By Jim Bleyer
If you are a political candidate vowing to execute the agenda of the Tampa Bay Times, you can safely count on the support of the already discredited, nearly bankrupt daily.
In fact, despite any shady dealings, arrests, and the spewing of inflammatory anti-minority rhetoric, your egregious offenses will be glossed over as long as you are prepared to do the bidding of the no longer journalistic enterprise.
Tampa Bay residents witnessed that in 2017 when Rick Baker ran for mayor of St. Petersburg and Justin Bean bid for a seat on the St. Pete City Council. Both candidates lost after Tampa Bay Beat ran stories about the Times coverup of the pair’s flawed pasts.
Both supported Donald Trump and his bigoted agenda. Baker, instead of trying to help the vulnerable homeless population when he first served as mayor over a decade ago, ordered police to slash their tents. In his bid to defeat Mayor Rick Kriseman two years ago, Baker was slow to criticize the violence in Charlottesville perpetrated by white nationalists. Every other politician in Tampa Bay (except Bean) mustered an immediate response.
Now comes Clearwater resident Mark Bunker who has announced he will run for one of the Clearwater City Council seats up for grabs. The Times ran an article on Bunker’s candidacy but omits critical information that voters should know in order to vote intelligently.
When the Times editorially supports a political lackey, you can bet it will publish incomplete, slanted stories about the candidate in its so-called “news” pages. Baker/Bean redux.
Why the Times is in bed with this misanthrope is abundantly clear in its whitewashed version of the Bunker candidacy. He is a longtime critic of the Church of Scientology, an obsession of the Times ever since the Church moved to Clearwater in December 1975.
The debt-riddled paper has made it its mission to destroy COS.
As an example, Times pseudo-reporter Tracey McManus is actually a full-time propagandist against Scientology, not a journalist. When she attempted to goad people into attacking the Church of Scientology about a Clearwater real estate venture, they refused to engage in her intolerance.
“This is a blatant chess play to frame us as bigots and I will not stand for it!” wrote AV, a participant on Nextdoor, a Clearwater neighborhood online forum. (Initials are used to protect the Nextdoor participants’ privacy.) Members of the Nextdoor forum not only castigated McManus for shoddy journalism, but there were calls for her to retract an article that suggested the citizens had joined the reporter’s smear campaign against Scientology.
More damning for the bigoted Times was that there was absolutely no popular movement among the citizens for opposing Scientology. Only four people out of 275 who wrote letters about the proposed development expressed concern about the religion. Those four represent 1.5 percent of the responses – while 98.5 percent argued pro and con about the condo but didn’t delve into religious prejudice.
The Times, through its stooge McManus, hoped to sabotage the project by inciting prejudice through fake news. In the end, the project was approved with modifications.
But with actual news – after a seven-hour hearing where the proposal was approved without any mention of Scientology – the Times begrudgingly squeezed a short column in the local section, with no banner and no byline of its bigot-by-proxy.
Bunker is a vocal critic of Scientology; that’s why the Times has hitched its wagon to his star despite his great number of shady dealings that go unreported by what has become a journalism joke on a national scale. The Times pulled the same stunt in 2017 with Baker and Bean but were thwarted when Tampa Bay Beat and community activists revealed the truth.
Bunker has violated campaign law from the beginning of his announcement by soliciting donations before he has filed his DS-DE 9 form – which is in violation of F.S 106.021(1)(a): “A person may not accept any contribution or make any expenditure with a view to bringing about his or her nomination, election, or retention in public office, or authorize another to accept such contributions or make such expenditure on the person’s behalf, unless such person has appointed a campaign treasurer and designated a primary campaign depository.”
Bunker also recently promoted a campaign “meetup” at a local Clearwater house that the Times has previously reported as being an illegal rental property and receiving the “stiffest fine for short-term renting in Clearwater history”.This house is owned by another anti-Scientology bigot, Betsy Steg, and she either provided this house gratis, or Bunker paid for it – both of which would have been further campaign violations. (F.S. 106.011(5) defines “Contribution”: “(a) A gift, subscription, conveyance, deposit, loan, payment, or distribution of money or anything of value, including contributions in kind having an attributable monetary value in any form, made for the purpose of influencing the results of an election or making an electioneering communication.”)
McManus was in attendance at this event and never reported on it. If she was a participant, she needs to disqualify herself from reporting on the Clearwater race though the lack of journalistic ethics conforms to the present-day Tampa Bay Times.
So there are the three B’s: Bunker, Bean and Baker. The trio has a fourth “b” in common: bigotry. The economically failing newspaper, with well over $100 million in debt including liens against its pension fund, loves that kind of candidate.