By Jim Bleyer
The Tampa Bay Times/Poynter Institute planned its endorsement of Rick Baker and smear campaign against incumbent Rick Kriseman well before official qualifying for the St. Petersburg mayor’s race had even begun.
Tim Nickens, Editor of Editorials, wrote a glowing review of “Beyond the Sunshine,” a non-fiction work whose release date has suddenly been delayed. The author is listed as mayoral candidate Rick Baker.
Nickens penned his homage months ago when it was widely assumed Baker would challenge Kriseman but prior to the qualifying period. The Times and Nickens have subsequently attempted to cover up their blatant breach of journalistic ethics.
The Times, in its news pages, has supported Baker with slanted coverage, omissions of news that adversely affects Baker or puts Kriseman in a positive light, and outright falsehoods that it has refused to retract (the “mandatory” solar panels).
The Nickens revelation solidifies the Times’ reputation as the undisputed champion of fake news in the Tampa Bay area. Besmirching the honor of the journalism profession has become de rigeur at Times/Poynter.
Nickens claimed a few days ago that he is no longer a Democrat because of Kriseman’s team politicizing what is deemed by the Times to be a nonpartisan race. With Nickens outed as essentially participating in the Baker campaign from the outset, the faux tempest he attempted to create is now seen by many St. Petersburg voters as another in a series of blatant Times smears against Kriseman.
There is no question the independence of the Poynter Institute, part of its mission statement, was compromised.
“Beyond the Sunshine” is being produced by Pineapple Press, a Sarasota publisher of Florida-centric, mostly non-fiction books. June Cussen, editor at Pineapple Press told Tampa Bay Beat that the timeframe from completed manuscript to publication is typically a minimum of six months. Baker’s book was no exception, she said.
Nickens’ laudatory review, which appears on the Pineapple Press website, “was garnered by the author many months ago,” Cussen said.
“The pub date has been now adjusted to January 1, 2018, because of glitches getting photos (there are hundreds in the book) and copyediting,” Cussen explained.
According to the Pineapple Press website, Baker’s book measures 7” x 10,” a size most commonly used for children’s picture books.
It’s convenient for the Times that the publication date was moved back three months. The brain trust at Poynter, the Times, the Baker campaign, or possibly all three likely determined the review would prove embarrassing and inexplicable leading up to the Nov. 7 election.
Hence, the photo “glitch” suddenly encountered by Pineapple Press. It’s a sure bet Cussen has not been privy to the political machinations that have affected the timing of the book’s release. Where Baker obtained “hundreds” of Florida photos and learning the identity of who actually wrote the book will become an interesting subplot in the coming months.
A clerk at the Barnes & Noble in Carrollwood, at the behest of Tampa Bay Beat, said a computer search showed the book already published by Pineapple Press but that no copies had been distributed to any of their outlets, not even the one in St. Petersburg. The clerk thought it odd.
There’s no question that Nickens’ participation in boosting Baker was known to his Times’ superiors and handlers at Poynter. What would be a firing offense at any reputable journalistic entity is the way of doing business at the Tampa Bay Times.
Nickens title on the Times masthead reads “Editor of Editorials,” not “Book Reviewer.”
The disclosure further validates a complaint filed with the Internal Revenue Service challenging the Poynter Institute of Media Studies, parent of the Times, status as a non-profit entity. Participation in political activity is prohibited for entities claiming to be a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.
If the IRS finds that Poynter misappropriated or co-mingled funds, violated its mission statement, failed to adhere to the wishes of its founder Nelson Poynter or participated in political activity, the Institute would be on the hook for back taxes and penalties. In addition, its 501(c)(3) status would be revoked.
The Poynter Institute mission statement:
The Poynter Institute is a school dedicated to teaching and inspiring journalists and media leaders. It promotes excellence and integrity in the practice of craft and in the practical leadership of successful businesses. It stands for a journalism that informs citizens and enlightens public discourse. It carries forward Nelson Poynter’s belief in the value of independent journalism.