Florence Snyder, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 12

Florence Snyder

Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant.

Censorship and ‘censorship’

AT&T, the communications conglomerate which owns Direct TV, was hauled into the court of public opinion Friday, charged with censorship for pulling the plug on Fox News.

Irate customers of the satellite television subscriber service took to the internet to voice their suspicions, tar and feathers at the ready.

They did not for one New York Rigged-System Minute believe that “technical difficulties” caused Fox News in high definition to go dark. Among the cyberspace social commentators was an individual who self-identifies as “Cuckooroller.”

He — or is it she? — summarized the case against AT&T succinctly: “Another globalist corporation controlling the media content to help Hillary Clinton get elected.”

Some of Cuckooroller’s fellow censorship conspiracy theorists gave their real names and spoke on the record to local reporters employed by the #DishonestMedia. If Fox was off the air, there must be, as Donald Trump would say, “something going on.”

Except there wasn’t.

While censorship conspiracy theorists gathered at the corner of Oliver Stone Street and Why Don’t We Teach Civics Anymore? Boulevard, cooler heads were surfing the standard definition (SD) end of the Direct TV spectrum, where Fox News was working just fine.

The folks at Fox, to their credit, tried to calm things down, reporting that BBC World News, CNN, Comedy Central, Fusion (which makes its home in a retrofitted Florida warehouse), the Golf Channel, NBC Sports, and something called Ovation had also been booted off the high-def line by whatever gremlins had inflicted technical difficulties on Fox News.

Fusion followers and Anglophile admirers of the BBC had real reasons to riot: those channels were fully shut down by Direct TV’s technical difficulties, and couldn’t even be accessed on the low-tech standard definition spectrum.

AT&T issued the usual “apologies for the inconvenience” but really, the dust-up at Direct TV is a useful reminder of how many of our fellow Americans know little and think less about what real censorship is.

Consider, for example, Turkey, which used to be a democracy and a nice place to visit. In recent weeks, more than 160 of its news organizations have been closed for “spreading anti-government propaganda.” Some of the laid-off journalists are risking their lives to fight back with a fact-based, social media-based newscast.

Censorship is a big story in Turkey, and all over the world. But you wouldn’t know it from the folks on Fox, nor the leftist lightweights at MSNBC, and the food-fight freaks at the Childish News Network.

In memory of Steve Carta, reporter’s lawyer

steve-cartaLibrary patrons in North Tallahassee are competing this week for parking spaces with throngs of early voters. Signs in the makeshift precinct warn partisans and press people where, exactly, the “solicitation boundary” lies.

For Florida First Amendment junkies, the signs are a melancholy hat tip to attorney Steve Carta, who died of cancer in September.

The longtime lawyer for the Ft. Myers News-Press is remembered for a long list of groundbreaking media victories, including that time in the ’80s when Carta smacked down an unholy state effort to prohibit photographers and reporters from covering the comings and goings at the polls.

Carta was a reporter’s lawyer. They loved him for his willingness to fight with everybody about everything that stood between News-Press readers and the news. He worked untold unbillable hours to keep his press cases on budgets that didn’t get editors in trouble with their publishers.

If there were no precedent for what the newsies wanted to do, Carta would create one.

Lee Melsek was the first reporter who ever thought to ask Lee County officials for a look at employee personnel files. Officials told him to pound sand. Carta pounded back. His work in News-Press v. Wisher carved into stone a right the press and public now take for granted.

Melsek retired in 2004, but fired up his keyboard to remember Carta in a Sept. 9 News-Press op-ed:

“When we investigated the shenanigans at Lee Memorial Hospital and its longtime president in 1979, Steve again was with us, literally. When hospital security guards pinned me and reporter Barbara Johnson against a wall as we came to ask for public records, Steve rushed to the hospital and made it clear to administrators the paper would not tolerate that kind of bullying of its reporters. In case after case, hearing after hearing, Steve Carta defended this community’s right to know what its government was up to and opened so many dark corners to the daylight the law requires. He was working for this paper, but in so many ways he was also the community’s lawyer. He worked hard to see that government lawyers didn’t succeed in their specious arguments to keep the public’s business private. Gradually, as they lost case after case, these local governments began to understand that the old ways of secrecy and operating in dark rooms was no longer going to work.

