To hear Gov. Rick Scott tell it, he’s the most transparent member of the ruling class since Lady Godiva.
Godiva was an Anglo-Saxon aristocrat and Tea Partier who rode bareback and buck naked through the streets of Coventry in a silent tax protest.
Scott, by contrast, never shuts up about transparency but doesn’t always put any skin in the game.
It was Palm Beach Post reporter Stacey Singer, and not Scott’s Department of Health (DOH), who broke the news to the Legislature and the public that Florida is in the midst of the nation’s worst tuberculosis outbreak in 20 years.
Singer is a veteran newswoman with a well-earned reputation as a meticulous, thorough, and fair-minded practitioner of “just the facts” journalism.
When she began asking questions about the outbreak, the administration stonewalled, refusing for weeks to answer the simplest questions and failing to hit the “send” key on her public records requests. A truly transparent governor would have long ago posted on his website the documents requested by Singer.
Following frustrating weeks of invoking Florida’s public records law, Singer channeled Aretha Franklin and drove to Tallahassee to rap on their door, tap on their window pane. Fearing that Singer might actually camp on the steps at DOH, Scott’s palace guard finally began to -- pardon the expression -- cough up some truth.
Thanks to Singer’s persistence, we now know that the tuberculosis strain called FL 046 has spread from “Patient Zero” in Jacksonville to 17 other Florida counties. As of April 5, there were 99 cases,13 deaths and hundreds of Floridians at risk of developing the disease who have yet to be located.
Some of those infected are in Tampa Bay, site of next month’s Republican National Convention.
More interested in containing bad publicity than containing a potential public health disaster, Scott’s Bully-in-Chief, Brian Burgess, gave orders to discredit the messenger.
In a memo to public relations staffers Lane Wright and Jessica Hammonds, Burgess directed them to contact “….all statewide media this morning, and also surgically hit any national media who seem inclined to follow-up or pick up on the false ‘secrecy’ narrative.
“The two of you,” Burgess continued, “…should very aggressively push back on any false or misleading stories that pop up today or that ran last night.
“Please keep me in the loop on today’s story arc. Ideally, I’d like to see headlines that say ‘State officials debunk PBP [Palm Beach Post] tuberculosis claims’ or something.
“It’s time for some serious debunking!”
Scott is not the first Florida governor to spend public money on Departments of Debunking. And with 15,000 reporters packing their bags for Tampa and the coronation of presidential candidate Mitt Romney, it’s not surprising that the administration would prefer to talk about tourism, not tuberculosis.
But Scott’s minions have a particularly virulent, obsessive strain of kill the messenger-osis. In a free society, that's a dangerous virus for the government to be spreading.
Florence Snyder is a Tallahassee-based corporate lawyer who has spent most of her career in and around newspapers. She can be reached at email@example.com
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