By Jim Bleyer
Until recently, conventional wisdom dictated that one should never pick a fight with people that buy ink by the barrelful.
That precept no longer applies, especially in Tampa Bay.
Two public figures, whose incompetence and backroom wheeling and dealing have been shielded from public view under the aegis of the Tampa Bay Times, saw their ambitions shredded this past week. Molly Demeulenaere, the controversial CEO at the Museum of Science and Industry, “resigned” from the cushy job for which she was totally unqualified. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn formally told the world what most of us already knew: that he would not be a candidate for Florida governor in 2018.
Both made a pretense they had a free hand in their respective decisions. Nothing could be further from the truth, something Times readers never get enough of as the newspaper has consistently glossed over the copious flaws in the job performances of Demeulenaere and Buckhorn. The longstanding coverup is a sop to at least one heavyweight advertiser, a blatant effort to shore up lagging subscriptions in Hillsborough County, and a strategy to further a political agenda.
This reflects the dire economic state of most local newspapers in the digital age though we doubt most undertake the extreme measures of the Times. Social media and blogs have negated its power and influence, not to mention blowing up its bottom line.
A good example is the Times obsession with shoving light rail down the throats of Hillsborough and Pinellas voters. Its news on the subject reads like its editorials and the paper freely omits widely known facts on why light rail is not viable here. The Times bully tactics include falsely politicizing the issue but to no avail: the 2014 Greenlight Pinellas referendum got clobbered 62-38 and the 2016 Go Hillsborough plan, if one could call it that, never reached the ballot. Social media leveled the playing field.
The Times never delved into the sham formal investigation into Go Hillsborough corruption–that involved Buckhorn–but devoted its resources to telling readers that area restaurants fib about their farm-to-table claims. That only would be a revelation to cave dwellers.
The Times rewarded do-nothing State Attorney Mark Ober with an endorsement for his reelection campaign last year. But local bloggers had a field day with Ober’s mockery of justice and he was beaten by a political unknown.
It’s safe to conclude that an informed individual with no financial interest in the billions that would be expended in a light rail system opposes it. But let’s return to Demeulenaere and Buckhorn.
Demeulenaere, a professional ballroom dancer, brought a threadbare resumé and deficient educational requirements to the MOSI job. The failing museum continued to hemorrhage money under her stewardship but the Times covered the story with silence. The newspaper initially filed a lawsuit against MOSI for violating Florida’s Sunshine Law but suddenly backed off its pursuit of the Demeulenaere hiring. Despite lacking the resources of the Times, Tampa Bay Beat gave readers a glimpse into MOSI’s machinations.
Anyone believing that Demeulenaere’s resignation was voluntary likely owns swampland in South Florida. MOSI’s press release did not mention her next career step, more likely a sombrero move in a salsa competition than a museum stint.
Buckhorn, a registered Democrat who has spent most of his time as mayor cozying up to Republicans, has no chance of ever residing in a mansion on Adams Street. He has alienated nearly every constituency that first elected him and his statewide name recognition is almost nil.
He has no electoral future beyond the Hillsborough County line despite carrying water for the Times. In return, the newspaper credits Buckhorn for faux “accomplishments.” A pitiful duo.
Hardly anyone believes newspaper endorsements and editorials in the current social/political climate carry any weight, especially with so many discredited media entities. Barrelsful of ink no longer equate to influence and insulation against criticism.