“Steve was as important to that mission as any editor or publisher or reporter who ever worked here. He was the sharpshooter armed with the law and a very special ability to aim well.”

Barbara Johnson Liston is still a reporter, writing for Reuters and otherwise keeping alive the values that animated Carta’s life and work.

“I have such great memories of going to court with him or going over story drafts on what seemed like a daily basis. It was an exciting time for both of us,” Liston recalled. “Steve is frozen in my mind as young, aggressive, and brilliant. Getting sued or accused of nefarious things is part of the job for investigative reporters. But Steve helped make sure all of our reporting was rock solid. No one ever got past his motions to dismiss.”

Florida Man Jeff Zucker embarrasses Florida. Again.

Jeff Zucker is past due for a Lifetime #FloridaMan Achievement Award.

Zucker, the big cheese at Childish News Network (CNN), made news himself this week when he trashed “commentator” and Democratic political operative Donna Brazile as “unethical” for her “disgusting”-ness in passing presidential debate questions to her cronies in the Hillary Clinton camp.

Zucker, as much as anybody and more than most, is responsible for purging real reporters from once-respected broadcast news organizations, and replacing them with a disgraceful deluge of political hacks with egregious conflicts of interest.

When not being paid big bucks to shout talking points at each other on Channel All Politics, All the Time, these “analysts” are peddling their cozy relationships with The Media to clients who pay bigger bucks.

 Zucker’s not disgusted by Brazile’s “betrayal” of CNN. He’s not even surprised.

Unlike most of his fellow Florida Men, Zucker is not an underemployed and barely literate loser in the lottery of life. The son of a cardiologist and a schoolteacher, Zucker was a BMOC at North Miami Senior High, where he was a top-ranked tennis player, a stringer for the Miami Herald, and a successful campus politico, winning three terms as class president.

Zucker landed a starter job as a researcher for NBC’s 1988 Olympics reporting team. Five years later, he was executive producer of “Today,” where he dazzled stockholders with a genuine genius for spinning nothing-burger “news” into mountains of money.

By 2000, he had reached his level of incompetence as head of the network, and he’s been failing up ever since.

The mile markers are visible in a profile written by The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi in 2013, when Zucker became president of CNN. Farhi, a superb media critic, pronounced Zucker’s tenure running NBC a “calamity.”

Under Zucker, Farhi wrote, “The network tumbled from its ‘must-see TV’ golden era to its ‘Fear Factor’ nadir.” It went from first in the ratings to fourth, and often fifth place behind Univision’s Spanish-language programs and popular cable fare.

In a score-settling book published last year, Warren Littlefield, Zucker’s predecessor, wrote: “The Zuckerization of NBC in recent years has been marked by the belief that viewers exist to be manipulated rather than nourished.”

Zucker’s boldest move as NBC’s top executive was to install Jay Leno as the host of a nightly variety show at 10 p.m. and his old Harvard classmate, Conan O’Brien, as host of “The Tonight Show.” The host switch lasted seven months in 2009 and early 2010, becoming perhaps the greatest public-relations debacle in TV history. Zucker departed with more than $30 million in severance payments in 2010.

Zucker can take comfort in the wisdom of “Gone With the Wind” hero Rhett Butler, who observed that if you have enough money, you can do without a reputation.

As for Brazile, well, being called unethical by a #FloridaMan is like being called ugly by a frog.


Above the Fold: Free, but worth its weight in gold

Most free stuff is worth what you’re paying for it.

An exception is Above the Fold, a compilation of the front pages of Florida’s newspapers, produced by Cate Communications and delivered to your inbox daily by 8 a.m.

In time it takes to drink a mug of coffee, you can take in a drone’s-eye view of what’s important to citizens and taxpayers outside #TheProcess.

The aerial maps provided to Above the Fold readers are revealing.

Recent example: Times-Union readers were horrified to learn a domestic violence arrest warrant for frequent felon Darryl Whipple gathered dust for 47 days, and might still be sitting on someone’s desk in Jacksonville had Whipple not walked into a Golden Corral restaurant carrying a can of lighter fluid and a match, which he used to set his estranged girlfriend on fire.

