By Jim Bleyer
With its seismic shift in coverage and editorial policy, the Tampa Bay Times has left no doubt that the Republican cabal who infused $12-15 million into the paper two months ago are calling the shots in the newsroom.
Evidence mounted rapidly in the past few days with the continued over-the-top barbecuing of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, a Democrat, who is seeking re-election in a hotly-contested primary. Voters go to the polls Tuesday.
As reported by Tampa Bay Beat last Monday, a group of rock-ribbed Republican investors loaned millions to the economically struggling Times. Identified as Times angels were notable GOP donors Frank Morsani, Ted Couch, Robert Rothman, and Jeff Vinik. The other investors remain anonymous. Mel Sembler? Carlos Beruff? Maybe other names that conjure up even uglier images.
The Times supports Kriseman’s opponent, former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker, a Republican, whose employer Bill Edwards is a prominent, but sullied, wealthy local businessman whose enterprises advertise heavily in the newspaper. Edwards co-hosted a $25,000-a-plate luncheon for white supremacist/Nazi-sympathizer Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Times Publisher Paul Tash has denied that Edwards is one of the Times benefactors but his credibility is nearly non-existent. His daughter, a commercial litigation attorney, is defending Edwards in one of the many lawsuits he is involved in. This was not reported in the Times.
More on The Pinellas Pinocchio in a bit.
Somehow, the paper that supported Barack Obama pre-GOP bailout managed to utterly neutralize the former president’s announced support for Kriseman Friday. Politico initially reported the endorsement, not Kriseman’s hometown paper. In fact, the Times did not publish the impactful news until after several blogs, digital newsletters, and other Florida dailies performed that service to their readerships.
At first, the Times reported Obama’s stunning announcement in the mix of other prosaic pieces at the bottom of its digital front page. Later in the morning, the endorsement piece was moved to the four featured headline stories–for a brief time.
Then an editorial appeared less than four hours later echoing a much earlier one from the Times that the mayor’s race should remain nonpartisan, a barefaced attempt to blunt the Obama momentum. Republicans only comprise 26 percent of St. Petersburg registered voters.
The editorial completely overlooked Baker’s partisanship reported in the Times nearly two months ago when a cadre of Tampa Republicans held a fundraiser for Baker across the water. Partisan. Out of city. Out of county. Out of sight.
Finally, the Times substituted the stand-alone Obama endorsement with a Baker advertorial penned by Times designated hatchet man Charlie Frago. He incorporated all the pro-Baker editorial positions espoused by his employer with this result: a melange of steaming, discombobulated, unreadable garbage in the self-proclaimed “Florida’s Best Newspaper.”
Baker, who yearns to lead a city that prides itself on unity and diversity absolutely refuses to denounce the contentious, divisive Trump who makes no secret of his disdain for Afro-Americans and the LGBT community. Of course, Baker’s boss Edwards is a Trump disciple.
In addition, Baker asserted he will not recuse himself from any deliberations and decisions involving Edwards and his enterprises should he become mayor. Does Baker realize that unlike the President, he does not have the authority to pardon?
Also on Friday, the Times delivered a not-so-subtle gut punch to Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren, a Democrat, when it ran an article about the newly-elected prosecutor’s reluctance to apply the death penalty. The tone of the story was “soft on crime” and most reader comments reflect that.
But the Times, prior to being thrown the Republican financial lifeline, ran an editorial last October mirroring Warren’s assessment of the death penalty: that it should he “hard and rare.”
Back to Tash. Not only did the Times publisher declare that the loan “does not give the investors a stake in the Times’ ownership, or a say in the Times’ news coverage or editorial commentary,” adding that “the Times has shown substantially improved financial results and consistent operating profits” since last fall.
Tash balderdash on all counts. The Times is in dire financial straits. Directed Capital of St. Petersburg who packaged the GOP loan describes itself as “a national distressed asset workout specialist firm that opportunistically acquires, manages and repositions distressed commercial mortgage loans in the $1 million to $15 million range.”
We heard the same whistle-past-the-graveyard speech that Tampa Tribune publisher Brian Burns delivered just over two years ago. Floridiocy, the forerunner of Tampa Bay Beat, put the situation in perspective and predicted the Tribune demise.