By Jim Bleyer
The Poynter Institute for Media Studies/Tampa Bay Times finally racked up its only victory of 2017 and it was most lopsided:
Florida Loser of the Year.
Ethically. Financially. Politically.
Whoever garnered second place trailed by light years. The contest made FDR-Hoover look like a photo finish.
The evidence is compelling. The hubris is off the charts. The hypocrisy shameless.
Tampa Bay’s only remaining daily newspaper and its “nonprofit” parent have been in freefall for more than a decade but the moral cowardice and economic stupidity they displayed over the past year has been stunning. Poynter, if it had any remaining credibility, could offer webinars and fill textbooks about its recent nonstop parade of pratfalls.
But even that is not viable. There’s not a scintilla of evidence that Poynter/Times has learned anything from its unfathomable philosophical, moral, and economic pivot that has accurately earned its niche as a laughingstock.
A newspaper endorsement traditionally has served as a lifeline to political candidates but one from the Times in 2017 more closely resembled a concrete life preserver. In its announced effort “to connect” with Donald Trump supporters, Poynter/Times managed to alienate the entire political spectrum in its circulation area—no mean feat.
The Tampa Bay Times took more lumps than a seasoned oncologist.
Its machinations triggered subscription cancellations and a still ongoing investigation by the Internal Revenue Service of Poynter’s claimed status as a 501(c)(3). Tampa Bay Times support for an issue or candidate is now meaningless in its home county of Pinellas; in Hillsborough and Pasco counties it’s kryptonite.
By soliciting and accepting wealthy, right wing Republicans for $1.5 million each to bail itself out of a financial morass, Poynter ditched any vestige of impartiality, the vision of founder Nelson Poynter, or pretense of participating nationally in a fast evaporating rich journalistic tradition. Even this stab at influence peddling backfired.
Poynter/Times, through its subsidiary Florida Trend, sifted through the state’s 20 million residents and named one of its investors, Kiran Patel, as “Floridian of the Year.” One must assume the other nine investors are waiting their turn to receive the honor through 2026.
In September 2017, Patel and his wife announced they would spend $200-million to build a Clearwater campus for Nova Southeastern University. No one needs an accountant’s degree to know that the actual gift was overstated fourfold.
So for $51.5 million, Patel bought himself a faux honor and humongous tax writeoff.
The Times continued its “no ethics” policy in other ways. It shows it will support candidates it previously disdained if they hire Institute faculty member Barry Edwards as a “political consultant.” Edwards‘ checkered background contains far worse offenses than the candidates opposed by Poynter/Times.
The newspaper, now with an obligatory right wing bent, shunned pro-environment candidates in favor of those with no environmental agenda or non-believers in manmade climate change.
Fortunately, Tampa Bay voters scurried in droves for other news options: blogs such as Tampa Bay Beat, the Ybor City Stogie, Eye on Tampa Bay and Bay Post Internet; electronic media especially WTSP investigative journalist Noah Pransky; steadfast weekly Creative Loafing, and social media.
And the newspaper had the temerity to name political “winners and losers of the year.” Coming from a discredited media entity whose losing streak made Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslem breathe easier, it’s a feature more suited to the Sunday comic section.
Unfortunately, there is no mercy rule for self-flagellation.
Most infamously, the Times aligned itself philosophically with its bankrollers in news reportage, stained with bias, omissions and outright falsehoods. With the public turning to social media and electronic news, Poynter/Times failed to produce results for the cabal it pandered to.
A quick recap of the Poynter/Times lowlights:
—After going all in for Trumpite Rick Baker on its news and editorial pages, St. Petersburg Mator Rick Kriseman prevailed in his re-election bid. The intemperate, non-inclusive Baker stood no chance when voters read the slanted coverage and outright falsehoods that marked the Times election coverage. The Times not only never called out Baker for his deceitful campaign tactics, it abetted him.
—The resignation of sexual predator Jack Latvala, a Times stooge who, in his memorable, mercurial, disastrous attempt at becoming governor had the paper’s endorsement teed up. Tampa Bay Beat revealed the Republican legislator has a decades-long history of predatory behavior which the Times chose to ignore until his resignation.
—Lawtrnce McClure’s landslide win in a Hillsborough County special election for state represrntative produced another Times loss. The newspaper supported Yvonne Fry, a pernicious purveyor of false narratives, and cried foul about mailers to district voters informing them of that fact.
—The Poynter/Times rightward lurch was most evident in their support for St. Petersburg City Council candidate Justin Bean. With a wafer-thin resumé of civic engagement, the 30-year-old Bean had been arrested six times, a fact that the newspaper never acknowledged. Bean lied about his support for Donald Trump, then got trounced in the runoff by Gina Driscoll.
—-In another council race, the Times supported Barclay Harless over Brandi Gabbard. The contest sparked little controvetsy and Gabbard won easily.
—A complaint challenging the Poynter Instiute for Media Studies status as a non-profit has been received by the Internal Revenue Service. 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 status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization would be revoked.
There’s more but you get the picture. Loser. Hands down.
Judging from the tone and slant of Tampa Bay Times articles published in the past week, 2017’s comsummate Loser is gearing up to successfully defend its title in the new year.