“transparent. adjective. having the property of transmitting light without appreciable scattering so that bodies lying beyond are entirely visible” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary).
For the most part, we peruse newspapers, then consign them to the recycle barrel, or to the bottom of the parakeet’s cage. But the paper is the community’s principal source of local and regional information, so Let Me Get This Straight attempts to take a more careful, second look at what’s published in the Naples Daily News. In doing so, the commentator needs to be mindful of print’s importance in an atmosphere dominated by simple-minded video, sound bites and tabloid sleaze.
Consider the paper for August 1. Front-page articles about Governor Scott serve as bookends for a photo of swimmer Michael Phelps, reveling in another Olympics medal. On the left, “Scott’s emails not included” informs readers of a program claiming to seek greater transparency in government. Scott had been criticized for not being forthcoming regarding requests for public records. New to elected office but already a quick study in phrase-making, in May he had announced an initiative meant to answer his critics. He named it “Project Sunburst.” Presumably, this label was meant to make citizens think the Sunshine law was going nova. A brilliant explosion in Tallahassee would suddenly illuminate the workings of state government.
Whether you think it’s wise or workable to require politicians to make public every burp and cough is not the story’s point. The governor drew attention to the issue with a new plan, and gave it an impressive name. As readers learn, the promise to make public the governor’s emails within 24 hours appears to be something less than a transparently done deal.
The story concludes on page 5, next to a photo of Governor Scott standing beside a Florida park ranger. Hands on hips, the governor is also dressed in a ranger’s uniform. He’s wearing a Smokey the bear hat and staring at the camera, eyes hidden behind aviator sunglasses. Usually, this pose struck by someone in uniform who’s wearing dark glasses is intimidating. Here, though, the governor’s mouth is open, detracting from the effect. He is actually at the Hillsborough River State Park, “to see if a campground at the park is ADA compliant (Americans with Disabilities Act).”
Is the proximity of story and photo a matter of coincidence? Is the effect of the governor in sunglasses meant as a visual comment on transparency? Food for thought.
Scott also figures in a second front-page story, “DOJ wants voter purge data from Collier, Lee.” Here, readers learn that the Department of Justice has “filed papers in a Tampa federal court asserting the purge is in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.” The story is also related to a Scott initiative, in which the state had compared “driver license information with voter registration data to come up with an initial list of more than 180,000 people suspected of being ineligible to vote.”
Here again, the Daily News is doing what it can to wipe the political windshield clean. Republicans and Democrats are sharply divided on whether election fraud warrants stricter oversight. Statistics do not point to a problem: those opposed to anti-fraud legislation insist the documented instances of voter fraud fall well below those of lightning bolts striking voters.
Republicans dismiss such comparisons as frivolous, insisting the growing number of undocumented aliens makes the country long overdue for greater vigilance in voting matters. They also argue in favor of obliging citizens to be more informed before voting. This view is not without merit, but the article explains that the governor’s efforts may have violated the law.
Transparency is also important to several letters published in the August 1 issue. “They are not local” and “Keep Carr” shine a light on a pair of candidates seeking to replace two Collier County judges. One candidate is from West Palm Beach, the other from Pembroke Pines. Both are affiliated with something called the Ticket Clinic. According to the letters, the Ticket Clinic was stopped in Collier from making claims in its advertising that it could guarantee success in court, with no “points” ending up on clients’ driving records.
Apparently, it’s legal for non-residents with an axe to grind against Collier County judges to run against them. But in the interests of openness, clarity, and civic enlightenment, the two letter writers have joined their professional counterparts to serve the cause of transparency.