This is the last week before the last month of the year, 2022 where did you go? I feel like I’m still writing 2019 on my checks. Anything post-covid is just one big blur. Or maybe it’s still recovery from the food coma after Thanksgiving, I hope yours was as delicious as mine. I sat down last holiday week after buying Chronicle publisher emeritus Gerry Mulligan’s new book Out the Window and I had every intention of making the second topic today a review of that but I am going to push that until next week. I encourage you to go get a copy and to shop local doing so, I got mine at Conner’s Gifts in Inverness but there are several locations in Crystal River as well. The first chapter opens with him in a Catholic grade school full of butt paddling nuns, so obviously it is a can’t miss read.
Today, though, I want to mix it up as I have once before as well. When my main topic and my reaction to the Sunday commentary are the same then I combine it into one big topic and that’s what we have on the slate today. There is a county commission meeting about one hour from now even though we had our ceremonial swearing in just last week, today they get down to business with plenty to cover. Also, I’m not a soccer fan myself but I love America so go USA today against Iran in the World Cup. Enough with the diversions, let’s get to this.
Let me take you through some basic concepts I talk about in my media ethics class. I’ll try to do a semester’s worth of learning in the next 30 seconds or so. People don’t discuss this enough but you have two sides of critical thinking: the logical and the intuitive. One is calculated and thought-driven and the other is highly emotional. You might think that you are logical, and plenty of famous thinkers throughout history have - most notably Plato but also Thomas Jefferson - but the truth is most of the time you’re intuitive side drives your perception of things, it just does, 19th century scottish philosopher David Hume said reason is and ought to be a slave of the passions and he was right. We think of ourselves as judges impartially ruling on evidence brought before us or scientists employing the scientific method to objectively sit through data and….WRONG. It’s a nice thought, don’t get me wrong, but it’s totally disingenuous to how we usually act.
Your logical ability to critically think is almost always relegated to a post-hoc justifier rather than a rational reasoner. Now what does this mean, post-hoc justifier? This means your logical brain isn’t deciding on facts based on evidence, but rather it is rationalizing the initial feeling you have toward something. In this way, your logical brain isn’t a judge impartially presiding over the facts nor is it a scientist objectively sifting through the data but rather it is more like a press secretary or spokesman who is sent out to spin the way something is.
I’m going to say something and if you’ve lived in Citrus County for over six years then you are likely going to have an intuitive reaction to it, an emotional response likely that of disgust in this case, and then your post-hoc justifier will kick in as you try to disprove why I’m wrong to say what I’m about to say. Let’s work through that and resist that urge. Here we go:
The Chronicle is absolutely in the wrong to have done six front page stories on the tragic death of 2016 sheriff candidate Phil Royal and not a single Sunday commentary piece on the death of Randy Oliver.
Well, well, well but BOBBY Phil did more for the community! Really? Randy saved the county from financial insolvency, go ask any of the commissioners who were there at the time, they will tell you we were months away from declaring bankruptcy as a government.
But Phil lived here longer! Okay, let’s do front page stories on each of the longest living residents, I got a 40 under 40 award earlier this month and have won other honors through the chamber like at the pillar awards, been here six years, my wife has been here 23 years, I don’t see them handing her awards. She arguably makes a bigger impact than me on the lives of Citrus residents through her dance studio but it’s not perceived as that, it’s perceived I do which is not at all correlated to the amount of time I’ve lived here.
But, but, you just don’t like Phil because you ran Mike Prendergast’s campaigns! Wrong again, Phil and I got along fine. I mean, I wasn’t going to vote for him, but we were cordial and I was truly saddened by the news.
The difference in editorial and news coverage comes down to one simple explanation: they liked Phil better. Now to put some of your defensiveness at ease, I am NOT arguing here that Phil got too much coverage, I think it was appropriate and the Chronicle did a wonderful job memorializing a great man. I AM arguing they have dramatically under-covered Randy’s death in a way that does another great man an incredibly disservice for no other reason than their personal taste toward each person. And that’s a problem.
I’m not saying the Chronicle has to be a machine churning out objective news reports devoid of emotional context on every public figure nor am I saying that every news report has to put a happy slant on it to improve community unity or morale. The Chronicle can and even should report negative news on people and use its editorial section to go after people.
But it has to, it absolutely must, be based on evidence. And it’s not right now. It’s based on emotion. It’s based on who they like better under the guise of community journalism, the justification that we just know better and that’s our evidence. Gerry Mulligan by the way was notorious for this mindset, in his retirement he said “I became publisher because I’m a know-it-all. I’m a believer if people know more stuff, they are more likely to make the right decisions.” What this meant was that news coverage shouldn’t be based on a professional journalistic objective process but rather on trust that he who knows more, knows best. And that’s a problem. Okay okay, so the evidence can be debatable, but it has to be present.
What does this look like? Take the John Labriola example. I agreed with the Chronicle’s news coverage of him, even though I do think it was to emphasize their editorial stance against him, because there was enough evidence there to justify the stories that were being written. He truly did alienate a quarter of the county by blaming democrat elitists for moral degradation even though the entire Inverness City Council was comprised of Republicans, he really is suing Miami-Dade County for his job back and he really has faced lawsuits from discrimination. That’s evidence.
Here’s why evidence can be debated. In 2020 the Chronicle would claim, CCSO turnover is almost 15%! And when Sheriff Jeff Dawsy first took over it was over 18% in his first term, that’s what happens under new leadership. Well, well, he doesn’t come to us first with some breaking news! The CCSO Facebook as three times the reach of the Chronicle’s, effective communication on time-sensitive issues does mean going to the larger audience. Their evidence was post-hoc justifications of their intuitive feelings toward Sheriff Prendergast. They were acting as spokespeople for how they felt, not judges or scientists objectively stating what the evidence showed. That wasn’t the case with Labriola - the two lined up.
And it’s not the case with Randy. He could be infuriating. He ran the county on a skeleton budget which arguably will do greater long-term damage as we don’t proactively fix things that will get more expensive as they degrade like roads. And he undoubtedly buried a negative independent survey that showed glaring problems in leadership which was also reflected in about seven senior staff departures over the last year and a half. All of that is true. But it’s also true he saved us from the brink. It’s also true he personally never had any scandals, his work ethic was legendary, and he tried his best to act with integrity. His only crime keeping him from more favorable coverage was not being likable enough.
No Sunday commentary pieces. Not one. Rest in peace, Randy, you deserved so much better than the farce that is community journalism.