Meanwhile, down in Orlando, Sentinel readers were waking up to a story about a spike in arrests of witnesses to crimes at the behest of prosecutors whose balancing of priorities was open to debate.

Taken separately, these stories are interesting.

Side-by-side, they’re a wake-up call for people who work in and care about the criminal justice system.

For folks who love to connect dots and look at big pictures, Above the Fold is pure, addictive fun. For managers in Florida’s understaffed print and broadcast newsrooms, it’s a vital resource.

But it began life modestly as a labor-saving device for Kevin Cate, who needed to track “above the fold” news coverage of Barack Obama‘s presidential campaign and wanted to spare his interns the boring task of doing it by hand.

The tech-savvy Cate could pull Florida’s front pages out of the ether, but he pays well over $2,500 per year for actual subscriptions.

He understands the collective judgment of local editors is valuable, and he’s justifiably proud of the large volume of traffic he drives to newspapers’ websites.

“We’re trying to provide context,” Cate said. “Just because something gets aggregated somewhere, that doesn’t mean it’s actually important.”

In violent homes, every night is Halloween

On Halloween, Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter Katie Kustura brings us a timely reminder that for many women and children, every night is “dark, and full of terrors.”

Domestic violence is a notoriously underreported crime, but available statistics place Volusia County near the top of what State Attorney R.J. Larizza calls an epidemic. Larizza is fed up, and is putting together a broad-based community task force to bring the numbers down.

Abusers are adept at convincing victims that they are to blame for the black eyes, broken ribs, and bloody noses inflicted upon them. Domestic violence can go on for years under the oblivious noses of friends, family and co-workers, and it ends amicably about as often as the Cubs make the World Series.

Ekara Nichols‘ story is typical. She was a young single mother when she met Brenson Burns, who was 17 years her senior and very good at playing Prince Charming. By the time his Prince of Darkness emerged, they had a child together, and Nichols was convinced that the problem was some combination of her looks, her personality, and her housekeeping skills.

In fact, Burns was a garden-variety serial abuser who needed no “provocation” to use a woman as a punching bag. Unbeknown to Nichols, Burns had done time in the 20th century for attempted murder, having inflicted 24 stab wounds on a woman who had the bad fortune to be the subject of his “infatuation.”

In Volusia County the focus is beginning to shift from “Why do victims stay?” to “Why do abusers abuse?” Often, the answer can be found in the tree from which the abusive apple fell. Parents tell themselves that the kids can’t hear the slamming of fists on flesh in the room behind the closed door. Daytona Beach Police Victim Advocate Sophie Vessa calls that idea “laughable … you don’t sleep through domestic violence,” she told the News-Journal.

Much more likely you grow up to be a lead actor in a new generation of domestic violence. Take it from Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood, who has been around long enough “… to see the kids that were in the house when we arrested Dad, we’re now arresting the kid who is in a relationship as a domestic batterer.”

Larizza’s task force was hailed by Tiffany Carr, CEO of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. She told the News-Journal it’s a “groundbreaking effort for a community of Volusia’s size.”

Breaking the cycle of family violence is a neat trick, and Kustura’s story is a Halloween treat.

Florence Snyder: Postcard from Halloween

How did Halloween come to be first runner-up to Christmas among holidays that excel at separating families from their money?

We can thank people like John Murdy, creative director and executive producer of Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood.

In an interview with Marketplace Weekend’s Eliza Mills, Murdy recalls growing up in the ’70s, when Halloween was just a small treat on the run-up to winter. Murdy was just 10 years old, but already developing tricks that would help elevate a minor annual diversion into a major year-round economic engine.

Armed with little more than chicken wire and imagination, Murdy turned the family garage into a Star Wars-themed Halloween House and charged 25 cents admission. By the time he reached middle school, the show had expanded from the garage to every room in the house and into the backyard. The crowds numbered in the hundreds.

