The medium is the message.
Media theorist Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase in 1964, one that is just as effective a half-century later.
In the 2016 presidential race, recent criticism of Jeb Bush’s tenure as Florida governor leads to a compelling question – when does a messenger overshadow his or her message?
The answer is when the messengers are two deeply embedded Democratic operatives — David Sirota and Andrew Perez — each seemingly with the means and motive to blast a top-tier GOP presidential candidate on the rise.
The messages in question all spring from a single source, the International Business Times (IBT).
IBT was founded by Etienne Uzac and Johnathan Davis and is owned by “innovative media” company IBT Media, which acquired Newsweek Magazine in 2013. IBT Media headquarters are located in the former Newsweek offices in Lower Manhattan.
The articles, without doubt, are provocative, as they are intended to be: the Jeb Bush administration “delivered” millions in of Florida pension money to an additional investment fund run by Goldman Sachs executive George Herbert Walker IV, Jeb’s cousin and a Bush family fundraiser.
Another is “shifting” of Florida state retiree money into Movie Gallery, one of the nation’s largest film rental firms, which also happens to offer a few adult film titles.
Other articles from the pair include a shocking “revelation” that Bush, while governor, was receiving advice from former deputy chief of staff David Rancourt, one of his most trusted advisors. Rancourt had since joined Southern Strategy Group – one of the state’s most respected lobbying firms.
One more Sirota/Perez piece recounted Bush, as governor, buying land from Rayonier, the timber company that would receive almost $100 million from the state in exchange for logging rights and real-estate. After Jeb Bush left office, he was “given” a seat on the Rayonier board of directors, while the firm continued to sell property to the State of Florida.
Also, much of the later criticism is framed to include references to recent Bush campaign speeches where the candidate decries the influence of lobbying in both Tallahassee and Washington.
On the surface, the reporting of Sirota and Perez is a solid attempt to connect some of the dots of Bushworld.
But at this point is where the message begins to be eclipsed by the partisan Democratic messengers.
In his online biography, Sirota boasts a longtime relationship as a political operative for the current Democratic presidential candidate (and self-avowed Socialist) Bernie Sanders, as well as time with Democrats Brian Schweitzer and Ned Lamont.
DavidSirota.com says: “Before becoming a full-time journalist, Sirota was a political strategist serving as a senior campaign aide to Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Montana’s first Democratic governor in 16 years; a campaign adviser to Connecticut’s antiwar icon Ned Lamont, who defeated Sen. Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic primary; and the press secretary for Vermont Congressman Bernard Sanders, the longest-serving independent in congressional history.”
As a devoted Democratic operative, Sirota was relentless in attacks of the George W. Bush administration, as well as determined to condemn his younger brother Jeb. It is an effort that continues to this day.
Richard Wolffe, writing in 2003 for Newsweek, called Sirota “the Internet child of the Clinton ‘war-room’ generation. Intense, driven, even obsessive, he fills the gap left by a timid Democratic establishment, with his guerrilla strikes on the Bush administration.”
In the same article, Wolffe spoke with John Podesta, former Clinton White House chief of staff – and current Chair of the Hillary Clinton campaign. Podesta said Sirota “had an eye for critique and the instinct for the jugular.” Wolffe also described him as “part of an ambitious attempt to shake Democrats out of their stupor and reshape liberal politics.”
Later, as a spokesperson for the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, Sirota began criticizing Gov. Jeb Bush’s tax record in 2004.
“A look at his record shows that (Bush’s) policies have actually exacerbated the effects of the recession for thousands of Floridians all while he and his brother (Florida Gov. Jeb Bush) have insisted on more tax cuts for the wealthy,” Sirota told Jennifer Loven of the Associated Press.
As for Perez, his LinkedIn profile also confirms a broad progressive liberal background, particularly with roles in the office of Sen. Patty Murray and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. Perez also served as a business development associate with American Directions Group (ADG), a Democratic-leaning organization specializing in targeted grassroots advocacy programs.
Journalists, especially political reporters, have a duty and responsibility to provide truthful and essential information, valuable for readers – and voters – in making sense of the modern political landscape. They have an accountability to be balanced and act by ethical standards.
What they should not be is proxy for a single private entity or ideology, which is clearly the case here.
With David Sirota and Andrew Perez – no matter how accurate their reporting might be – they only serve as partisan messengers who ultimately negate the overall message.