Florence Snyder: Happy Father’s Day to all the honorary recipients of the Joseph Snyder Professorship in Generosity

This is my sixth Father’s Day without my father. I can’t say that I miss the heart-to-heart talks because we didn’t have very many.  Like most men of what Tom Brokaw christened “the greatest generation,” Daddy wasn’t an emo guy.

When I was away at school, my mother and grandmother and even my big brother would send me cards and letters filled with neighborhood gossip and newspaper clippings and “I can’t wait ‘til you’re home’
 
Daddy did not write letters. Instead, he’d cook up excuses for unannounced visits and it annoyed me no end to be “checked up on.” Read all »



Florence Snyder: Poisoning the Press

This post is our regular weekly Purple State of Mind feature. Why not hop on over to Purple and read it there instead?

"Poisoning the Press" is a favorite fantasy of politicians caught in the crosshairs of a dogged investigative reporter. It's also the title of a new book about Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture.

The author is journalist turned media ethics professor Mark Feldstein. The storytelling skills Feldstein honed over years of Peabody and Emmy award winning reporting make Poisoning the Press a scholarly work wrapped in a rockin' good beach-read. For Village Squares trying to understand how our political culture got so ugly, Feldstein cracks the code.

Using previously classified documents and interviews with folks who were there, the author shows how Nixon and Anderson fed off each other in a twisted, mongoose-and-cobra kind of way. Nixon was obsessed with the press. He spent countless hours talking about journalists, but hardly any time with them.

Feldstein's forensic autopsy of Nixon and Anderson raises an intriguing possibility: What if Nixon had Liz Joyner and other advocates of civil discourse appealing to his better angels instead of a palace guard pandering to his paranoia? Might the two Navy veterans have come together over a burger and a baseball game? Would we have a healthier body politic today?

They would have had lots to talk about. Nixon and Anderson both grew up poor and worked like dogs for the success they craved.

The future president and the future Pulitzer Prize winner both arrived in Washington in 1947. Nixon was a newly-minted congressman and Anderson had landed a job as a legman for Drew Pearson, whose syndicated column, Washington-Merry-Go-Round, Anderson would eventually inherit.

Nixon became Bud Abbott to Anderson's Lou Costello. With no moral compass in his inner circle, straight-man Nixon would take bribes; suborn perjury and stage overseas military coups. Anderson would merrily report all of it, in close to real time.

Nixon's press paranoia grew as Anderson racked up scoop after scoop at his expense. He even toyed with the idea of having Anderson assassinated.

Feldstein concludes that Anderson's coverage of Nixon and Nixon's reaction to Anderson's coverage "has tainted governance and public discourse ever since."

The toxic legacy lives on in Florida. A recent Florida TaxWatch study found that the recession has yet to reach our state's multimillion dollar public relations payroll. TaxWatch documented that communications people out-earn police, prison guards, and social workers who risk their lives to serve and protect.

Real communications people—also known as schoolteachers—are being laid off en masse while Florida's public officials cling to their publicists like Linus to his security blanket.

Thanks to Mark Feldstein for reminding us why this worked badly for Nixon and to TaxWatch for shining a light on how his dark legacy still casts shadows in the Sunshine State.
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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com. Find more posts by Florence HERE.

(Disclosures: Mark Feldstein interned for Jack Anderson in the 1970s. Florence Snyder represented Feldstein in what were his first libel suit and her first jury trial.)



Florence Snyder: Pot, kettle, Ed Schultz

Radio and cable talk show host Ed Schultz calls himself “The Nation’s Number 1 Progressive Voice.”

This week, he progressed to the Misogynist Hall of Fame with his radio reference to fellow opinionator Laura Ingraham as a "slut." Schultz managed to use the word twice in one sentence, which is one time more than would have gotten past the Village Square Civility Bell.

Impulse control is not one of Schultz's strengths. Last summer, the New York Post reported his meltdown in the [MSNBC] 30 Rock newsroom. Schultz was enraged that the marketing folks ran commercials that he wasn't in. When his huffing and puffing failed to win hearts and minds, he slammed down the telephone and shouted, “I’m going to torch this [bleep]ing place.”

White men with microphones have likewise been on the receiving end of Schultz verbal violence.  According to The Post, Schultz œonce told White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, ‘You’re full of [bleep].’ And after Fox News Channel’s Glenn Beck revealed a condition that may make him go blind, Schultz said, “It’s a travesty he’s not going to see the country he’s trying to destroy.”