These days, Murdy has no trouble finding seasonal employees for Universal’s multi-sensory fright-fest. He’s hired doctors, lawyers, 70-year-old grandmothers, and mechanical engineers to dress up and scare people.

Horror may not get a lot of respect as a genre, Murdy notes, but its fans are ferociously loyal. Universal’s Horror House is not a cheap date, but patrons know they’ll get a very generous shot of adrenaline.

People who do what they love don’t need metrics mavens. They trust their own eyes and do their own polling.

“I don’t need to look at a survey or any kind of data,” Murdy said.” I just stand outside and look at the crowd.”

No good deed — honest cop writes own red light camera ticket, gets reprimand

Everyone enters “the helping professions” with high ideals.

Forty years later, some emerge as cynics who think it’s OK to “help” themselves if no one’s looking.

Not Tim Glover. After decades in Polk County law enforcement, he has his ideals, and a well-earned front page shoutout from the Lakeland Ledger headlined “Officer writes red light ticket to himself.”

Following 30 years with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Glover took a retirement job at the Haines City Police Department, reviewing tapes and writing $158 tickets to drivers caught-on-camera playing chicken with oncoming traffic.

Piggybacking on to the vehicle in front of you is so common, even a traffic cop might not realize he’s cruising through the intersection of Downright Rude and Downright Dangerous.

Glover’s moment of truth came when he was reviewing video from an intersection near the Cuban sandwich joint where he’d taken his Sept. 8 lunch.

“There was a large box truck in front of me,” Glover told Ledger reporter Suzie Schottelkotte, “and I just drove on through behind the truck. It was just me in a hurry to get back to doing what I was supposed to be doing. I fell into that rut of follow-the-leader instead of looking at the light. I made a left with the truck …”

Glover could have cut himself a break by hitting the delete key on the video evidence, but, said his police chief, that is not “the type of person he is … The honesty he shows in his job — it’s always been there.”

In addition to the three-figure fine, Glover’s honesty cost him a written reprimand “for not exercising good judgment when using a department vehicle on duty.”

Writing for The Permanent Record, his sergeant said, “You are a good officer and I hope this letter will be received in the spirit of its intentions, as a learning tool.”

Glover appears to have learned everything there is to know back in grade school. “There wasn’t any doubt when I saw [the tape],” he told The Ledger. “I had to take responsibility for it.”


Photo courtesy of The Ledger.

Florence Snyder: Memo from The Moon, ‘641 Muriel Court’

641-muriel-courtKyle Jones‘ mother was among the hundreds who packed The Moon last night for the Tallahassee premier of the Florida State University senior’s first foray into filmmaking.

She must be over-the-moon proud.

Jones, assisted by fellow students Elijah Howard, Deanna Kidd, and Michael Walsh, received a loud and warm ovation for “641 Muriel Court,” their documentary about the 50-year-old unsolved murders of Robert and Helen Sims and their 12-year-old daughter Joy, a student at nearby Raa Middle School.

Everyone in the room knew the broad outlines of the story, and many of them were living here Oct. 23, 1966, when news broke that the family had been stabbed, shot, and left to die in their home the night before, while the older Sims daughters were out baby-sitting.

It was a time when Tallahassee people didn’t think to lock their doors, even when away on vacation. There was no 911, and no paramedics to be dispatched to render assistance to the victims who had not yet drawn their last breath.

When they came home to their dead sister and dying parents, the teenage Sims girls had nowhere to turn but the phone book.

Funeral director Russell Bevis got the call. Had he understood the magnitude of the bloodbath at Muriel Court, he might have not brought his son along to help.

Rocky Bevis, who took over the family business in 1998, is still haunted by what he and his dad saw.

Bevis, along with Joy’s neighbors and classmates, local historians, and, remarkably, a person of interest in the murder investigation, granted lengthy and revealing interviews to the student filmmakers. Virtually all the story is told in their voices, and the grainy black and white footage of long-ago interviews with a witness and possible accessory to the murders.

The students frame their film with archival material that reminds us what Tallahassee looked like in its Mayberry days.

Jones & Co. are shopping their project on the Florida film festival circuit.

They should do well; “641 Muriel Court” is a compelling hour of storytelling that would fit comfortably into the lineup of big-budget cold case programming on cable TV.

