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Character revealed in catastrophic times

Thankful Thursday for those of us unaffected by the storm, but one that should fill us with determination to help our neighbors to the west for those who were, great to have you in. As mentioned several times throughout the week, I was flooded out in Hurricane Hermine in 2016, and despite having just helped steer Mike Prendergast to his first primary election win, I wasn’t really dialed into the community the way I was now. Because of that, I think I probably missed a lot of the resources available to me at the time, but knowing this community, we are going to band together and help out those in need.

No Chronicle editorial today, which just like yesterday I am not going to fault them for, in fact I think their ongoing coverage at least from a photojournalism side has been excellent. Despite one story about nonprofits being here to help, I would like to see a few more stories about the road to recovery rather than pictures of the devastation, but the Chronicle is not the media that I’m here to be critical of today.

That brings us to theJust Wright Citrus piece, which I will get to in the main topic. Elsewhere in federal news, you have Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell freezing at a press conference once again. If you don’t know the story on this, the most powerful senate Republican suffered a concussion in March and a couple months after just completely deer in the headlights locked up during a press conference to the point that he had to be escorted from behind the podium. Now, just a couple months after that, it happened again. The senator had just delivered a 20 minute prepared speech without issue, but almost too coincidentally to be true but it is true, the 81-year-old froze after he was asked if he was going to run for reelection to another six year term. A staffer stepped in after 30 seconds of silence and led him away without comment.

I’m wishing Senator McConnell the best in that he receives the medical attention he needs but Senate Republicans have all endorsed him to stay in his current role regardless of these instances and I just don’t get it, I mean, I do, but I don’t. While situations like this can feel inexplicable to me, luckily our local affairs are easier for me to grasp, so let’s start with that.

There’s a cliche saying that I’m going to paraphrase because I would butcher the exact quote, but it says something like you don’t show someone who you are on your best days, you realize who you are on your worst. Somewhere, someone on the coast of our county is having the worst day of their life yesterday. I know, because Hermine was certainly right up there as the worst day in mine and Hermine wasn’t nearly as bad as Idalia was. I don’t remember airboats, I could still walk the sidewalks of 19, it was bad but this is worse.

And so these crisis times can be character revealing. Mayor Joe Meek and Crystal River staff has done well. Sheriff Mike Prendergast and the CCSO team has done well. Josh Wooten and the Chamber workers have done well. And the county staff, especially the public information office, has done well. Our county’s most infamous blogger, has failed this test miserably.

Before we get to why, let me put it this way. On the Concurrent news aggregator, I always include a Florida Politics story, a publication Mike Wright also writes for, and I had to include this morning’s because it illustrates my point so perfectly. The headline is from a President Joe Biden quote and it reveals his character during these times. The president had this to say yesterday, “I think he trusts my judgment and my desire to help and I trust him to be able to suggest that this is not about politics. It’s about taking care of the people of the state” Now, you can take that at face value and say he is doing everything he can to keep politics out of it.

But someone who has been in politics for 50 years knows the damage was already done in the first part, “I think he trusts my judgment, and then he shifts any accusation that this is going to be made political to the governor following that up with not “and I trust his leadership” or “his judgment too” but rather, “and I trust him to be able to suggest this is not about politics.” I want him to trust me for governing and I want people to see him as political. That’s about as political as it gets. The headlines are exactly what you would expect. President Biden colon, Governor DeSantis quote trusts my judgement end quote. Not everything is political, I say that all the time, this was. This was.

Tim Urban, a Harvard graduate and author of a blog called Wait but Why that became the book What’s Our Problem?: a self-help book for societies tweeted yesterday a graphic of a response section on a corporate information form, presumably one that screened for guest speakers as Urban is a sought after speaker but corporations do their due diligence before paying enormous fees. The response simply had three choices: I am a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I am not a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, and lastly I am not a member of the LGBTQIA+ community but am an ally.

Urban’s commentary above the graphic was this, “I wish one of the options had been, I find it weird and patronizing to call a giant group of people a community based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, and also while I fully accept and support the people in the giant group you’re referring to, I think the word ally in this context is more about membership in a political cult than about accepting people or standing up to bigotry.”

Let’s shift to what Just Wright Citrus published today and then I’ll tie it all together. In his piece, Mike Wright wrote, “Sheriff Mike Prendergast had a news conference (I’ll get to that in a minute) and he complained about people not heeding calls for mandatory evacuation. The sheriff, as noted, had a news conference in the afternoon in Crystal River. We know this because the sheriff’s Facebook page showed a PHOTO of Prendergast in front of the TV cameras and gushed that the sheriff was having a news conference, but for some odd reason didn’t run it live. Instead, later the agency posted a “recap” of what the sheriff said. That doesn’t pass the logic test.”

This is a combination Joe Biden’s comment and Tim Urban’s corporate question. It’s not nearly as tactfully done as Biden’s jab, but rather an unabashed attack on a man who hadn’t slept in 36 hours, who was on scene trying to help, but who a blogger from the other side of the county is, like Tim Urban said, making this more into the context of membership in a political cult, those who are anti-Sheriff Prendergast, than it is about reporting who is helping people recover from the storm.

But Bobby! You are just the opposite, you’re too pro-sheriff! Really? I’ve criticized the emergency call response and I’ve praised people who are often anti-sheriff themselves. That’s not about politics, that’s about trying to give you honest context.

CCSO went door to door in coastal areas for three days prior to the storm hitting, ABC Action News reported, begging people to heed the evacuation orders. They sent out more notifications than were needed begging people to leave. Yes, the Sheriff mentioned he wished more people would have evacuated, I do too. And the “recap” that the CCSO facebook page posted was over 11 minutes long, hit all the important parts, and you tell me how long the average attention span of the social media user is, I’m going to go out on a limb and say not much longer than 11 seconds.

I’ll end with this. Briefly in college I thought I wanted to get into sports radio since I had been a sports newspaper writer and as you’ve probably guessed, I like doing these shows. So I made a demo and showed it to a professor. He listened for five seconds and shut it off. What’s the matter? I asked. He said you’re doing it as if it was the Monday after a football weekend. Yeah? I questioned. Anyone can do a Monday after football show, he said. Do you want to prove your talent? Do a mid-July show when all there is on is mid-season baseball and the WNBA.

There has been no news other than the hurricane. This is the sports equivalent of a mid-July time. And Just Wright Citrus is trodding out the same exaggerated claims of impropriety. Once again, Mike Wright is lamenting what the Sheriff could be doing to make his life as a media member easier rather than all he is doing to keep the county safe. Watch the recap. 10 ft of storm surge, no fatalities. That’s amazing. That’s your story.

We need people in the media who, like Tim Urban, can give you context above and beyond petty biases. People show you their true character in the worst of times. Talent reveals itself in the slowest of times. City and county staff, CCSO, the chamber, even the Chronicle to some extent all excelled during these last few days. And it also became obvious there are those who fell well short of this standard. Prayers for recovery to all those affected. We’ll get through this together.


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