The Sunshine State News vs Florida Democrats

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.


  1. DEC meetings should be in every county every month. I remember that Sen. Carl Levin popped into a Hillsborough DEC meeting when in Tampa..what a thrill…and told us he always stopped at county meetings if his schedule coincided.
    I happened to be traveling in North FL on election night and looked in vain for a watch party to attend in Columbia County…this is all I found:

    Minimally the FL DP should have an up to date web presence for each county.


    1. All Florida County DEC’s should study Broward’s information and GOTV programs. They should be registering and talking to new and independent voters. Grow the party from the bottom up and it will pay dividends for years to come.


  2. Wimes is featured by conservative media because her personal attacks benefit the republicans. Period.


    1. It was Allison Tant and the establishment cronies who refused to give Wimes a voice in the party. Without her relationship with SSN she would have no voice. If the establishment would be more inclusive and less arrogant, they would find a great ally in Wimes.


  3. […] challenge was blasted in the GOP controlled Sunshine State News by Leslie Wimes, which in my mind if further proof that Bittel is on the right track.  Wimes claims this challenge […]


  4. Kartik and readers of The Florida Squeeze: Sunshine State News was established in 2010 because there was no news source in Tallahassee looking at state politics from a conservative perspective. I’m not sure where you find an ax to grind against the Democratic Party in our content. Why would we have such a thing? The Republicans have been in control the whole of the seven years of our existence and probably we came down harder on Gov. Charlie Crist while he was a Republican than on anybody in state government (OK, with the possible exception of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, but then again I am a big fan of progressive Nan Rich and have said so often). We have never made a secret of our conservative bent. Click on “About” on top of our Home page. We don’t pretend to be nonpartisan and neither should The Florida Squeeze.

    Lucy Morgan of the pretend-nonpartisan Tampa Bay Times was obsessed about finding out who owns Sunshine State News. She first was convinced it was Gov. Rick Scott because the both of us emerged in 2010. Then she dug around and decided it must be CNN, because our incorporation papers were modeled after CNN’s and the modeler inadvertently left “CNN” in the papers. Since then, depending on what stories we’re pursuing or whose commentaries we publish or what issue we get behind, those in the MSM and even some in new media who would have us go away have linked us with FOX News, the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson and most recently Big Sugar. I’m sure there will be more names in time.

    Unlike The Florida Squeeze, Sunshine State News does not get paid to do any politician’s bidding — though we would take their advertising if it was offered. We have been honest about our allegiance to conservative ideas, as I said earlier, and frankly there is a no-more-honest-about-who-we-are news source reporting on Tallahassee than SSN — with the exception of The News Service of Florida, which delivers news with refreshing, old-fashioned objectivity.

    I’m sorry you who live in a glass house chose to throw stones at us, Kartik. Were you paid to write this? Apart from Leslie Wimes, there’s nothing new herein.

    I’ve written several times how proud we are to have Leslie writing for us, what a powerful voice she is for a part of Florida that shouldn’t be invisible and ignored. Hers is a voice Republicans need to hear certainly as much as Democrats. Are either of us, red or blue, doing all we can to address the issues important to African Americans in this state? Florida’s African-American population is approximately 17 percent, one of the highest in the nation. Most who are registered to vote, vote Democrat.

    But Leslie isn’t just a Sunshine State News contributor. She and I are friends. We trust each other. She knows I edit for clarity, not to change one word of her content, and most of all, I believe in her intellect, her common sense, her energy, her feel for Florida politics. I want her to succeed.

    It sounds to me, Kartik, that you would be glad to have Leslie as long as you can control her thought. You know Leslie pretty well. Do you really think that’s going to happen?

    Thank you for reading.

    Nancy Smith, Executive Editor, Sunshine State News (Call me anytime on my cell phone, 228-282-2423)


    1. Nancy,
      I know where all the money is in this house and I can tell you he has never made a penny from this blog-in advertising of from a candidate or politician looking for favorable coverage. I disagree often with my husband on the time he spends here as it is time being taken away from something that could bring an income to our house-however, I have told him time and again that I admire that he has not let money influence his writing-it truly comes from his heart, soul, and genius mind.
      Kartik’s wife


    2. Nancy,

      Thanks for calling me out on my corruption, deceit and lies. SSN is indispensable journalistically while TFS is pay to play site. Problem is you are wrong.

      Check out how many times I wrote about Alan Grayson in the period of time I was employed as a staffer on that campaign. If you find ZERO, you might be correct…Also Pam Keith. In fact included disclaimers at the bottom of articles during the period if the Senate race was mentioned that I was employed as a staffer. I took great pains to even avoid mention of this because It IS a conflict unless you make efforts to avoid it and since I take ethics seriously, I went through the process of avoiding those conflicts.Same went for George Sheldon in 2014. I did not write about the AG race and continue to use a disclaimer that I worked on that campaign anytime I write even to this day about AG Bondi.

      I am simply rehashing what others have written about SSN without adequate answer. If that bothers you, so be it. It must bother you for a reason I suppose. It would be helpful at some point if your entity were more transparent about funding. Then these types of articles wouldn’t spring up in various publications every few years.

      Thanks again for engaging – this isn’t meant to be nasty but it is almost universally accepted on the progressive side of the ledger that SSN has an agenda. The question is whether or not that is true and if it is true, why?


      1. Kartik, I have no interest in engaging in snark with you or any other writer, I promise you. Nor was I trying to call you out. You brought all this up, I didn’t. In 1993-94 when I was president of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors, I concentrated on ethical practices in this profession. I was part of the mainstream media and I was as hypocritical as the rest of them. Though I realize that was a very long time ago, I can assure you, nothing has changed. Journalists are having the same conversations today that they did 25 years ago. The only real difference is, we were all mainstream back then. Our little niche products weren’t around and weren’t necessary. Now there are more of us than there are of them. This is both frightening and exciting — in fact, even challenging. I don’t have so much time ahead of me as you do, so I’m glad to hear from you and your wife that you’re trying to practice the craft well and honorably. Now to your point: I believe the owners of Sunshine State News have behaved impeccably in spite of not revealing themselves, which violates NO law. The only thing they ask of me is to “keep it conservative.” That’s what I try to do generally, though I like to educate readers from time to time about “the other side.” Probably like you, I wish I had more staff, more money and more time. But I still wish you had taken the little time it would have entailed to give me a call and ask for a quote so I could have added depth to your story. I still wouldn’t have told you what you want to know, but I would said I think the only people who care who owns us are the people who, for whatever reason, don’t like us, fear us, or are jealous of us — and just plain want us to go away. I expect our owners like their privacy so they don’t have to engage in this kind of harangue, and who can blame them? I don’t want to do it anymore myself, I don’t care how many wrongheaded suspicions of us are repeated and I’ll leave you to what’s left of your Sunday — with all good wishes for the dedication and hard work you put in. Nancy.


    3. Fair enough and thanks. Enjoy what little remains of the weekend!


  5. Beth, I’m sorry if I’m mistaken. I was told by people close to the campaigns of Pam Keith and Alan Grayson that Kartik was paid to write in The Florida Squeeze on behalf of their candidates. I’m glad to hear I got the wrong information.


    1. He consulted for both candidates at different times, and always disclosed so if writing an article. But if I told you how much he was paid by Pam Keith and the amount of time he put into the race (for a candidate I also 100% supported) you would see he doesn’t do any of this for the money. I’ve tried to change him but after 11 years of marriage I’ve given up on that!


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