know about.

Um, no.  Don’t share your tips with the Times. As Noah Pransky of 10 Connects courageously and vigorously detailed during Monday’s newscast:

Newspapers have long joined their communities in root, root, rooting for the home team. But in Tampa Bay, they’ve also got a reputation for rooting for the home team’s business ventures.

So you don;t know what the not-so-benevolent newspaper might do with any information you provide it. So be careful. Actually, I can’t believe the Times is soliciting for tips from its readers. How gauche!

Ending today’s criticism on the least serious topic, take note that new Times food critic Jim Webster attempts to explain his role and, as critical as I’ve been before of the paper’s efforts to write about food, I feel completely justified in these criticisms. Read this limp paragraph and make your own decision:

I’m going to go out to eat, and then I’m going to tell you about it. Often you will read about places I liked. Sometimes you’ll read about places I didn’t. There are no guarantees that you’ll like the places that I liked, and I’m sure that any place I don’t like will have a legion of fans. That’s okay. Ultimately, my job is to tell readers about my experience. After I have done that a few times, you’ll know how my opinion jibes with yours. And if that gets some conversations started along the way, all the better.

How weak!

Worst of all, Webster readily admits he has NEVER worked in a restaurant.  NEVER.   This is your new food critic!  Bon Appetit.

5 things I think about today’s St. Petersburg Times (6/30)

Obviously the story of the day is the shooting deaths of two of the City of Tampa’s finest.  This is an atrocious incident, and nothing I would write hasn’t already been written by better journalists, so I’ll just leave this issue alone — while praying for the families of all those involved.  Today would not be a bad day for a few minutes of Daily Mass

There is an incident, far, far less serious than the shooting deaths of two police officers that I will gladly talk about and that is the continuing saga otherwise known as The Fall of Deveron Gibbons.  The latest edition to this story involves him being served with a restraining order after attempting to run down his pregnant girlfriend, the effervescent Rita Wesley.  Undoubtedly, I will be writing more about this episode in a separate post, but make sure you read this story.  And if you know Deveron, keep track of how he tries to spin this story into something else.

Two weeks ago, I wrote Deveron Gibbons is still a SOB and here are ten reasons why he won’t be Mayor in 2013.  Obviously, I will have to update my Top 10 list, but needless to say, Deveron Gibbons (not incidentally Goliah Davis’ closest political ally) is done in elected politics, at least for a decade.  In fact, right now, Deveron needs to worry about keeping his job with Amscot; the public face of a major company doesn’t need to be linked to a restraining order.

A note about the Times‘ coverage of this story: kudos for the newspaper actually running this story — a story so many of us believed but could not prove.  Interesting though, commenting to the online version of this story had to be closed, as Times online editor Karen McAlister graciously explained to me, because so many of the comments were inappropriate.

There was something I found interesting on McAlister’s blog unrelated to the Gibbons story.  It was a request to share tips regarding any developments involving the Tampa Bay Rays and their search for a new stadium:

Have you heard that investors are assembling land in Carillon or that Stu Sternberg has met with bankers in Charlotte? The Rays’ search for a new stadium is going to take years to unfold and the St. Petersburg Times would like your help in staying abreast of developments. Please e-mail reporter Stephen Nohlgren at nohlgren@sptimes.com with any tips about important things going on that we might not know about.

Um, no.  Don’t share your tips with the Times. As Noah Pransky of 10 Connects courageously and vigorously detailed during Monday’s newscast:

Newspapers have long joined their communities in root, root, rooting for the home team. But in Tampa Bay, they’ve also got a reputation for rooting for the home team’s business ventures.

So you don;t know what the not-so-benevolent newspaper might do with any information you provide it.  So be careful. Actually, I can’t believe the Times is soliciting for tips from its readers. How gauche!

Ending today’s criticism on the least serious topic, take note that new Times food critic Jim Webster attempts to explain his role and, as critical as I’ve been before of the paper’s efforts to write about food, I feel completely justified in these criticisms. Read this limp paragraph and make your own decision:

I’m going to go out to eat, and then I’m going to tell you about it. Often you will read about places I liked. Sometimes you’ll read about places I didn’t. There are no guarantees that you’ll like the places that I liked, and I’m sure that any place I don’t like will have a legion of fans. That’s okay. Ultimately, my job is to tell readers about my experience. After I have done that a few times, you’ll know how my opinion jibes with yours. And if that gets some conversations started along the way, all the better.

How weak!

Worst of all, Webster readily admits he has NEVER worked in a restaurant.  NEVER.   This is your new food critic!  Bon Appetit.

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