Your time is too valuable for me to waste it repeating why the Tampa Bay Times stories about Republican fundraising at King Ranch are overhyped prize-chasers.
Reporters Craig Pittman and Michael Van Sickler are making the otherwise ordinary — political fundraising financed by a “special interest” — read like the scandal of the summer. It’s not enough to say that no laws have been broken — that’s not a good enough standard for our elected officials — it’s that no one can point to anything being out of the ordinary.
This is the post-gift ban world which the Tampa Bay Times editorialized for in 2005-6. Yet, Pittman and Van Sickler sound as if they just woke up and the whole world has gone to hell because of the gift ban laws.
The reporters have their sunk their teeth into this dead horse and they’re not going to let go until they meet some awards committee’s requirement that a winning entry demonstrate how, because of the applicants’ coverage, change occurred. For Pittman and Van Sickler to collect some hardware for this series, there must be outrage, dammit! And there must be a reaction to this outrage.
However, before outrage, must come confession and the Times has beaten it out of Speaker Designate Steve Crisafulli.
Pittman and Van Sickler reported Sunday that the Crisafulli “has confirmed that he took at least one secret hunting trip to King Ranch in Texas.”
Secret how? Secret as in private? Secret as in an invitation was not mailed to either Pittman or Van Sickler?
You can tell when the Times is going to drop into low gear; reporters begin by cheating on the descriptors, like repeatedly using the word “secret” to describe multiple events occurring over three years that, according to the Times‘ own reporting, involved dozens of participants and were known to scores of others, and were the subject of public Facebook postings complete with photos. And using “funnel” to describe legally given and fully reported in-kind contributions to the Republican Party of Florida.
One reporter’s “donate” is another writes “funnel.”
At the Times, Disney “contributes” the value of food, lodging, and park tickets for events on its properties, but U.S. Sugar “funnels” the same things for events on its properties. It’s all part of a concerted effort by the newspaper to demonize politics.
As I previously wrote, the Tampa Bay Times would prefer that we all live in a world where political fundraising didn’t exist, but since that is not reality, it will attack anyone who is not working towards this utopia.
And yesterday, in its War on Politics, the Times wrangled a confession of the next Speaker of the Florida House.
“I have participated in fundraising events in places such as New York City, California and Texas, to name a few,” Crisafulli said in a release put out by his political consultant Brian Hughes. “Some have been events at sporting competitions, others have been at historic locations, and at King Ranch the events included game hunting.”
Pittman and Van Sickler then do their darndest to connect every dot possible linking Big Sugar and Crisafulli, including the damning (LOL!) revelation that he is the only legislative leader who “has received $500 contributions from people sitting on the board of directors of U.S. Sugar, and their spouses.”
Not the spouses!
Before they outline their deep-dive findings from the Facebook page of a lobbyist for Associated Industries (yes, they really do that), Pittman and Van Sickler infer that a bill extending until 2026 the requirement that sugar growers to pay only $25 an acre towards restoring the River of Grass miraculously made it out of the first legislative committee it was referred to because it chaired by Crisafulli.
Therein lies the biggest example of Pittman and Van Sickler’s bias. It’s not what they put in the story, it’s what they left out.
There they go all but writing that improper influence related to the King Ranch trips produced an anti-environment Everglades Bill in 2013, but they fail to mention that the bill was soundly vetted and frequently amended in numerous committees in both houses, passed both houses unanimously, and was endorsed by both the Everglades Foundation and the Audubon Society, the executive directors of which stood at Governor Scott’s elbow at the bill signing.
This use of pejorative words, the cherry-picking of the facts included, and the magnitude of the facts excluded, taken together amount to willful misrepresentation intended to breathe life into a dying story in a transparent attempt to justify an enormous waste of man-hours and news print.