By Jim Bleyer
The Tampa Bay Times this month forfeited its right to be perceived as a fair, serious journalistic entity.
The newspaper sent its designated first-string political writer to a well-publicized forum last Friday on mass transit featuring three high-profile opponents of light rail. The overflowing Cafe con Tampa crowd of movers and shakers witnessed the Times staffer being verbally antagonistic toward the speakers.
The reporter brought a computer with him. Maybe that’s his version of weight training. Five days later: readers have not seen a word about the meeting in the Times digital edition.
The reason? For years, the paper has been an unfettered proponent of a light rail system, a proposal that voters soundly thrashed in referendums on both sides of the Bay. During its six-year and counting campaign, the Times has consistently slanted its coverage to sway voters. It hasn’t worked.
Last year, during a symposium of transportation experts held at St. Pete Beach, a consensus concluded that sales taxes are not a viable source of funding for mass transit. Tampa Bay Beat reported on it but Tampa Bay Times readers were left out in the cold. The story didn’t fit the newspaper’s editorial narrative.
But on the morning of last week’s mass transit forum, the Times unleashed a lengthy piece about the benefits of light rail, selecting only data that would support that position while ignoring the substantial information available that is critical of light rail in the 21st century.
This editorial posing as news was the main feature in the digital edition for three days and remained on the front page for a fourth. But there was no space allocated for the opposing view. One wonders if the purpose of the reporter’s presence was to roil the meeting, advocating the Times editorial position.
Although obstinate in providing truthful information about both sides of an important local issue, the Times earlier in February devoted precious news space to a front page feature about a supermarket chain no longer offering free slices of cold cuts to its customers. Three days later a Times staffer wrote an entire column begging the chain to reverse its policy. The mini-brouhaha retained its prominent position in the Times for days.
Meanwhile, the newspaper felt no obligation to inform its readers about all aspects of a controversy that would involve billions in higher sales taxes.
No matter how thin the Times slices it, it’s still baloney.