Tampa Bay Times offers nickel-dick correction to King Ranch story

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This blog first reported Tuesday morning that the Tampa Bay Times made a serious factual error in a story about Rep. Steve Southerland and his travel to King Ranch, the Texas hunting grounds at the center of an ongoing investigation by the newspaper into Republican Party fundraising.

Sunday morning, Times reporters Craig Pittman and Michael Van Sickler report that on “Monday, Southerland became the first U.S. congressman to acknowledge he went to the U.S. Sugar lodge for a hunting trip.” That sentence — central to Pittman and Van Sickler’s attempt to link Southerland’s trips to King Ranch with legislation he is proposing relating to wetlands regulation — turned out to be wrong.

Accordingly, the Times has issued a correction, albeit a nickel-dick one at the bottom of a pretty long story.

“NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the following correction: U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland said he took a hunting trip to King Ranch in Texas, but he did not stay at the U.S. Sugar lodge there, company officials said,” the correction reads. “A story in Monday’s Times was incorrect about his lodging.”

That’s weak. Without the connection to U.S. Sugar’s leased land at King Ranch, Southerland’s just another North Floridian in Texas hunting deer. Without the connection to U.S. Sugar’s leased land at King Ranch, the entire thrust of Pittman and Van Sickler’s reporting falls apart. Especially after U.S. Sugar also made it clear today that no in or affiliated with the company has lobbied any lawmaker on the legislation that Pittman and Van Sickler would have you believe is beholden to Southerland’s visits to King Ranch.

Instead of a two-sentence correction, the Times should have scrubbed the entire piece and re-reported the story in two parts: one about Southerland having visited King Ranch, the second about Southerland’s proposed legislation, but without any attempt to link the bill to U.S. Sugar.

That would be the right thing to do, but we know that it isn’t going to happen. Instead, it’s likely Pittman and Van Sickler will double-down and attempt to find something new about this story so their screw-up is forgotten.

Two final points…

One, with this major error and the blatant nip-tucking the two reporters did on their piece about Steve Crisafulli’s trip to U.S. Sugar’s lodge at King Ranch, the integrity of this entire series is one misplaced comma from ending in the garbage can. Two, what’s already in the garbage can is Pittman and Van Sickler’s chances of winning a major award for their work on this series. It’s hard to submit a series for consideration with a big black eye like this staring at the judges.



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.