“The Charlie story is up,” a fellow politico called to tell me mid-Friday morning.
Florida’s political universe had known for days that Adam C. Smith and Michael Kruse’s pre-primary profile of Crist would go live sometime on Friday, but I had to drive back to St. Petersburg from Tallahassee and I could not wait for the story to post.
So I started driving on Apalachee Parkway. I did not get far before that first call came alerting me that the story was up.
With unnecessary drama, I swerved off to the side of the road, pulled out my MacBook Pro, connected to the Internet via my iPhone’s personal hotspot and prepared to rapid-fire blog and tweet in response to Smith and Kruse’s opus.
Then I read it. And when I was finished, I closed my laptop, put away my phone and went about driving home.
That’s what I think about the much-ballyhooed, “definitive” profile of Charlie Crist.
Of course, I am not who the profile was written for, nor are the readers of this blog. Anyone with a working knowledge of the last two decades of Florida politics already knows about 95 percent of what’s reported by Smith and Kruse. The other 5 percent is just Kruse’s award-winning prose giving old stories new legs.
“Who is Charlie Crist?” is the print equivalent of one of those Hollywood biopics released at Christmastime in order to compete for The Academy Awards. It is “The Butler.” It is “Invictus.” It is “The Iron Lady.’ All very good biographical films, but not so good that you buy the DVD.
You can tell just how good, but not great, the Smith-Kruse profile is by the reception it has received from other journalists.
Put aside the forced-tweets coming from Smith and Kruse’s colleagues at the Tampa Bay Times. Times reporters are encouraged to highlight the work of their fellow Timesmen, so any tweet from them is not much more than obligatory. As is editor Amy Hollyfield’s retweeting of every not-negative mention the Smith-Kruse profile received.
Sure, there are some kind words online for the piece, but nothing to justify dedicating two ace reporters to months of covering this topic. One reader even described it as “illuminating w/great words to boot (see ‘niblet’ & ‘unctuous’).”
But the most repeated description you’ll read of the piece is “exhaustive.” As in exhaustively researched. That’s how POLITICO described it. That’s how lobbying firm Southern Strategy Group described it. That’s how The Washington Post described it (actually, the Post said it was thoroughly reported).
And that’s what this profile really is: exhausting. Like Elaine watching “The English Patient” exhausting.
The length of the piece is at the heart of what’s wrong with the profile. Kruse (and Smith, to some extent) are such “stars,” that I imagine it’s difficult for any editor to tell him to maybe, perhaps — this is just a suggestion — cut a couple of paragraphs. But if the profile isn’t long enough, then it can’t be filed under #longform, a hashtag reference to a brand of journalism that prides itself on taking up as much space as possible, while looking down on those who don’t have the time to read 11,000 words in one sitting. Longform is to journalism what hipsterism is to pop culture.
Yet, as exhaustive and “exhaustively reported” as this profile is, I know it to be incomplete.
Any profile of Charlie Crist that only includes two passing references to Harry Sargeant, the billionaire ex-Marine who has been a close friend of Crist since they were fraternity brothers at Florida State University, or one to Jay Burmer, the confidant who has played a hand in several of Crist’s campaigns, is an incomplete one.
From what I’ve been told, neither Smith nor Kruse spoke to David Rancourt, another fraternity brother of Crist’s who is helping to guide Crist’s gubernatorial campaign, or to Mike Hamby, one of the few people who can rightly lay claim to the title of Charlie’s best friend.
Not having Sargeant, Burmer, Hamby, or Rancourt included in this story is like writing a biography of Magic Johnson and not including the perspectives of Kareem Abdul Jabbar, James Worthy, Michael Cooper, and Byron Scott.
I am also told the reporters did not speak to prominent current or former Crist staffers, such as Chiefs-of-Staff Erik Eikenberg, Shane Strum, Stephanie Smith, Michelle Todd, or Kevin Cate.
Instead, Smith and Kruse rely on a boatload of unattributed anecdotes and comments, many of which probably came from — I wouldn’t call them disgruntled, but I would not call them friendly — sources, such as Arlene DiBenigno or Erin Isaac or other former staffers who have long since moved on from Cristworld.
Other on-the-record comments are from red-meat Republicans who owe some or a lot of their career to Crist and should have told Kruse and Smith, “No comment.”
Not that there is anything truly revelatory to be found in the pile of words Smith and Kruse assemble. Crist has always been ambitious! Crist has been a closet smoker! Crist didn’t get along with his teenage step-daughters!
Honestly, is there anything in this profile that was not first mentioned in Crist’s own book or Jim Greer’s salacious tell-all? Is there anything in this profile that could not be found in the Tampa Bay Times archives?
Just read the “Five big takeaways from the Tampa Bay Times gigantic profile of Charlie Crist” written by Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post. Here are those five big takeaways: “He’s been campaigning his whole life”; “He’s one of the most aggressive fundraisers in politics”; “Cool in public, but prickly in private”; “His most trusted adviser has been his dad”; “A brutal line from a former confidant.”
To takeaways #1, #2, and #4, all one can say is “Duh!”
Is Charlie “prickly in private?” I am too biased to answer that question honestly, but my wife has been an adviser to him for five years and he has been nothing but generous and gracious to her.
As for the “brutal line” from George LeMieux, like I wrote above, some people should know when to say “No comment.”
It’s no surprise that I am going to take issue with Smith and Kruse’s portrait of Crist. I am, as Smith has described me, a “Crist acolyte.” That said, this blog has been very even-handed with its coverage of Crist during this gubernatorial race; in fact, on more than one occasion, I have been in hot water with the Crist campaign (and my wife) for what I’ve written about Charlie.
But I am not taking issue with this profile because it makes Crist look bad; it doesn’t. In fact, I would say this profile does Crist a tremendous favor, knocking down some of the rumors (kept alive over the years, in part, by the Times and Smith in particular) that have dogged him. A good portion of the piece can be summed up as “Charlie Crist isn’t gay, not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
More important for Crist, he has now moved past the Greer book and the Tampa Bay Times profile of him and lived to fight another day. Political reporters, again I have to single out Smith here, and Crist’s political rivals such as Alex Sink, have been predicting that Crist would have trouble getting past the “scandals” discussed in the Greer book and the Times profile.
Turns out there wasn’t much fire to all of that smoke. That is, unless you want to talk about cigarette burns in a hotel room.