Florence Snyder, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 12

Florence Snyder

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

Florence Snyder: And another one gone (-30-)

Editor’s note: Within 24 hours of his layoff, Lloyd Dunkelberger has joined FloridaPolitics.com as a contributor.

***

There was yet another round of layoffs last week at Florida newspapers. Men and women with, collectively, hundreds of years of priceless institutional memory and high-functioning moral compasses were unceremoniously kicked to the curb.

They will be replaced, if at all, by younger, cheaper bodies who have not necessarily been taught the difference between putting bylines on news releases and honest reporting.

Serving up the pink slips at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune was Publisher Patrick Dorsey. Dorsey previously held the same title at the Tallahassee Democrat, where his principal achievements were getting to the gym at 6:30 a.m. and cozying up to shills for bad actors in the public and private sector; Chamber of Commerce cronies; and Chamber of Commerce cronies who also worked as shills for bad actors in the public and private sector.

Among the casualties of Dorsey’s latest exercise in “reduction in (work)force” is ink-stained eminence grise Lloyd Dunkelberger.

As a newly minted University of Florida College of Journalism graduate, Dunkelberger walked out of the 1977 graduation exercises and into the newsroom at the Ocala Star-Banner. His mother was very proud, as well she should have been.

The Star-Banner, along with The Gainesville Sun; the Lakeland Ledger, and the Herald-Tribune were owned by the Sulzberger family and they lavished almost as much love and attention on those properties as on their flagship newspaper, The New York Times.

Dunkelberger was hired by the late Don Meiklejohn, a “prototypical mean-ass editor” and assigned to cover the Marion County Commission, with its weekly marathon meetings. Dunkelberger would sit through the first few hours and go back to the smoke-filled newsroom to pound out a story for the afternoon paper. Then it was back to the meeting, where he stayed for as long as it lasted.

Tutored and occasionally terrorized by editors and publishers who were paying attention to everything, every day, Dunkelberger passed the audition and would spend the next 39 years serving Florida citizens and taxpayers at papers the Sulzbergers had nurtured.

Meiklejohn said Dunkelberger was the “best damn records-checker” he’d ever worked with, and was both proud and sorry when the Times Company moved the young newsman to the Ledger. In Lakeland, Dunkelberger served as assistant city editor and was soon promoted to the demanding — and in those days prestigious — post of capital correspondent for The New York Times Regional Newspapers.

Dunkelberger’s experience served the public well during the circus known as the 2000 Recount. The New York Times sent a team of seven to Tallahassee including Todd Purdham (now with Vanity Fair as National Editor) who cited Dunkelberger’s steady hand as a significant contribution to the Times’ definitive recount coverage.

Dunkelberger earned the gratitude of generations of Florida journalists for his extraordinary generosity. He didn’t cherry-pick the good stories, leaving the boring or minor topics for the underlings. He freely shares knowledge with newcomers and arcane bits of information with his peers.

Some of the brightest names in what’s left of Florida journalism cycled through his office. He gave his office manager, Dara Kam, a shot at reporting. Today, she’s a Senior Writer for The News Service of Florida. The famously ferocious Gary Fineout, now with The Associated Press, flourished professionally under Dunkelberger, who was neither threatened nor intimidated by Fineout’s outsized personality.

Dunkelberger’s ethics have never been questioned. He stays out of his stories and lets the work speak for itself. He does not preen, fawn, or discuss his adult beverage preferences in cyberspace.

The New York Times Co. fell on hard times and pulled up stakes in 2011, abandoning the Florida properties to investors who knew little and cared less about journalism.  With the writing on the wall, old timers headed for the lifeboats. Diane McFarlin, Dorsey’s predecessor in the Sarasota publisher’s office and a Florida newswoman to the core, now serves as Dean of the UF journalism school where she does what she can to produce good journalists in a world that treats good journalists very poorly.

Dunkelberger kept his nose to the grindstone, and went down with the ship, his integrity intact.

___

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

Florence Snyder: At Florida Department of Children & Families, the sun don’t shine

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) is not the worst offender in Florida’s never-ending War on Open Government.

It just gets caught in the act more often than fellow offenders at the state, county and municipal levels.

That’s because DCF is one of the few agencies left which ever has to contend with watchdog journalism.

DCF chieftains, lawyers and flacks are well-acquainted with the well-oiled BS detector of the Miami Herald’s Carol Marbin Miller, a veteran investigative reporter who knows the difference between transparency, and transparent nonsense.