The working people Schultz claims to champion would be fired from their factories, fast food restaurants and offices if they acted nuts and uncorked about "sluts."  But Schultz seems to have a license to behave like a bad-tempered seventh grader. Following his Monday dump on Ingraham, MSNBC brass huddled for two days and emerged with this statement:

MSNBC management met with Ed Schultz [Wednesday] afternoon and accepted his offer to take one week of unpaid leave for the remarks he made yesterday on his radio program. Ed will address these remarks on his show tonight, and immediately following begin his leave. Remarks of this nature are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

Accepted Schultz’ offer?  Really?

Call it zero tolerance, Orwell-style.

Schultz won't miss a week's pay, and it sounds like he could use a few days to chill out, but it will be a long time before anyone takes his “civility” lectures seriously.

MSNBC’s slogan is “Lean forward.”  It did….and spit straight into our eyes.

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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com

(Photo credit, Schultz pictured with Ingraham: Dan Patterson)



Florence Snyder: Shoeleather in the Age of Twitter

BY FLORENCE SNYDER

The year is 2020, and all that remains of print journalism is the New York Times, USATODAY….and the National Enquirer. Google has been broken up into twelve competing companies. 97.9% of all news websites have installed pay walls. All state and local public records are available on-line…..for a fee. Vice President Marco Rubio has inherited the Oval Office from President Sarah Palin, who resigned to resume her career….as a journalist.

That’s the way it was in a world conceived by Miami First Amendment lawyer Tom Julin for The Florida Bar’s annual Media Law Conference. The Conference dates back to the 1970s when Wall Street was beginning to see journalism as a cash cow, rather than the watchdog the Founding Fathers intended.  In the 1980s, as media companies’ profit margins climbed past 30%,  hundreds of lawyers, judges and journalists crowded into hotel ballrooms to hear media A-listers opine on the future of journalism. Times and travel budgets being what they are, the 2010 Conference was a far less lavish affair.  At times, the speakers outnumbered the paying audience.

One can only wonder how  20th century Conference speakers like Katharine Graham, Abe Rosenthal and Fred Friendly would have responded as Julin prodded veteran reporters, academics and fellow media lawyers to answer questions which have, for decades,  vexed journalism think-tanks….in 140 characters or less. Julin lightened the mood with James Cameron-level audio visual references to narcissistic presidential hopefuls and their tango-dancing soulmates.  Still, it was a sobering picture he painted of a not-too-distant future where the body politic has the attention span of a goldfish.

Some think that day has already arrived, but Conference-goers found reason to be hopeful that real news and well-reasoned commentary will adapt to the new and much leaner environment.

Some of the 21st century’s best explanatory journalism is happening on Comedy Central; Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone have the Peabody awards to prove it. These modern-day Mark Twains provide a national audience the kind of fact-based, impossible-to-ignore editorial voices that Florida used to take for granted.

Howard Troxler and Carl Hiaasen are, thank God, still with us.  But Florida’s increasingly anemic editorial pages are no match for state government’s standing army of flacks and flunkies who pay lip-service to transparency while actively obstructing reporters in pursuit of stories their bosses don’t want told.

It’s always cause for celebration when front-page news slips past the government’s spinmeisters and makes it to the front page, and Conference-goers were spellbound as Gina Smith of the State newspaper in Columbia, S.C. described the combination of luck, instinct and shoeleather involved in her pursuit of Gov. Mark Sanford down the “Appalachian Trail” to the Atlanta airport.

To a roomful of reporters who are expected to do impactful investigations while blogging at 20 minute intervals, it was a cheering reminder that one reporter can change the course of history.

A reminder of another kind was delivered by the Miami Herald’s former general counsel Richard Ovelmen. In a moving tribute to his friend and mentor, legendary First Amendment lawyer Dan Paul, who died this year at age 85, Ovelmen recalled how Paul leveraged his bulging Rolodex in the service of all of Florida’s journalists—not just the ones who worked for Knight Newspapers and the New York Times Company in the decades when they could afford Paul’s eye-popping hourly rates.

Under Paul’s direction, Ovelmen recalled, Florida’s media lawyers took up the cause of reporters in places they could barely pronounce.

If a city clerk in Opa Locka withheld public records, or a judge in Palatka threw a reporter out of a courtroom, publishers of mom-and-pop newspapers could count on Paul to declare a constitutional crisis and dispatch an army of lawyers bearing briefs that argued, “News delayed is news denied.”

With 20th century media on life support, displaced journalists are bringing their craft to cyberspace.  The lonely pamphleteer is on-line at places like Broward Bulldog, Health News Florida, and FloridaThinks, looking for a business model that will support the never-ending mission of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.”

There’s a lot at stake, and The Florida Bar deserves thanks for reminding us that failure is not an option.

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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com.

Parody photo courtesy of Random Pixels. Tom Julin’s “Journalism and Other Financial Disasters” was presented at The Florida Bar’s Media Law Conference, March 26, 2010.