By Jim Bleyer
The past month has been eye opening for Tampa Bay residents, at least for those not paying close attention to the unethical machinations of the Tampa Bay Times for the past decade.
First, it was revealed–not by the Times or its puppeteer the Poynter Institute–that Tampa businessman Jeffrey VInik was among the handful of local investors instrumental in a bailout of the failing newspaper entity. This was no surprise to those who never placed value on the Times (non) coverage of major advertisers.
Secondly, there is the shameful advertorials and slanted coverage of the St. Petersburg mayoral race by the Times and its pointman, pseudo journalist Charlie Frago. Candidate Rick Baker works for Bill Edwards, whose shady dealings have come under scrutiny by the government and victimized businesses but not by the Times. Edwards is a major advertiser in the Times.
Current mayor Rick Kriseman favors everything the Times purports to support: social justice, economic opportunity for all, environmental protection, the celebration of diversity, and local government’s role in attracting jobs and tourism. Baker does not stand for any of these causes despite his recent campaign rhetoric.
So the economically squeezed Poynter Instiute has prostituted itself to those who buoy its bottom line regardless of their total lack of progrssive credentials. This will be interesting news to the liberal foundations that have been donating millions to Poynter during the past decade.
In addition to completely jettisoning its ethical responsibilities, the Times forgot that it needs readership to benefit advertisers. This alleged newsgathering organization kissed off conservatives and many moderates years ago. Now, remaining moderates and progressives are viewing the Times’ perfidy in all its naked splendor.
One of the more blatant methods of pressing its thumb on the St. Petersburg election scale was to sponsor a debate with only two of the eight mayoral candidates. This was an obvious effort to marginalize the lesser known candidates and lend more viability to Baker winning the election outright in the primary. A runoff would present problems for Edwards the Advertiser’s lackey.
And despite the Frago nonsense published in the Times, lawsuits involving Edwards–and by extension Baker–will play a large role in determining whether or not St. Petersburg lands a Major Soccer League franchise. Tampa Bay Beat is betting against but that is a story for another day.
Back to Vinik for a minute. The made over Jerseyite/Bostonian with an amorphic “vision” has had a fiduciary relationship with the Times for years, at least since the announcement that Tampa’s downtown arena would be known as the St. Pete Times Forum. Not a word of criticism has ever been published about Vinik whose behavior and ethics would routinely be lambasted by any journalistic entity with a kernel of moral courage.
So, many Times readers are unaware that Vinik was the target of an SEC investigation, headed a couple of failing hedge funds, had his ethics questioned (sharing common ground with his Times protectors), prevailed on a Boston buddy to facilitate the Cascade Investments megaloan to finance whatever the latest incarnation of his downtown project happens to be, shared a special relationship with the totally unqualified former MOSI CEO Molly Demeulenaere that facilitated her embarrassing hire, consummated an out-of-the-sunshine deal with USF for exclusive services at the Sundome, and wheedled more than $150 million in government services and tax breaks with more on the way.
The Times turned a blind eye to Vinik’s support for Rick Scott, his silence on the controversial proposed removal of the Confederate statute from public property, and the unending spigot of corporate welfare for his flummoxed Tampa project.
Edwards and Baker are no better. With Baker as mayor, Edwards will be pulling the strings. A happy advertiser indeed.