But they keep trying to buffalo her, anyway.

The latest example involves the case of Sophia Hines. She’s currently residing in the Broward County jail, charged with suffocating her infant son and toddler daughter. Hines, a resident of Pennsylvania, had been receiving services from that state’s child welfare authorities.

Marbin Miller “cobbled together” some of the sad story of how Hines ended up in Florida and the children ended up dead, but only after days of being diddled by DCF while its lawyers tried and failed to come up with a good excuse to keep secrets on Pennsylvania’s behalf.

“Though child protection records remain sealed in Pennsylvania, they are considered public record in Florida when a youngster dies from abuse or neglect,” Marbin Miller reports in her June 25 front-page story. “For about two weeks, the Florida Department of Children & Families sought to shield records of the Hines children from disclosure, saying Pennsylvania’s confidentiality extended to Florida, a claim First Amendment lawyers disputed. DCF ultimately relented, and released all of the records to the Herald Friday.”

State agencies employ an army of well-paid lawyers and “communications professionals” to play public records keep-away. They do it — with our money — because they can.

It’s been decades since Florida had an elected statewide official who paid much more than lip service to open government.

In 1992, Florida voters passed, by an 83 percent majority, Amendment 24 to Article 1 of the state constitution. Nicknamed the Sunshine Amendment, it was supposed to drench existing open government laws in a thick coat of permanent sunlight.

Almost immediately, the Legislature began throwing shade and thumbing its nose at voters.

The First Amendment Foundation, which has the depressing task of keeping track, reports that since 1995, the Legislature has passed 240 bills creating exemptions to our open government laws.

The contempt for open government is entirely bipartisan; more than half those bills were approved unanimously by both Legislative chambers. The Senate, which loves to call itself the more “deliberative” chamber, has approved exemptions unanimously 151 times.

Florida’s current attorney general, Pam Bondi, spends a lot of public money in court and a lot of time on cable news “defending” gun rights and gay marriage bans. She insists she’s just doing her job, protecting Florida’s Constitution and guarding against “federal overreach.”

Bondi is far less aggressive when it comes to protecting Florida’s constitutional right of access to public records and meetings. Like most of her recent predecessors, Democrat and Republican alike, Bondi has treated the Sunshine Amendment as an unloved, unwanted poor relation. Think Catelyn Stark and Jon Snow.

In the wake of the June 12 mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, reporters requested documents about the killer and the police response — which are plainly public record under Florida law.

Bondi said nothing and did nothing, as federal and local officials told the press to pound sand.

On June 15, Florida Politics’ reporter Jim Rosica asked Bondi for an explanation. She has yet to answer, perhaps because there is no principled answer to be given by an attorney general who claims to be a defender of Florida’s faith in Florida’s Constitution.

___

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

Florence Snyder: State dumps company that lied about care for troubled kids

There’s a dreary predictability to the cycle of corporate child abuse funded by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).

It matters not whether the governor is a Democrat or a Republican. DJJ’s patience with well-connected private contractors is limitless, no matter who’s in office.

The evidence is succinctly summarized by The Palm Beach Post’s Pat Beall in her March 18 report on DJJ’s decision — at long last, and long overdue — to cancel Youth Services International’s (YSI) multimillion dollar contracts to operate “rehabilitative and nurturing” facilities for kids in trouble with the law.

The Sarasota-based company has been at the public trough since the Chiles administration, racking up bad publicity for the bad things that happen behind its walls. But reporters and editorial writers were no match for YSI’s stonewalling.

Year after year, DJJ continued doing business with YSI, notwithstanding chronic understaffing and violence at its facilities, as well as falsified documents and wage-and-hour violations. Generations of DJJ “leadership teams” took YSI’s word that staff was successfully completing training sessions to stay current on what DJJ loves to call “best practices.”

It took a whistleblower lawsuit to expose the emptiness of YSI’s claims of contract compliance, and the credulousness that passes for contract oversight at DJJ.

Beall reports that “six former YSI staffers alleged the company faked documents, hid problems and hoodwinked state inspectors into believing it was making good on tens

of millions of dollars in DJJ contracts.”

After four years of litigation in Leon County Circuit Court, the state finally cut ties with YSI. YSI agreed to pay the state $2 million, also known as chump change in the burgeoning world of corporate social work.

Capitalists have learned that there’s plenty of profit to be made on the backs of troubled teenagers, especially if you’re willing to feed the kids tiny portions of cheap eats.

