This past week the Florida Democratic Party’s new Chair Stephen Bittel announced a plan to incentivize action in small and medium sized counties – something from a party building standpoint that is long overdue and remains badly needed. It was assumed by many, including me that this program was non-controversial. But as is often the case, folks like myself misjudge the hostility towards the party that comes from some quarters.
Grab your popcorn…
On Friday, Leslie Wimes wrote a long critique of the program in the Sunshine State News (SSN). Many of Wimes’ points are well-taken, particularly this being a measure designed to save Senator Bill Nelson’s reelection by a new chair that was hand-picked by Florida’s Senior Senator. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad idea, because after all protecting the one remaining statewide elected Democrat. Small and medium sized counties DO DECIDE ELECTIONS IN FLORIDA, contrary to what many elites and Democratic operatives who are unwilling to venture outside an established comfort zone might articulate.
Despite the disagreement on this issue, Wimes has every right to articulate her views about the party and the chair of the party. Bittel would have been unlikely to undertake this action if it did not directly impact Nelson, who after all was his benefactor in becoming party chair. The type of voice and passion Wimes brings are needed in a sagging party. But why is it that her critiques are always found in the Sunshine State News or other conservative publications/media?
SSN has an ax to grind with the Florida Democratic Party. In fact, SSN it would appear for the last seven years has had an ax to grind with the existence of any Democrat that doesn’t tow the line of big business or conservative ideological interests. The Sunshine State News IS a conservative publication whether or not folks want to admit it or not – it represents the type of publication like Newsmax or The Daily Caller that are funded to push a political party or corporate agenda (unlike venerable conservative publications like The National Review and The Weekly Standard that promote an ideological yet intellectual form of conservatism).
Who funds SSN? That’s a great mystery. In 2011, the legendary Lucy Morgan of The St Petersburg Times explored this topic after SSN had erroneously reported a link with CNN (owned by Time Warner). In Morgan’s piece she revealed this:
Editors at Sunshine have repeatedly declined to identify the owner of the news service that frequently praises Republican Gov. Rick Scott and routinely trashes Democrats and the mainstream media. Earlier this year Smith praised Scott as a “hero” and described him as “utterly charming” in a column critical of the Capital press corps.
A study completed in July by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism ranks Sunshine as the least transparent news website in journalism’s new Internet-based landscape. The study found that news websites were more likely to offer balanced news coverage when they were more transparent about funding sources.
In 2015, Eye on Miami had this excellent piece on SSN which linked the publication to Big Sugar and anti-environmental efforts. Among the observations was this:
The bottom line: Sunshine State News is the friendly fire of Big Sugar. In 2015 it laid down a steady patter of attacks against environmentalists as unreasonable and driven by emotion, misrepresenting the strong support of qualified scientists for the buyout of lands owned by Big Sugar. That friendly fire gave cover to politicians doing Big Sugar’s business in Florida, who otherwise faced a daily barrage of critical editorials by mainstream news.
Given SSN’s suspect motives and lack of transparency in terms of backing, and Wimes unique voice, we’d be more than happy to allow Wimes to post her thoughts on our site, subject to editing from personal attacks. But as long as she uses the pages of SSN to attack Democrats (and that of the Washington Times, as well as the airwaves of Rush Limbaugh’s program and FOX News), her credibility will be suspect with some in Florida’s minority party – fairly or unfairly. That is because SSN is undeniably a website with conservative bent and arguably one that has a clear agenda thanks to type of funders or backers that are behind them.