Sometimes in their rush to nail down a story (or to nail the subject of a story), some news media folks can add two and two and come up with seven — and report it as truth.
It can be even worse when things are really crazy — like, say, during a pandemic in the middle of an unprecedented election cycle and hurricane season. I can’t defend such errors, but I try to understand them, since the longest-running feature in most newspapers is not the comics, but rather the corrections column.
The latest example involves Northwest Florida businessman Bo Rivard, who was recently the target of a slam job in an online South Florida publication suggesting he took advantage of political connections to stick it to Florida taxpayers. The article accurately reported several facts, but then used them to jump to an entirely wrong conclusion – just to support a highly flawed narrative that was the tilted aim of the story.
Here’s the way it seemed from that Florida Bulldog report:
— Fact 1: Rivard is Chairman of the Citizens Property Insurance board and is also co-owner of a company called Consolidated Disaster Services (CDS).
— Fact 2: Other CDS co-owners include the father of a state legislator.
— Fact 3: Without any sort of bidding process, the state of Florida retained CDS to secure face masks and hospital beds to help the state’s response to COVID-19.
All true. But it carries the implication that Rivard used his prominent position and CDS’ political connections to grab a lucrative no-bid contract worth millions of dollars. In reality, CDS was working hard to help the state address the COVID-19 crisis — and didn’t make a penny for its efforts securing face masks.
The fact is, CDS has been part of the state’s roster of private vendors who regularly obtain and provide emergency supplies when Florida is dealing with a crisis. Specifically, CDS tracks down and delivers bottled water and bagged ice when the Division of Emergency Management says it needs them — as it does after hurricanes and even amid recent forest fires in the Panhandle and North Central Florida. The company often donates the water, as it did during the forest fires and even after Hurricane Dorian caused devastating flooding in the Bahamas last year.
As the COVID-19 crisis exploded in Florida, emergency managers contacted their regular vendors, including CDS, for help, just as they always do. Demand for face masks and hospital beds was urgent and unrelenting, but supplies were desperately low. Still, CDS managed to find a stockpile of 50,000 face masks and sent two of its own trucks to New York to pick them up — because they weren’t going to leave it to strangers to actually deliver them to Florida when others were competing for such essential limited-supply items, too.
Supply and demand being what it is, the seller jacked up the price for the face masks, but CDS provided them to the state at its actual cost — and then sent the state a check for $54,000 when the purchase price turned out to be less than first quoted.
The company did make a reasonable profit when it secured over 4,200 hospital beds for Florida’s COVID battle. But clearly Rivard and CDS did not use insider connections to take advantage of the taxpayers. CDS has been part of Florida’s emergency response for years — as a proven, trusted vendor.
As for his work on the Citizens Insurance board, Rivard volunteers his time and expertise there, for no compensation at all. This true public service to Floridians is painted as a questionable conflict by the article’s misguided, breathless, and unfair coverage.
So, here’s good advice for readers everywhere: Now more than ever, become careful consumers of news pieces pushing a narrative that may be supported by some facts that don’t really add up to the truth.