According to the whistleblowers, YSI detention centers “routinely had issues with both the quality and quantity of food, so much so that some staffers bought them food out of their own pockets.”

Beall’s story ends, as these stories always do, with a zombified quote from DJJ Secretary Christina Daly, assuring the taxpaying public that, “Our focus and priority is to ensure that youth in our care are safe, and that effective treatments are being provided in rehabilitative and nurturing environments.”

If the kids in custody had a dollar for every time that lie comes out of a government “communications” office, they could eat steak and lobster instead of the peanut butter and slop served up by their “rehabilitative and nurturing” corporate jailers.

***

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

Florence Snyder: State dumps company that lied about care for troubled kids

There’s a dreary predictability to the cycle of corporate child abuse funded by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).

It matters not whether the governor is a Democrat or a Republican. DJJ’s patience with well-connected private contractors is limitless, no matter who’s in office.

The evidence is succinctly summarized by The Palm Beach Post’s Pat Beall in her March 18 report on DJJ’s decision — at long last, and long overdue — to cancel Youth Services International’s (YSI) multimillion dollar contracts to operate “rehabilitative and nurturing” facilities for kids in trouble with the law.

The Sarasota-based company has been at the public trough since the Chiles administration, racking up bad publicity for the bad things that happen behind its walls. But reporters and editorial writers were no match for YSI’s stonewalling.

Year after year, DJJ continued doing business with YSI, notwithstanding chronic understaffing and violence at its facilities, as well as falsified documents and wage-and-hour violations.  Generations of DJJ “leadership teams” took YSI’s word that staff was successfully completing training sessions to stay current on what DJJ loves to call “best practices.”

It took a whistleblower lawsuit to expose the emptiness of YSI’s claims of contract compliance, and the credulousness that passes for contract oversight at DJJ.

Beall reports that “six former YSI staffers alleged the company faked documents, hid problems and hoodwinked state inspectors into believing it was making good on tens

of millions of dollars in DJJ contracts.”

After four years of litigation in Leon County Circuit Court, the state finally cut ties with YSI.  YSI agreed to pay the state $2 million, also known as chump change in the burgeoning world of corporate social work.

Capitalists have learned that there’s plenty of profit to be made on the backs of troubled teenagers, especially if you’re willing to feed the kids tiny portions of cheap eats.

According to the whistleblowers, YSI detention centers “routinely had issues with both the quality and quantity of food, so much so that some staffers bought them food out of their own pockets.”

Beall’s story ends, as these stories always do, with a zombified quote from DJJ Secretary Christina Daly, assuring the taxpaying public that, “Our focus and priority is to ensure that youth in our care are safe, and that effective treatments are being provided in rehabilitative and nurturing environments.”

If the kids in custody had a dollar for every time that lie comes out of a government “communications” office, they could eat steak and lobster instead of the peanut butter and slop served up by their “rehabilitative and nurturing” corporate jailers.

***

Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Florence Snyder: State workers bothered by bats, bad air

In Greek mythology, Ajax is known as the guy who raped the prophetess Cassandra.

In Tallahassee, Ajax is known as the absentee landlord of Northwood Centre, a state office building so sick with mold and bat poop that Gov. Rick Scott took the extraordinary step of cutting off rent payments and relocating 1,500 state employees.

Among the displaced is Department of Business & Professional Regulation Secretary Ken Lawson, whose executive desk was located directly under 10 pounds of bat guano.

The face and voice of Ajax is one Stuart Silberberg, described by the Tallahassee Democrat as a principal for Ajax Investment Partners LLC, a New York City-based business that has, since 2007, co-owned Northwood in partnership with Los Angeles-based JRK Birchmont.

As the parties gird their loins for litigation, Silberberg granted a lengthy interview to the Democrat. Unable to dazzle the paper’s reporters with his brilliance, Silberberg instead baffled them with bull feathers and talking points that would work brilliantly in The Onion, a satirical website.

But this is not a laughing matter for the affected employees. And air quality is not a new issue at Northwood. According to the Democrat, “Problems from mold, sewage and animal feces surfaced in the mid-1990s [resulting in] a lawsuit filed in 2002 by 60 workers who sued Northwood and won a substantial, undisclosed settlement.”

