This is a corrected and expanded version of a posting I originally made in late January.
I was pleased to see that January 29th's Daily Business Review, ran my Letter to the Editor titled "Privacy issues need to be addressed," an excerpted version of my January 18th letter to the DBR's excellent reporter Julie Kay:
Subject: re your 6-29 DBR story; illegal disclosure/sale of arrest data by FDLE;
To: "Julie Kay"
CC: "Forrest Newman" email@example.com, "Donald J. Hayden"firstname.lastname@example.org,"Allan Sullivan" email@example.com, "Effie Silva" firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday January 18th, 2007
Dear Ms. Kay:
My letter to you today is actually long overdue, as I had planned on congratulating you earlier, before the end of the year, on the consistently great job you did last year of covering what passes for the South Florida legal system in the Daily Business Review, and imbuing your stories with the proper amount of anger, enthusiasm and curiosity -and incredulity- for the peculiar way things have of sorting themselves out here, regardless of any actual law, statute or precedent. Or, of course, common sense.
While much attention was paid to your recent stories on the 'missing' court records of judges/elected officials -and what passes around here for celebrities and VIPs- who surely must've preferred those records of theirs existing in some parallel universe, where the curious public couldn't discern their content, the story you wrote that most impressed me was actually your June 29th DBR story titled, "Legal Boomerang," on Broward County and the state of Florida continuing to sell expunged legal case data to private firms for their own databases, though they're not supposed to do so.
Perhaps you've already heard about it by this late date, but on the chance that you haven't, the day your story ran, CBS-4 led it's 6 p.m. Local News with that same exact story, down to the point of interviewing the very same person you interviewed for the majority of your insightful anecdotes, without reporter Mike Kirsch ever giving you or the Daily Business Review proper credit/attribution for the story.
I wrote a draft of a note to you about that slight that night on my computer, but I regret to say that I never finished it, much less mailed it, and for that I'm sorry, since I really hate seeing a reporter, esp. a TV reporter, get credit for hard journalistic leg-work they didn't actually perform.
That feeling became particularly ingrained in me during the 15 years I lived in D.C. from 1988-2003, because so many media friends of mine, esp. at the Washington bureau of the New York Times, who'd regale me at ballgames, movies or over hot dogs across the street from their office at a favorite hot dog stand of ours during breaks, with instances of having discovered, after-the-fact, clear-cut examples of out-of-town reporters using their stories as a paint-by-numbers primer for stories that small town reporters couldn't previously get a handle on.
Clearly, that's not the smartest move to make in the era of the Internet and searchable databases.
For what it's worth, Kirsch added absolutely zero to your original story, not even bothering to supplement his version of your story with additional interviews with other parties, just to cover his bases.
Nope, it was strictly paint-by-numbers; your numbers.
Since that initial report back in June, I haven't taken anything Kirsch says seriously, since I now have a clear sense of what he's capable of.
Maybe he should stick to doing stories on 'hot' new celeb-filled boutiques or trendy restaurants on South Beach, that way, there's no real public harm or misrepresentation.
In the three years since I returned to South Florida from DC, I've had to reconcile myself to lots of changes to this area, many of them for the good, of course, but just as many for the bad I'm afraid.
Not that things before in local/state govt. or local legal circles were so rosy and on the level, of course, since I know that clearly wasn't the case.
[To cite but one common sense example that I'm constantly dealing with, given the number of years that it was a living traffic hell, but finally having a flyover at Biscayne Blvd. & NE 199th Street only proves that it should've been done years before there was the large population base in what is now Aventura, and what everyone in my part of NMB near 163rd Street, just called Turnberry.
Still, it's hard now to over-state how much better the traffic flow in that area is compared to what it was before, much less when there was no flyover or Lehman Causeway.
Not that it's a picnic now!]
To me, one of the most unpleasant changes has been the dramatic loosening of local TV news journalism standards from when I was growing up down here in the '70's & early '80's, with anchors like Ralph Renick & Ann Bishop -or sharp folks like Gene Miller at The Miami Herald- who while perhaps considered cool and imperious to some viewers, to me always seemed to convey a real sense they DID have the viewer's best interests at heart, which was reporting the news straight up and letting the facts guide the story, rather than cover stories with hidden agendas, in order to appease the myriad business/ethnic/cultural interest groups, in both Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, who are STILL sensitive to even the slightest criticism, constructive or otherwise.
