By Jim Bleyer
The Tampa Bay Times effort to woo more subscribers from the radical right has destroyed what little remains of its credibility and could embolden extremists and their racist followers to transform a tranquil, diverse, progressive St. Petersburg into a literal and ideological battleground.
The catalyst for conflict: the possible election of Rick Baker, an unrepentant Donald Trump supporter and opponent of diversity, as mayor. Anyone who believes a Baker win won’t be followed by a Trump rally in Tampa Bay with attendant security, disruption, conflict and worse, needs a reality check. Trump’s craving for any kind of victory makes it a certainty.
The Times supports Baker although, on the surface, he doesn’t share any of the newspaper’s historic progressive ideals. But Baker is employed by Bill Edwards, a local big shot with questionable scruples and whose enterprises advertise heavily in the Times.
Also in the mix is the infusion of $15 million by local investors into the economically flailing newspaper. Every one of the benefactors that has been identified–Frank Morsani, Ted Couch, Robert Rothman, and Jeff Vinik–plus Edwards has donated gobs of dough to Republicans including Trump, Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, Rick Scott, Paul Ryan, and Jeb Bush.
We are excluding publisher Paul Tash who wrote that he is also an “investor.” Tash cemented his longheld disdain for the Times readership when he claimed in an announcement of the emergency financing: “The loan does not give the investors a stake in the Times’ ownership, or a say in the Times’ news coverage or editorial commentary.”
No one I know buys that claptrap. Maybe the Times can nominate itself for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Last week, Tash told the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club that he prioritized “reconnecting” with Trump voters. This less than seven weeks following announcement of the bailout supplied by Republicans. The irony: the Times cannot reconnect as it never related with Trumpophiles.
Conservatives I associate with find the Times pivot farcical. They don’t trust the Times leadership and none are begging to suddenly subscribe to their longtime nemesis. Incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman shrewdly has not commented on the newspaper’s flaky endorsement but his livid supporters have. Several have canceled their subscriptions and earmarked refunds from the Times for Kriseman’s campaign.
Longshot candidate Jesse Nevel also weighed in three days ago on social media posting, “…just highlighting the ongoing role of TBT in trying to effect the outcome of this election,” noting that the Times failed to publish an article about a 200-person march supporting him although it assigned reporters to the rally.
Nevel asserted the Times pressing its thumb on the election scale is failing, “because the people are ready for change, including thousands of city workers who support us.”
The Times has slanted its coverage from the campaign’s outset. It declared editorially that the mayoral contest should not involve partisan politics, knowing full well Republicans comprise only 26 percent of St. Pete’s registered electorate and that Trump is despised by the overwhelming majority.
As the primary sponsor of mayoral debates, the Times only invited Kriseman and Baker to participate, snubbing the four remaining candidates. The fading media entity laughingly used the size of campaign contributions as the sole criteria for inclusion.
It is widely perceived the Times’ conscious marginalization of two-thirds of the field benefits Baker whose best hope is to win without a runoff.
A week ago, the Times inaccurately and minimally reported a well-attended candlelight vigil at the waterfront downtown. The event stressed community unity in the wake of the white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Va., and included speeches by Kriseman, Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, and County Commissioner Ken Welch. Baker was spotted standing on the fringe of the crowd.
Baker has refused to repudiate Trump despite his despicable, repugnant defense of white supremacists. Baker was also slow to name the fascist groups responsible for the Charlottesville tragedy, finally identifying them in his fourth Tweet on the subject two days after the far right violence.
With a local poll showing Baker with a clear but shrinking lead going into a November runoff, he plays keepaway, remaining silent about any topic remotely controversial and reciting inconsequential answers to the softballs tossed to him by an obsequious local press.
He won’t be able to duck his political connections, conflicts of interest, right wing views, the insidious Times endorsement, and stark lack of compassion in the two months leading to the runoff.