Now, there’s a new lawsuit. Silberberg can’t explain “the reports of employees fainting and throwing up,” but he “honestly wishes he could,” he told the Democrat. Then, he proceeded to blame the victims, conjuring up images of profit-motive crazed plaintiffs feigning sickness, like the complaining witnesses in the Salem witch trials.

“I don’t know where that stuff comes from,” Silberberg said. “The Fire Department was there. They found nothing. All the specialists that we have working at the property came, reported, they found nothing. Our environmental firm was there. They found nothing.

“Our property management team walked the property. They found nothing. We are as stumped as anyone. The property checks out clean as it almost always does,” he said.

From 2007 to last month when Scott pulled the plug, Northwood’s current owners pocketed over $56 million in rent. Silberberg, we are told, has “an even longer history with the property, dating back to the early 1990s.”

More specifically, and in his own words, Silberberg has “been affiliated with this property since 1993, when it was owned by two owners, maybe three, before this. Through institutions that I’ve worked for, I have financed and refinanced this property four times. I think what’s important here is the property had traded institutionally several times and been financed institutionally several times, and each and every time, there would be an environmental inspection and an environmental report. And each and every time, the property passed those reports.”

That actually makes sense if you’re in the business of collecting fees and commissions for churning office buildings you don’t have to work in.

“Certainly the income stream from the state offices was a primary reason from an economic standpoint,” said Silberberg, who understandably would like to turn the “income stream” back on.

Less understandable is the stream of patronizing ipse dixit pronouncements delivered by Silberberg to the Democrat.

Silberberg oozes condescension in a series of not-too-veiled suggestions that Scott is too dumb to understand the basics of building management.

“I can only speculate that they don’t fully appreciate the process by which capital improvements are made to large-scale institutional buildings,” Silberberg told the Democrat. “It takes a long time to conduct tests, make engineering studies … and put contractors in place to make changes. And I think they were frustrated — my guess — with the pace of those changes.”

Bat problems, according to Silberberg, “are very common around Tallahassee.” And “there are always ongoing issues [that] relate to things that employees at the property are doing. And they could be things like running their own refrigeration units at their desks or plants and humidity.”

Notwithstanding our bats and our reckless use of refrigeration units, Silberberg is willing to take Florida state government, and its rent money, back.

“We would certainly welcome a conversation with them,” Silberberg said. “They have been difficult. I would love to have a conversation with the right person. It’s our understanding that it’s moved beyond the agencies themselves and perhaps to a legislative issue.

“That’s a matter of law and budgeting. But we would welcome the conversation because we know we have a clean property. We also think we have the right property to keep the state happy for years to come.”

There’s too much money at stake for Silberberg to think anything else.

And in the long-running bats#@! crazy case of Northwood Centre, there’s no predicting where the next load of guano will drop.

• • •

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

Florence Snyder: State workers bothered by bats, bad air

In Greek mythology, Ajax is known as the guy who raped the prophetess Cassandra.

In Tallahassee, Ajax is known as the absentee landlord of Northwood Centre, a state office building so sick with mold and bat poop that Gov. Rick Scott took the extraordinary step of cutting off rent payments and relocating 1,500 state employees.

Among the displaced is Department of Business & Professional Regulation Secretary Ken Lawson, whose executive desk was located directly under 10 pounds of bat guano.

The face and voice of Ajax is one Stuart Silberberg, described by the Tallahassee Democrat as a principal for Ajax Investment Partners, a New York City firm that has, since 2007, co-owned Northwood in partnership with Los Angeles-based JRK Birchmont.

As the parties gird their loins for litigation, Silberberg granted a lengthy interview to the Democrat.  Unable to dazzle the paper’s reporters with his brilliance, Silberberg instead baffled them with bullfeathers and talking points that would work brilliantly in The Onion, a satirical website.

But this is not a laughing matter for the affected employees. And air quality is not a new issue at Northwood.  According to the Democrat, “Problems from mold, sewage and animal feces surfaced in the mid-1990s [resulting in] a lawsuit filed in 2002 by 60 workers who sued Northwood and won a substantial, undisclosed settlement.”

Now, there’s a new lawsuit.  Silberberg can’t explain “the reports of employees fainting and throwing up,” but he “honestly wishes he could,” he told the Democrat.  Then, he proceeded to blame the victims, conjuring up images of profit-motive crazed plaintiffs feigning sickness, like the complaining witnesses in the Salem witch trials.

“I don’t know where that stuff comes from, ” said Silberberg. “The Fire Department was there. They found nothing. All the specialists that we have working at the property came, reported, they found nothing. Our environmental firm was there. They found nothing.

