Can Examiner.com scoop the White House Press Corps? Yes we can! Today, on President's Day, Kristen Welker and Ali Weinberg of NBC News published the headline news “Obama's secret round with Tiger Woods prompts press complaint.” This and many similar reports explain that White House Press Corps Association president Ed Henry has begun an official protest. His words speak volumes: “I can say a broad cross section of our members from print, radio, online and TV have today expressed extreme frustration to me about having absolutely no access to the President of the United States this entire weekend. There is a very simple but important principle we will continue to fight for today and in the days ahead: transparency."
Florida’s lack of transparency is not news to readers of this column. Two weeks ago, on February 6, I published an exclusive report about Florida’s habit of bulldozing over the “Freedom of Information Act” and giving any millionaire who will pay enough state Supreme Court permission to keep public records secret. Since the courts also admit that they make errors and the even the documents sealing tennis star Martina Navratilova’s records contain spelling errors, there is no transparency for journalists to investigate and correct court records or uncover fabrication of evidence. That also means that the attorney requesting secrecy could conceal a conflict of interest, such as being a member of the Florida State Assembly who has accepted large political contributions from the defendant or a politician whose wife was paid a huge consulting fee like the government employee in the unfolding scandal about author Truman Capote.
This is not the first time that Tiger Woods has turned his back on accredited media who meet the high standards required for accreditation and global syndication by Google News and other respected sources. Following tough questions about his stint in a rehabilitation center and messy divorce from Elin Nordgren, Woods began holding press media events with questions asked by fans who had won online contests. This type of contempt for the press has prompted polite protests from 2014 Olympics host Russia and 2016 Youth Olympics host China that some American criticism of their press freedoms is hypocritical and a diversionary tactic.
Today’s report by Kristen Welker and Ali Weinberg of NBC News includes the magic password that has made freedom of the press expire in Florida. Welker and Weinberg used standard reporting brevity and wrote “The press corps had been anxious to confirm Woods’ presence.” One sentence containing the word “anxious” is all it takes for the State of Florida to put on a muzzle that could cost millions of dollars to remove.
Despite harsh criticism from journalists around the world, the State of Florida has allowed the Academy of Special Needs Planners to leverage any third-party reference to anxiety, even a collection agency calling a wrong number, into massive volumes of court documents asserting rights of unlimited censorship and unlimited access to personal meetings with all sources of any journalist being censored. The documents are hard to uncover, because the Florida State Supreme Court issued the Academy of Special Needs Planners attorneys a waiver to keep the documents secret. Last June, a set of the documents were discovered in the court that sealed the records of tennis star Martina Navratilova with similar secrecy. Now the Academy of Special Needs Planners is asserting verbally that the documents are just drafts, but if the Sarasota County courts are filing drafts as public records, that could make a bad problem worse.
Florida also has the dubious distinction of failing to report a millionaire State Supreme Court judge who purchased a luxury property in Windemere, Florida for $10 and did not report the difference as income when filing an affidavit of financial hardship. Many local governments use computer programs to generate alerts about these kinds of deep discount property sales. Instead, Florida simply asserts that bookkeepers and auditors who report property price discrepancies of hundreds of thousands of dollars are insane.
In the short term, giving special privileges to millionaires who will pay for them has paid off for Florida. Tiger Woods, tennis star Martina Navratilova, baseball legend Alex Rodriguez and hundreds of other millionaire sports figures from other states have now made Florida their home. But the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars are seriously considering leaving the state. And alienating the entire White House Press corps is the type of minor league behavior that makes serious investors look elsewhere.
President Obama is not facing a re-election contest, but Florida State Attorney General Pam Bondi is. Florida has become well known for elections that are so close the national networks cannot even predict a winner on election night. Bondi is facing some additional questions from a little known journalists’ resource. It is called the “Chilling Effects Clearinghouse.” This organization researches paid interference with news reporting and publishes alerts about journalists’ rights for counter notification. Obviously, yesterday was not the first day that Florida ignored serious journalists’ requests for transparency. But with the White House press corps vowing we will continue to fight for transparency today and in the days ahead, Florida’s days of bulldozing the Freedom of Information Act may soon end.
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