Wednesday, June 15, 2005


Sheriff shoots at shushing the press

The number of instances where elected officials—Republican officials, that is—try to deal with adverse news by cutting off media access to the agencies under their control continues to grow.

We turn the spotlight today to Orange County, Florida, home of Mickey Mouse, where according to Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel, Sheriff Kevin Beary is fighting "image problems."

Sheriff Beary has—

Tried to cut off one local TV station from access to some of his department.

Asked Comptroller Martha Haynie to discipline one of her top employees for having the audacity to say that taxpayers deserve to have Orange County office equipment either used or sold -- rather than abandoned,1 as Beary's office had been accused of doing.

Created a new section of his (publicly funded) Web site titled "Is it the Truth?" designed to counter negative news reports. This comes on the heels of his "Just the Facts" section, which regularly chastised the Sentinel. And it's in addition to his monthly "Off the Cuff" e-mail, which sends positive blurbs about his office to local movers and shakers.

TV station WFTV has apparently been inspired by the Baltimore Sun's lawsuit against Maryland governor Ehrlich's effort to cut Sun reporters' access to state-government employees.

WFTV recently threatened to sue, claiming the Sheriff's Office was retaliating against the station's hard-hitting reporting by trying to thwart news-gathering efforts.

The Sheriff's Department is pretty hard-hitting itself—

... his office quickly exonerated deputies involved in a pursuit that ended when the suspect crashed and killed two innocent people -- only to have to go back and re-investigate after information and a witness surfaced that contradicted the Sheriff's Office's version of what happened.

And the sheriff has put together his own media counteroffensive—

... there's the Web site, which suggests, for example, that a recent Sentinel story on his massive public-relations staff was "clearly off target and lacking the facts."

Interestingly, it's not just the media and county watchdogs bothering the sheriff nowadays.

On Friday, County Mayor Rich Crotty, a longtime ally, released a memo that suggested Beary's staff had told no less than seven incomplete truths when talking about their ballooning budget. While they stopped short of calling them "lies," county spokesman Steve Triggs referred to them Monday as "misstatements."

Beary, who says his side of the story rarely gets told, declined to comment.

The sheriff has a point. Since his department was responsible for "lies" rather than "misstatements," Sheriff Beary has been unjustly exonerated. And that's just not fair.

Related posts
Baltimore Sun reporters lose access to state government (2/15/05)
Another official bans communication with the press (2/25/05)


1Columnist Maxwell fails to mention the obvious advantage to the department. Abandoned office equipment is available for take-home to anyone lucky enough to get wind of it. I wonder if there are any nice leather office chairs left? [back]

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