Tallahassee Democrat publisher shares hope for capital city
Tallahassee Democrat Publisher Skip Foster speaks at Capital Tiger Bay Club.

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Tallahassee Democrat Publisher Skip Foster shared a familiar message to the Capital Tiger Bay Club on Monday: The night is always darkest just before the dawn.

To be clear, the publisher of the paper of record for the capital city didn’t verbatim quote the famous line from “The Dark Knight” or evenly remotely reference it.

But he did preach a similar motif for an area plagued by corruption and high rates of violent crime while also at the focus of an FBI investigation—which, when coupled together, presents such a negative portrait that it might only be rivaled by Batman’s Gotham.

What Foster shared was a message of hope, and, given the appetizing array of lunch foods, that likely was the only thing for which the politically-engaged Tallahassee-based audience was starved.

Referencing the paper’s coverage, Foster said, “We must always remember in our shop and in our community that whatever corruption is uncovered, the forces of good in Tallahassee must and will prevail.”

That excerpt concluded a half-hour long speech that gave the audience rich insights into the behind-the-scenes efforts of the Democrat’s nonstop coverage of the ongoing FBI investigation and other incidences of corruption.

The publisher’s address had been preceded by a series of light jokes about the city. But after briefly cracking wise about the salt and pepper shakers being bugged, Foster stiffened the mood, lending to a much more sober discussion.

“While the adage ‘sometimes all you can do is laugh’ is always true,” Foster said. “Here is another truth: What is happening right now in Tallahassee with this investigation is really not funny at all. It’s very serious business so we’re going to talk seriously about it today.”

He later said his speech was scripted with words chosen carefully to not undermine the diligent reporting of his staff.

Foster shared an interaction he had when he took his post as publisher with an unnamed prominent someone in Tallahassee, who told him the city did not have a “business-friendly” environment and that developers often would “move on” from the city because they could not get anything done.

He told the audience that originally this was difficult to believe and that even his “cynical eye” saw evidence of an honest effort between developers and government officials.

“To be honest, as time went on I had a difficult time reconciling that narrative with other things that I’ve seen,” Foster said.

But the publisher said he began to hear the story over and over again and that it “didn’t add up.”

And now, in light of what’s already transpired, the publisher said he has a working theory.

“That theory is perhaps Tallahassee has been a pay-for-play town,” Foster said. He said that the theory might be wrong, but if correct, it’s likely universally understood by those involved.

Then he recapped how the paper caught wind of the FBI investigation. The publisher gave a nod to the original subpoena and also to Florida Bar Executive Director Josh Doyle, who had outlined an almost identical description of the case to the Florida Bar News during a taped interview deemed a public record.

Foster presented those two stories as catalysts for the unfinished reporting cascade that’s followed. He later said the paper has written more than 90 stories related to the FBI investigation.

“We decided early on that ‘first’ was not going to drive our coverage,” Foster said. He added that some stories were in progress for up to 10 weeks.

He then delved into the great lengths his paper goes through to authenticate sources and information. Foster used the example of the notorious photo of City Commissioner and former Tallahassee Mayor Scott Maddox posing with undercover FBI agents and a dwarf entertainer in Las Vegas.

He said word of the photo surfaced well before the paper’s publishing, but his staff held the story until they received an unredacted picture.

Following that anecdote, Foster addressed the criticism his paper’s received, which has included comments on not exposing the corruption sooner. He drew a stark contrast between the FBI and his staff, and noted that the paper’s coverage has outpaced any criminal convictions.

“At my disposal are a handful of plucky journalists who care deeply about their craft and this community, drive bumperless late model cars and have only their own gumption and the power of the state’s public records law as their weapons,” Foster said of his staff.

He also said there are some pointing to his paper’s incessant coverage of the city’s potential and actual wrongdoings as an attempt to secure a Pulitzer Prize, but denied that was the case.

“Trying to win an award like that almost always automatically disqualifies you from winning,” Foster said.

Then, in a moment of true eloquence, the publisher explained the reciprocal relationship a paper shares with its city.

“We have more than 100 people working in our building,” Foster said. “We recently recognized a dozen of them for working 25 years or longer at the Democrat.

“Those people have children and spouses who work in this town. They have kids in school and parents in nursing homes,” he continued.

“They care deeply, profoundly, about this city and county. Why would we want to tear down something we are a part of?”

Foster’s paper will continue its nonstop coverage, and he hinted that—should a continued lack of convictions persist—the spotlight might turn towards the FBI to check accountability on the other side of the equation.

Tallahassee does deserve its hero, after all.

Danny McAuliffe

Danny is a contributor at floridapolitics.com. He is a graduate of Fordham Law School and Florida State University, where he served as the editor of the FSView & Florida Flambeau. Reach him at [email protected].


One comment

  • Alfonso Guerra

    November 22, 2017 at 5:54 am

    The Dark Knight? Is that the extent of your cultural knowledge? Grab a copy of Bartlett’s Quotations, or do a little more research before attempting to slip some reference to a movie into your news.

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