“Our property management team walked the property. They found nothing. We are as stumped as anyone. The property checks out clean as it almost always does,” he said.

From 2007 to last month when Scott pulled the plug, Northwood’s current owners pocketed over $56 million in rent. Silberberg, we are told, has “an even longer history with the property, dating back to the early 1990s.”

More specifically, and in his own words, Silberberg has “been affiliated with this property since 1993, when it was owned by two owners, maybe three, before this. Through institutions that I’ve worked for, I have financed and refinanced this property four times. I think what’s important here is the property had traded institutionally

several times and been financed institutionally several times, and each and every time, there would be an environmental inspection and an environmental report. And each and every time, the property passed those reports.”

That actually makes sense if you’re in the business of collecting fees and commissions for churning office buildings you don’t have to work in.

“Certainly the income stream from the state offices was a primary reason from an economic standpoint,” said Silberberg, who understandably would like to turn the “income stream” back on.

Less understandable is the stream of patronizing ipse dixit pronouncements delivered by Silberberg to the Democrat.

Silberberg oozes condescension in a series of not-too-veiled suggestions that Scott is too dumb to understand the basics of building management.

“I can only speculate that they don’t fully appreciate the process by which capital improvements are made to large-scale institutional buildings,” Silberberg told the Democrat.  “It takes a long time to conduct tests, make engineering studies … and put contractors in place to make changes. And I think they were frustrated — my guess — with the pace of those changes.”

Bat problems, according to Silberberg, “are very common around Tallahassee.” And “there are always ongoing issues [that] relate to things that employees at the property are doing. And they could be things like running their own refrigeration units at their desks or plants and humidity.”

Notwithstanding our bats and our reckless use of refrigeration units, Silberberg is willing to take Florida state government, and its rent money, back.

“We would certainly welcome a conversation with them,” said Silberberg. “They have been difficult. I would love to have a conversation with the right person. It’s our understanding that it’s moved beyond the agencies themselves and perhaps to a legislative issue.

“That’s a matter of law and budgeting. But we would welcome the conversation because we know we have a clean property. We also think we have the right property to keep the state happy for years to come.”

There’s too much money at stake for Silberberg to think anything else.

And in the long-running bats#@! crazy case of Northwood Centre, there’s no predicting where the next load of guano will drop.

***

Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Florence Snyder: Prisons use “security concerns” to hide abuse

If it weren’t so sick, twisted and perverted, the “security concerns” exemptions to Florida’s public records law would be downright hilarious.

Consider the case of Steven Zerbe‘s mom.

Bonnie’s Zerbe‘s 37-year-old son was sent to Santa Rosa Correctional Institution in 2013. He soon began to tell prison officials, and his mother, that he had been raped, knifed, and beaten black and blue.

You would think that a prison system concerned about security would take such complaints seriously, but you would be wrong. A few months after entering Santa Rosa, Zerbe was dead of respiratory failure, liver failure, and pneumonia.

Pressured by Mrs. Zerbe, an autopsy was ordered, and Medical Examiner Andrea Minyard contended that Zerbe died from complications of lymphoma.

That came as news to his mom, who told Miami Herald investigative reporter Julie K. Brown that her son was legally deaf and blind, but had never been diagnosed with cancer.

Brown is a one-woman Greek chorus bearing witness to the tragedy that is Florida’s prison system.  Last week, she turned attention to the public records exemptions that DOC hides behind to block access to any prison video that might shed light on how Steven Zerbe’s 15-year sentence for aggravated battery morphed into the death penalty, but without witnesses.

Brown contrasts the obstruction Mrs. Zerbe encountered with the red carpet rolled out for “Lockup Extended Stay: Santa Rosa – Blood Lines.”

The creepy prison-based reality franchise airs on MSNBC, the cable network that serves as the left wing’s answer to Fox News and a halfway house for disgraced NBC anchor Brian Williams.

Brown reports that the producers of Lockup “spent eight weeks at Santa Rosa, filming many angles of the Panhandle prison, from the maximum confinement unit to gritty cells splattered with blood.”

“Viewers could get an inside view of life behind bars, revealing where security cameras are located, when and how officers conduct searches, and even … a brief tutorial from an inmate on how to make a handcuff key out of a battery, then hide it in a roll-up deodorant container.”