Renick and Bishop's success in achieving that goal was reflected by both their enduring popularity, and, I suppose, by the fact that people like me who grew up here, still bring their names up to suggest a sense of contrast with the sorry present state of affairs.
So with your own story, for instance, back then, reporters with a nose for news like Ike Seamans, Brian Ross, Susan Candiotti and a few other consistently enterprising types -so many of whom went national- would have at least had the good common sense to give proper credit or a hat tip to you and the DBR at the outset, before adding some additional facts and context to the story that were uniquely their own contribution.
It's shocking how many of the local TV reporters -excepting the exceptional few, like Glenna Milberg, Michael Putney and Michelle Gillen and a handful of others- now can't even be bothered to pretend to do that.
Then again, maybe after three years of being back here, I should stop being so easily shocked, huh?
Starting roughly around 1979, when I'd return to South Florida from school or work in Bloomington, Evanston, and DC, for visits during Christmas and spring break, or even Baltimore Oriole spring training trips or weekend weddings, I could still see that Miami had the kind of scrappy and innately curious reporters who make a real difference in a community.
Frankly, the sorts of reporters that so many of my friends at Ernie Pyle at IU and Medill at Northwestern aspired to emulate by making a positive contribution.
Reporters who had the talent & ability to convey to the waves and waves of newcomers to the area, who were without a sense of South Florida's very mixed past, the proper amount of perspective and sense of disbelief, before dropping the hammer on whichever corrupt/incompetent/miscreant elected pol or agency hack was the target zone, for attempting to perpetrate something of a dubious nature.
Even while watching the local TV news out of Indianapolis or Washington, D.C., while clearly recognizing that there were a handful of TV reporters of the sort who'd be good no matter what city they were based in, I always had the sense that, in general, the reporter culture in those cities lacked the kind of focused energy and zeal I'd seen down here, which was their town's loss.
(I even mentioned this particular thought of mine to CNN's Larry King once at an American Cancer Society Ball in DC, around '89, that I was involved with helping put on, with Larry being honored as the guest of honor.
While I know that many people often laugh at Larry's own unique brand of infotainment and news, that night at the Hilton Towers, while his then-wife was being photographed with friends and various DC celebs like Al Haig and former FBI Director William Webster, Larry and I stood in a corner for about ten minutes or so reminiscing about Miami, mostly about local radio and TV personalities.
We talked back and forth about the great sense of competition that once existed among the Miami TV stations, and between the Herald and the late, great Miami News, where I had a number of friends in the sports and entertainment departments.
We lamented that the kind of rough but honest competition we both knew of down here, which really pushed reporters, often seemed lacking now, despite how counter-intuitive that seemed. And that was 17 years ago.)
But now? Well, it seems that the low TV standards that I saw elsewhere and have read about and followed for years in myriad media journals, blogs and newspapers, have found a home-sweet-home right here.
And as for my my own clearly antiquated and sentimental notions of what Channel 4's journalism is, based on years of Renick and his successors, and being part of Walter Mondale's advance team in '76 and accompanying him to their old studio downtown for an interview, where I recognized nearly every single reporter's face I saw in the hallway -and actually knew their assigned beat?
Well, I guess I thought the news management at Channel 4 had slightly higher standards for what's considered news and what passes for ethics than what appears to be the case.
C'est la vie.
Your June story dovetailed perfectly with the great DBR cover stories that your colleague Forrest Newman had last Monday, "Crusading for Confidentiality" -Activist Cathy Corry and others fight to block state disclosure of juvenile misdemeanor records- and last Tuesday, "FDLE sued over online access to juvenile arrest data", which to me, really calls into question many basic aspects of what the public should expect of the County Board and state legislature's oversight capacity, when it seems as if FDLE and individual counties can just wink at the law, as if they had a grandfather's clause permitting them to opt out of operating on the up-and-up.
Your colleague Forrest really lucked out by not only having a very compelling story, but one with a great hook at its heart, too, since nearly everyone with a semblance of a heart can understand it perfectly: the arrest record of a 13-year old girl who once (foolishly) shoplifted a can of Coke suddenly appearing online -with the state of Florida profitting from it- and her family's very reasonable fear that the online info about her will never truly disappear, thus branding their daughter forever.
I really commend the three attorneys at Baker & McKenzie for pushing back and putting the FDLE in their place, and demanding a degree of accountability from them that I have yet to see since I returned to South Florida.
I know I'm not the only resident of South Florida who thinks it's long overdue!
