An old Christian maxim, “God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable,” applies to journalism.
The gig is about asking the tough questions when they need to be asked. And when they aren’t answered, about asking the follow-ups, with the goal of getting them answered.
The answers are important. And I go to great lengths to get them.
I went to Callahan last summer to catch Angela Corey at a campaign event. She dissembled about having her former campaign manager drive to Tallahassee and file a write-in candidate’s paperwork to close the primary.
After a week of chasing, I got something approaching a real answer.
That same summer, I pretty much took over a post-debate presser involving Corrine Brown—the subject: the One Door for Education grift.
“If I said ‘young man, you a pedophile’, that’s a charge,” Brown said, by way of attempting to establish that an accusation is not tantamount to conviction, “because somebody makes an accusation against you doesn’t make you guilty.”
That tautology clearly didn’t bounce with the voters, as they bounced Corrine Brown.
Working as I do, in a crappy car, with a crappy laptop, my sole advantages are time, patience and quick turnaround. I shouldn’t beat news orgs on stories. I shouldn’t drive agendas.
Yet it happens. Rick Scott didn’t want to discuss Aramis Ayala in Jacksonville—I made that happen. And Lenny Curry didn’t want to discuss his Tweet of support for President Donald Trump after he announced plans to leave the Paris Accord. But at his presser the next day, it was on me to pop the question.
This will all end eventually. I’ll stroke out, or become a relic, or a joke without a punchline, or a punchline without a joke.
But for now, it’s simple. I put in my 10 or 12 or 14 hours in a given day, and I make those hours count. If a pol wants to talk policy, I’m thrilled to—it’s my bailiwick. If a pol wants to perform a mea culpa, great—that’s generally shareable content.
But if a pol wants to clown me for asking a question? I’m not inclined to put on a plastic nose and floppy shoes.
On a national level, we are seeing a long-awaited renaissance of tough reporting at television, print and web publications alike. The clusterfuckery of Team MAGA has a lot to do with it, of course.
Even with someone who essentially aggregates investigative content, like Rachel Maddow, there are clear signs that things are popping. She keeps winning the ratings battle on cable … just for providing a portal to solid reportage.
Locally? There’s a different threshold in terms of what can and can’t be asked.
Consider the example of Jacksonville City Councilmember Katrina Brown. Brown’s companies are currently being sued for defaulting on a 2011 job creation agreement in which a BBQ sauce plant was supposed to create 56 permanent jobs, but created zero.
The city sued for default, adding up to $220K—just part of the loans and grants package, a small fraction of the money secured for eco dev. But not all is lost; Brown still has a beautiful Porsche SUV, which she parks out front of City Hall when she can find time to make meetings.
Last week, I asked Brown about the default. She said it wasn’t an issue that concerned her constituents, then told me she didn’t feel well, as a way of ending the interview.
When I noted that the taxpayers didn’t feel good about the default, she “no commented” the heck out of me. If those no comments could be monetized, I might have a Porsche paid for with city money, too.
The questions continued, as Brown piled food on a plate at—ironically enough—a mandatory ethics meeting. Alas, no real answer was going to be given.
Because none is expected. Katrina Brown isn’t much for showing up to council. But she is a reliable voice who offers some institutional critique, though not too much. And she’ll have the money and the endorsements she needs to sail to re-election because that’s how the system works.
Meanwhile, I’ve taken criticism from councilmembers and well-paid city staffers for asking questions. The same questions I asked for more than a year to no meaningful response. The same ones the council itself won’t ask because she’s a team player.
Should it be on me to demand accountability? Probably not. But it’s a broken system. And sometimes, only a busted-up reporter with a crap car and a junk laptop can offer meaningful redress.
Or try. Let’s close with Katrina Brown’s own words: “I continue to tell you no comment. You can ask me a thousand times and I would still say no comment.”
It’s BS when Trump pulls this stuff. The same holds true for everyone else.