“Lockup” is a cash cow for the network, but producers gained eight weeks of access to Santa Rosa for the bargain basement price of $110,000. That just about covers salary and benefits for DOC flack McKinley Lewis, who blows off reporters, so public officials have more time to spend fending off growing public demand for independent oversight.

DOC is spending considerably less than $110,000 on prison guards, whose jobs are more hazardous than playing keep-away with reporters.

And DOC is spending considerably more to fight the Herald’s lawsuit seeking access to prison video relating to inmates who died under questionable and possibly criminal circumstances.

DOC relies upon public records exemptions for “surveillance techniques, procedure and personnel; images of individual, identifiable corrections officers, … which, if released, would jeopardize a person’s safety.”

It will be interesting to watch DOC explain, under oath, how reporters such as Julie Brown and grieving mothers like Bonnie Zerbe present a security threat, and a global audience of “Lockup” viewers does not.

• • •

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

Florence Snyder: Church scandal underscores importance of press

At long last, there’s an edge-of-seat movie about journalism where the woman on the I-Team is not sleeping with her boss or her source.

That’s just one of a million things to love about “Spotlight.” It’s a two-hour cinematic distillation of two years in the lives of Boston Globe reporters as they piece together the big picture of the Catholic Church’s cover-up of pedophile priests harbored and enabled by Cardinal Bernard Law. Audiences burst into applause as the end credits roll.

Forbes Magazine calls the film “a superb love letter to journalistic competence.”  Indeed, it’s a video textbook.

Reporters knocking on doors. Reporters getting doors slammed in their faces.  Reporters unfazed by the dead rat decaying in a dusty storage room where they discover old church directories. Reporters turning old church directories into proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

All in a day’s work for journalists who get their stories from people who aren’t being paid to talk to them – and whose documents are hard to get and harder still to assemble into a damning database. In one particularly satisfying scene, reporter Mark Rezendes refuses to be stonewalled by a smarmy court clerk who won’t give him a public file full of smoking guns. Rezendes goes straight to the duty judge and politely but firmly insists that the law be followed.

Like most jaw-dropping scandals, the Catholic Church sex abuse story hid in plain sight for a very long time.

Small stories that should have made reporting radar light up had been published in the Globe. Victims had approached the paper years earlier and couldn’t get the time of day. Eventually, some found their way to the Boston Phoenix’s Kristen Lombardi.

Lombardi, now with the Center for Public Integrity, is a fearless and highly decorated investigative reporter, but an alt-weekly was no match for Cardinal Law’s decades of experience at running a conspiracy of silence.

The paradigm shifted when Martin Baron arrived for his first day of work as editor of the Globe. Baron had held the same job at the Miami Herald, and no one who worked with him there was the least bit surprised when the movie-Baron ordered his startled staff to push past the omerta that prevailed in the church, the courts, and the community.

The real Baron told the real backstory to WGBH’s Emily Rooney in 2011:

“When I first came, before I even came, I was reading stories in the Globe about Father Geoghan and that he was alleged to have abused 80 children. It was an extraordinary story and I thought, what could be done with that? I read a column by Eileen McNamara who was a columnist for us at the time, who had said these documents were under seal and perhaps the truth would never be known.

“It came up at my first news meeting here. I raised the question of what we could do …”

In the beginning, the Spotlight team could think of plenty of reasons to do something else. They’d all been raised Catholic, and nobody wants to tell Grandma that her trusted spiritual advisers are not really doing the Lord’s work

To Baron, “perhaps the truth would never be known” was an unacceptable place for a local newspaper to be.

The Spotlight reporters warm to the story as they pursue the hard task of thawing out sources who understandably believe the Globe is in the tank for the church.  Slowly, the traumatized victims come around.

At the movies, and in real life, the payoff goes like this:

Source: You can use my name if you want.

Reporter: Thanks, Patrick.

Source: Don’t thank me. Just get the assholes.

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

For more state and national commentary visit Context Florida.

Florence Snyder: Church scandal underscores importance of press

At long last, there’s an edge-of-seat movie about journalism where the woman on the I-Team is not sleeping with her boss or her source.

That’s just one of a million things to love about “Spotlight.” It’s a two-hour cinematic distillation of two years in the lives of Boston Globe reporters as they piece together the big picture of the Catholic Church’s cover-up of pedophile priests harbored and enabled by Cardinal Bernard Law. Audiences burst into applause as the end credits roll.