In the future, rest assured, you can definitely count on me to give you a a head's up if somebody else in South Florida's journalism fraternity tries to rustle up your ideas and word verbatim.
I'll do so via two new baby blogs that I hope to have up and running next week, which I hope you'll check out for yourself every now and then.
The first one, SouthBeachHoosier, http://southbeachhoosier.blogspot.com/ will focus on the very things that most concerned me when I was still living and working in Washington: national politics from a DLC point-of-view, business news and innovation, the world of entertainment with a focus on the business side of show biz, foreign policy, latest doings in South Beach and, of course, sports, with heavy emphasis on analysis of my Indiana Hoosiers, as well as the Hurricanes.
I'll also offer tons of heaping media criticism at some local/national people and organizations who've heretofore escaped both accountability & brickbats.
That will definitely be changing.
My second blog, HallandaleBeachBlog, http://hallandalebeachblog.blogspot.com/ which perhaps be of more interest to you, will be focused on South Florida public policy, and the sorts of of endemic cronyism, corruption and incompetency I see in local, county and state government on a regular basis in my part of Broward County, especially with regard to governance, public safety & development.
Not that I'll ignore any antics in Miami-Dade or the rest of the state.
In the past, an enterprising local TV reporter might've addressed these matters of concern to me, which while affecting tens of thousands of people on a daily basis, currently go unexamined.
Nowadays, that same reporter is assigned to go to a Mall and report on either holiday shopping tips or trends/fads among the seemingly endless armies of affluent teens of our area.
Maybe it's me, but I keep thinking of Jane Fonda's character in The China Syndrome, Kimberly Wells, forever banished to covering cute human interest stories before stumbling upon a great story by accident. At least WSVN/Channel 7's Deco Drive, one of my secret vices, is totally upfront about what it's reporting on, and doesn't put on airs.
Just to mention one story that cries out for examination, given the amount of tax money involved, how come the patently false financial numbers offered up by Nikki Grossman of the Greater Ft. Lauderdale CVB as proof of the financial impact on the area of hosting the Super Bowl, or even more egregious, the Orioles staying in Ft. Lauderdale for spring training?
They are never put up to anything even resembling basic fact-checking scrutiny, much less, oh, forensic accounting.
Before I go, let me relate a 9/11 anecdote that gives you some sort of insight into me, so you can consider the source of this letter.
As I mentioned earlier, I lived for about 15 years in DC, and while there, worked on behalf of some of the top law firms and business groups in town, doing all sorts of thing on both Capitol Hill and along the K Street corridor, and was fortunate to meet and befriend lots of very talented and impressive people.
On 9/11, I was working on a project for Crowell & Moring, in a wonderfully appointed office right across the street from the FBI & DOJ, and next to the Naval Memorial.
After the initial reports, from our vantage point on the large patio overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue, we could see past the Old Post Office across the street, and could clearly see the smoke rising up from the Pentagon to our southwest.
Being equidistant to both the White House and the Capitol, once we got word to evacuate the building because a plane within range of DC still hadn't been accounted for -what we would all later all know as United Flight 93-I decided to forego playing the role of a sardine in a can on the DC Metro, and walked the 7-plus miles to my place in north Arlington, mostly via K Street.
When I got a few blocks away from the office and was near Metro Center, whom do you suppose I walked right into, but the one man, whom, IF things had fallen differently, might've played a much larger role that tragic day.
(As I walked and walked, it was while listening on my great Sony AM/FM/TV portable radio, via ABC News' Good Morning America, that I first learned that some of the planes involved had departed out of Boston's Logan Airport. That news made my heart really sink, and made the walk home seem far longer than it normally would. Why? One of my former housemates in Arlington, an adorable grad from the Univ. of Rhode Island named Jennifer Dugan, was a flight attendant for US Airways working out of Logan. I was feeling sick with worry.)
That man I spoke of who might've played a very different role was George Terwilliger, http://www.whitecase.com/gterwilliger/ then of the DC office of McGuire, Woods, Battle & Boothe LLP, whom I knew from 1627 Eye Street, the location of the New York Times' DC bureau, who's now at WhiteCase.
He's the person whom much of the Washington press corps thought was the likely first choice to be President Bush's FBI Director, and a person that many of my friends in the building had an enormous amount of respect and admiration for, even if they disagreed with him politically.
When I saw him in passing on the sidewalk, with a pensive look on his face, all I could think to myself was, "Be careful what you wish for!"
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Monday, January 29, 2007
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