I don’t really like the term “fake news” because it has come to mean any story with which the person using the phrase disagrees. That’s not particularly helpful.
But there really is fake news out there, and it is being heavily promulgated by the dinosaur media that is still pretending to be mainstream. It’s not just the big dogs of CNN or the AP or the New York Times. What is going on in Florida media markets is so bad right now as to require equal time if it weren’t newspapers. It’s straightforward Democratic attack ads cast as “news” stories.
The latest came in Sunday newspapers around the state owned by rapidly expanding media conglomerate Gatehouse Media, which publishes 21 newspapers in Florida and has 570 media outlets nationwide. (Gatehouse recently acquired the Tampa Bay Times, Florida’s largest newspaper.)
On Sunday, Gatehouse newspapers generally ran the exact same story with the exact same headline as it came out of their capitol bureau in Tallahassee: Rick Scott turns to those he appointed for campaign cash
They used different dropheads below the headline, depending on their layouts and styles: Well-heeled Floridians appointed to state boards are ponying up funding for governor’s bid to unseat Nelson and ‘It smacks of pay-to-play.’
The reason this epitomizes fake news is not that the same story that ran in all these newspapers is a lie. The thrust of it is accurate enough. It’s fake news because it is not newsworthy. There is no news in this breathless, page 1 Sunday story plastered around the state during a highly competitive U.S. Senate campaign between Scott (worth noting, an early supporter of President Trump) and 40-year D.C. incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson — a race that may determine who controls the Senate.
Here’s the gist. The governor of Florida appoints hundreds and hundreds of people to boards, advisory councils and commissions around the state — university boards, water boards, airport authorities, environmental boards, medical boards, building boards and so on. Naturally enough, he appoints people who agree with him on issues, particularly on issues that relate to those boards. In what is perhaps less shocking than the sun rising in the east, many of those people who agree with the governor also support the governor politically. Some even donate to his election campaign. Oh the scandal of it all!
And yet, there it is. That’s the entire story. Some of the hundreds of appointees who all agree with Gov. Scott politically have donated to his Senate political campaign; exactly as has been the case with every single governor ever.
There’s even less to the story than that. Reporter writes: “Scott has collected close to $1.4 million from 127 appointees, their spouses and children, who have given either to his Senate campaign or the New Republican PAC supporting his bid…”
So the 127 number covers three categories, not just appointees. Spouses can reasonably be included. Children means adult children, which may be making their own decision on supporting Scott. But they’re still lumped in to inflate the number. How many are just appointees? 50? 80? The story doesn’t say, and one can reasonably infer that is because that number is pretty small compared to what may be a thousand appointees. But to get the real percentage using the reported 127 number as the numerator, we need the total number of appointees, spouses and children as the denominator. That means this is probably a very tiny percentage. Well under 10 percent. That makes it hard to hide the fakeness of the fake story.
This is a picture-perfect definition of non-news. This is the equivalent of reporting on a plane that landed smoothly, taxied to the terminal and all the passengers deboarded safely — and making that sound shifty and suspicious if it could be reflected badly on a Republican. It’s just that bad.
And maybe a little worse. I wear three hats in relation to this particular fake news story. One, I am one of those appointees by Gov. Scott — to the Board of Trustees of State College of Florida. Neither Scott nor his team has ever asked me for money or brought up political support of any kind in the interviews prior to appointing me to the position. Twice. And, I’ve not donated to Scott’s campaign.
The second hat I wear is as a former long-time journalist in the mainstream media, spending many years covering politics. And the third hat, I now work with select political candidates running for office. So I have seen up close and personal both sides of equation between reporter and political machine. Based on these experiences, I am about 99 percent sure that this story — and the many like it — are actually opposition research by the Nelson campaign, which is then fed to friendly, gullible, allied reporters within Gatehouse Media, in this case, in their Tallahassee bureau.
There is plenty to criticize in the fake story on basic journalistic grounds. But this sentence that the reporter included to show balance reveals just how badly the reporter misunderstands basic reality, to put it in the most kind light.
“Those contributors deny that there’s any link between their appointments and the checks they cut for Scott’s Senate bid. But the campaign data shows a remarkable correlation.”
“Denies” is one of those implied guilty words the media loves to use. And then using the conjunction “but” to start the following sentence implies the denials are suspicious. The real problem is the last word. The correlation actually is long before this reporter “discovered” it (again, being generous) in the campaign finances. The correlation is between the type of principled person Scott appointed and the type of principled person who supports Scott’s campaign for the Senate — which is a blindingly obvious correlation with zero nefarious implications.
This is the latest in an ongoing stream of anti-Scott stories emanating from Gatehouse Media’s Tallahassee bureau. Some others include:
Scott’s use of blind trust challenged as illegal (July 17, 2018) (Even blind trusts aren’t good enough if you’re a Republican.)
Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s investments draw scrutiny (July 21, 2018)
Low pay casts shadow over Florida’s improving jobs picture (Aug. 4, 2018, as Florida nears an all-time low in unemployment — still negative about Scott.)
These were found quickly in the first couple of pages with a Google search of “Gov. Scott and Gatehouse Media.” A Google search of “Sen. Nelson and Gatehouse Media” does not locate one negative story in the first two pages. But several pieces of puffery.
The point is, this is a glaring pattern with Gatehouse Media; and of course, it is true in the rest of the Florida media, too.
This is why Republicans need to raise so much more money than Democrats to have a level playing field: Gatehouse Media stories such as these, quite possibly planted by the Nelson team, are the equivalent of millions of dollars in free advertising to Nelson. Why spend money on attack ads when you have the media to do it for you?
Rod Thomson is an author, TV talking head and former journalist, and is Founder of The Revolutionary Act. Rod is co-host of Right Talk America With Julio and Rod on the Salem Radio Network.
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