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Even after bungled math mea culpa, Times/Herald still offering inaccurate information about solar amendment

in Peter/Top Headlines by

The Tampa Bay Times posted a timely story yesterday by Steve Bousquet about election-time misinformation.

In the piece, “Rumors, myths, and half-truths cloud Florida’s election,” Bousquet muses, “Whatever it is, people in Florida seem more suspicious than ever about the election.”

The irony is that reporting by the Times, or at least some of its brethren, aren’t helping people’s faith in the system.

Yesterday, I bemoaned the Times’ egregious front-page headline error.

Quick recap: a story by Mary Ellen Klas bungled some math bigly, by inflating figures over 40 percent and feeding readers a $13 million whopper. (Klas posted to her Facebook page that she was “eternally humbled.”)

At newspaper speed (aka, more than 24 hours after publishing the original story), the Times and Herald finally posted corrections online.

As far as I can tell, neither paper has yet informed their print edition readers of the erroneous reporting.

This move comes despite the Tampa Bay Times’ official Standard of Accuracy, which assures readers that: “Our standard at the Tampa Bay Times is simple: to get things right the first time. This being a human endeavor, we sometimes fall short. When this happens in the news report, our policy is to correct factual errors, promptly and prominently.”

Perhaps “promptly” and “prominently” are subjective terms.

I’ll give the Times a little credit for posting an “Editor’s note” near the top of the online story, acknowledging: “the amounts of political contributions made by Florida’s largest electric utilities since January 2015 were incorrect and overstated because of errors made in compiling and aggregating data downloaded from the state Division of Elections database.”

True, this does nothing to inform any readers who read the botched version of the story. Not to mention the false story has already populated all over the internet.

The Herald was even less upfront, slipping a brief parenthetical into their online story: “Note this number is updated after a significant miscalculation of the total in initial reports.”

They also tagged a disclaimer onto the very end that attributes some of the blame to “updates” in campaign reports: “This story has been updated to correct errors in calculations and updates in official campaign finance reports.”

Let’s be honest. This had nothing to do with updates. This was sloppy, zealous reporting that apparently wasn’t fact-checked.

I get it. It happens. Reporters get carried away. That’s why there are editors.

If our site erred as badly as the Times/Herald did, I’d raise hell with my team to make sure it didn’t happen again. That’s common sense.

So you can imagine the dramatic, slow-motion shaking of my head as you read the passage both the Times and the Herald included in their latest story as of 11 a.m. today:

“… the utility industry has spent $42.7 million this election cycle in an attempt to win support for their agenda … The utilities have put $20 million into Consumers for Smart Solar … and groups backed by them have contributed another $6 million to the campaign. They have put another $23 million into largely influencing Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who heads the state’s energy office, Gov. Rick Scott and the state Legislature and the investment is seen as part of their contingency plan if Amendment 1 fails.”

There’s the same misinformation AGAIN, right amid more of the same breathless speculation.

A cursory search of the paper’s recent coverage of Amendment 1 brings up no fewer than 24 negative articles and columns since mid-October with classy headlines like:

— “Solar shenanigans: Insider reveals strategy behind Amendment 1” and

— “Here’s your chance to show the electric company you’re not a sucker.”

Looking for a straight news article to explain the amendment’s pros and cons with perspectives from supporters and opponents? You’re out of luck, Florida voter. Your newspaper has decided how you should vote and doesn’t trust you to make the decision based on the facts.

I think back to Bousquet’s prescient musing. Is it surprising that Floridians are suspicious when their newspapers refuse to present fair and accurate information?

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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