Florence Snyder: A crowd of cousins at The New York Times

The mortality rate for a family business is staggering. Seventy percent of them will fail or be sold before the founders’ children come of age. Just 10 percent remain active, and in family hands when the third generation is old enough to work for a living. The chances are close to zero that a family business will be around to provide employment for a fifth generation.

Somehow, the descendants of newspaperman Arthur Ochs beat the odds.

Ochs founded The New York Times in 1896. This week, his great-great-grandson, Arthur Gregg “A.G.” Sulzberger was named Deputy Publisher; he will soon follow his father, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. into the office where the buck stops at America’s newspaper of record.

Sulzberger, Jr. became Publisher in 1992, a time when most of his fellow Lords of Journalism had not even considered the possibility that emerging technologies and changing consumer tastes would require them to rethink their mid-20th century business models. Family-owned media companies were dropping like flies, but the Ochs folks appear to have some kind of sustainability gene that the rest of us can only dream about.

A.G. was one of three extremely credible Ochs’ heirs to throw a hat into the Aspiring Publisher ring.

Sam Dolnick worked as a foreign correspondent for The Associated Press before moving to the Times newsroom. In 2012, he won the George Polk Award for Justice Reporting for his expose of rape and murder inside New Jersey’s privatized halfway houses.

Following a stint in the fun-and-glory job of deputy sports editor, Dolnick took on the Sisyphean task of figuring out how to win the hearts and eyeballs of readers looking for news on their digital device.  His portfolio today includes podcasting, virtual reality, and other forms of 21st-century storytelling for which the Times is greatly admired.

David Perpich earned praise within the company and in the industry for his work as senior vice president for product, a fancy title for the Herculean task of monetizing content in an era when people think that information is a free gift from Mark Zuckerberg.

A.G. made friends and earned credibility among Times’ readers and newsroom colleagues as a reporter, national correspondent and assistant Metro editor. His rise to the Publisher’s office began in earnest when he was named associate editor for digital strategy.

Titles like that are a dime a dozen in the news business, but in 2014, Sulzberger actually produced a gutsy, influential and widely praised strategy for keeping the Times independent, and profitable. Sulzberger’s “Innovation Report” seems to have tipped the family’s collective judgment in his favor when it came time to vote for which of the 30-somethings would get the job with the highest profile and the highest pressure.

If this were a story told by George R.R. Martin, it would be called A Crowd of Cousins and everybody would end up dead. But Sulzberger, Dolnick and Perpich are said to be friends who will play well with one another and work as a team to maintain the Times as a place where their children will aspire to work.  It’s an impressive contrast to the legions of families where cousins spend very little time together, and wouldn’t like each other if they did.

Florence Snyder: Notes from the Florida State Archives

Florence Snyder

If you want to feel good — really good — about your government, pay a visit to the overworked, underpaid band of public servants who staff Florida’s State Library and Archives.

These are the people who preserve, protect and defend our history from those who would rewrite it for short-term political or financial gain. Florida’s archivists and librarians are paragons of competence. They are bottomless pits of the childlike curiosity and thirst for knowledge that moves a society in the right direction.

Turnover is not an issue at the Library and Archives. The new kids have been around for five years, and the gray-haired eminences were brought on back when Bob Graham was governor.

Just nine archivists tend the vast collection of stuff that tells Florida’s story. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics were important tools of the archivists’ trade long before “STEM” became a ubiquitous acronym.  Without their expertise in chemistry and climatology, priceless treasures like Baptista Boazio‘s Saint Augustine Map, commissioned by Queen Elizabeth I in 1589, would have long ago disintegrated.

The muscular left-brains who labor in the R.A. Gray Building make it possible for legislative staffers, opposition researchers, survivors of Florida’s infamous Dozier School, and generations of writers and students to access parchment and vellum and onion skin papers, along with the Dictabelts and CDs where our history resides.

New material arrives every day, and somehow, this tiny staff manages to keep track of it.

October is American Archives Month, and a good time to drop by the R.A. Gray Building and see your tax dollars working very hard and extremely smart.

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