POLITICO Florida goes to war with Times/Herald over attribution issue

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Well, that didn’t take long, did it?

Reporters at POLITICO Florida, fully in operation for less than two months, lit up social media Wednesday with a blistering attack on their colleagues/competitors at the Tallahassee bureau of the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald. At issue is a story written by Times reporter Michael Auslen about Gov. Rick Scott’s administration’s involvement in the investigation of Planned Parenthood.

“Aides to the governor were intimately involved in crafting the message when the agency announced allegations that three Florida Planned Parenthood clinics had violated their licenses,” writes Auslen. “Nearly every on-the-record statement given by the Agency for Health Care Administration to reporters and the public was first approved by a member of Scott’s communications team, emails obtained by the Times/Herald show.”

It’s that last part of the paragraph that has POLITICO Florida’s reporters up in arms. That’s because Auslen’s reporting comes one week after POLITICO Florida’s Christine Sexton revealed the Scott administration’s interference in the investigation.

In other words, Auslen “re-reported” Sexton’s scoop and did so without at first providing so much as a hat tip of attribution. (The Times later updated its story to state that POLITICO first reported the involvement of the Governor’s Office.) While this would be a major faux pas at most media outlets, it’s a common practice at the Tampa Bay Times.

Unfortunately for the Times, the reporters at POLITICO Florida are not taking the slight lying down.

Miami-based reporter Marc Caputo took to Twitter and unleashed a torrent of critical tweets directed at Auslen and Co.’s way.

“Congratulations to @MichaelAuslen for ripping off @christinesexton story about Planned Parenthood & then trying to fool readers about it,” Caputo wrote in his first tweet on the subject.

Anyone who follows Caputo on Twitter knew that would not be the last thing he’d have to say about the matter. In a follow-up tweet, Caputo shared a picture of Sexton’s and Auslen’s stories side-by-side.

“I proudly worked for The @MiamiHerald & w/@TB_Times. You guys should be ashamed for this. And if not, I’ll happily shame you. ‘ckyall,” Caputo tweeted in his characteristic unsubtle fashion.

Sexton, not the most active reporter on Twitter, also got into the action.

“.@TB_Times rips off my Planned Parenthhood reporting and takes full credit #shameonyou,” Sexton tweeted.

And while Caputo and Sexton were on social media, POLITICO Florida’s Tallahassee bureau chief Matt Dixon was seen at the conference of the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists researching when Auslen made his public records request.

Dixon would not go on the record about his findings, but Florida Politics can confirm that Auslen made a PIR about the Planned Parenthood controversy AFTER Sexton’s story.

Austin did not respond to any of the criticism leveled at him on social media, but the Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas tweeted a not-so-cryptic message after Caputo and Sexton fired at Auslen.

“Solid reminder that good journalism isn’t just about writing things first but also probing, amplifying, expanding,” Klas tweeted over a picture of a quote-mural in the Herald’s newsroom.

That it is Auslen at the center of this controversy is especially interesting because the relatively-new-to-town reporter was pursued by POLITICO Florida during its hiring ramp-up. Auslen reportedly turned down PF because of a desire to work at a print media outlet.

For Sexton, this is not the first time the Times has re-reported one of her major scoops without attribution of her original reporting. Sexton probably scored the scoop of the year in Florida politics, breaking the news (along with Carol Gentry) when Eliot Fishman, the director of the Medicaid division of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told policymakers that there was “no way” that Florida’s “Low Income Pool” program will continue when it expires in June. Fishman’s comments set off the firestorm that would eventually engulf the 2015 legislative session.

The Times re-reported this news — even though it did not even have a reporter at the event where Fishman spoke.

As of Thursday morning, no one on either side of this attribution controversy had fired another shot. However, it will be interesting to see if the new kid on the journalism block continues to stand up to the Times/Herald bullies.

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.