Forbes Magazine calls the film “a superb love letter to journalistic competence.”  Indeed, it’s a video textbook.

Reporters knocking on doors. Reporters getting doors slammed in their faces.  Reporters unfazed by the dead rat decaying in a dusty storage room where they discover old church directories. Reporters turning old church directories into proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

All in a day’s work for journalists who get their stories from people who aren’t being paid to talk to them – and whose documents are hard to get and harder still to assemble into a damning database. In one particularly satisfying scene, reporter Mark Rezendes refuses to be stonewalled by a smarmy court clerk who won’t give him a public file full of smoking guns. Rezendes goes straight to the duty judge and politely but firmly insists that the law be followed.

Like most jaw-dropping scandals, the Catholic Church sex abuse story hid in plain sight for a very long time.

Small stories that should have made reporting radar light up had been published in the Globe. Victims had approached the paper years earlier and couldn’t get the time of day. Eventually, some found their way to the Boston Phoenix’s Kristen Lombardi.

Lombardi, now with the Center for Public Integrity, is a fearless and highly decorated investigative reporter, but an alt-weekly was no match for Cardinal Law’s decades of experience at running a conspiracy of silence.

The paradigm shifted when Martin Baron arrived for his first day of work as editor of the Globe. Baron had held the same job at the Miami Herald, and no one who worked with him there was the least bit surprised when the movie-Baron ordered his startled staff to push past the omerta that prevailed in the church, the courts, and the community.

The real Baron told the real backstory to WGBH’s Emily Rooney in 2011:

“When I first came, before I even came, I was reading stories in the Globe about Father Geoghan and that he was alleged to have abused 80 children. It was an extraordinary story and I thought, what could be done with that? I read a column by Eileen McNamara who was a columnist for us at the time, who had said these documents were under seal and perhaps the truth would never be known.

“It came up at my first news meeting here. I raised the question of what we could do …”

In the beginning, the Spotlight team could think of plenty of reasons to do something else. They’d all been raised Catholic, and nobody wants to tell Grandma that her trusted spiritual advisers are not really doing the Lord’s work

To Baron, “perhaps the truth would never be known” was an unacceptable place for a local newspaper to be.

The Spotlight reporters warm to the story as they pursue the hard task of thawing out sources who understandably believe the Globe is in the tank for the church.  Slowly, the traumatized victims come around.

At the movies, and in real life, the payoff goes like this:

Source: You can use my name if you want.

Reporter: Thanks, Patrick.

Source: Don’t thank me. Just get the assholes.

Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Florence Snyder: No matter the tech, distracted driving is dangerous

Distracted driving is as old as driving. A Tin Lizzie could turn deathtrap in an instant if the driver shifted his peripheral vision from the road ahead to the map on his lap or the pal in the passenger seat.

In 1930, Motorola founders Paul and Joseph Galvin and William Lear of Learjet fame, developed the first automobile dashboard radio.  By the end of the decade, safety advocates armed with persuasive accident statistics were demanding that radios be banished to nonmobile venues.

They got nowhere. Music has always been “the food of life,” and the driving public deemed the occasional traffic fatality a fair price to pay for the joyful release of singing with Sinatra on your way to work, or harmonizing with your homies on the way to school.

For many decades, we all played radio roulette with pretty much the same preset buttons. Now, there are so many ways to be audio-visually distracted that researchers rank them on a five-category scale like the one used at the National Hurricane Center.

Talking while driving on a hand-held cellphone is a Category 2. In the days before texting supplanted talking, hand-held cellphones
killed a lot of people, and talking on them while driving was eventually banned in 14 states and the District of Columbia.

Category 3 covers the ramped-up risk of sending voice-activated texts on a system that’s 100 percent error-free. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, “Potentially unsafe mental distractions can persist for as long as 27 seconds after dialing, changing music or sending a text using voice commands.”

Good luck finding a 100 percent error free system.

Category 5 happens in carefully controlled laboratory settings, where test subjects are deliberately “overloaded” in order to facilitate research designed to advance science and save lives. Category 4 is for real world idiots who update their social media while driving.

It Can Wait used to conjure up images of abstinence campaigns that sixth graders make fun of. Now, it’s a multiplatform, multimillion dollar effort to wheedle, cajole, shame and terrorize us into remembering that a car is 3,000 pounds of lethal weapon.

It Can Wait has produced potent works of advocacy art, but it’s no match for the siren song of Siri.

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

For more state and national commentary visit Context Florida.

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