The 30-second political attack ad starts with:
“You didn’t think it could happen here ... not in Collier County.”
You may have seen it. A faceless man in a suit holds dollar bills as the advertisement continues:
“Double-dipping for your hard-earned tax dollars.”
It goes on to claim that incumbent Collier County Judge Eugene Turner is “using a loophole in the law” to pump up his salary.
Finally, the paid advertisement shows a fake newspaper front page with “The Naples Daily News” at the top, while the narrator shouts “The Naples Daily News says it’s sleazy.”
What? The Naples Daily News says it’s sleazy?
That certainly will get an editor to sit up straight.
First, the Naples Daily News said nothing of the sort. Second, our editorial board endorses Judge Turner for another term. He’s honest and trustworthy, two qualities the advertisement lacks.
How could a political action committee — in this case a group called Florida Judicial Watch — get by with saying “The Naples Daily News said it’s sleazy” when we didn’t?
On June 6, the Daily News published an article from the Associated Press under the headline “Second retirement no more an option for state workers.”
It was about changes made in the state retirement program that are intended to reduce the number of public employees eligible for DROP, which stands for Deferred Retirement Option Program.
DROP has been around for years and it allows longtime employees to bank up to five years of their pension while they continue to work. DROP was designed to keep trusted employees on the job after they qualified for a pension. Teachers, elected officials and other state officials have taken the option.
When the economic downturn a few years back began stretching government budgets, DROP got a bad name. School districts and other government entities began looking for ways to pare the number of veteran workers instead of enticing them to postpone retirement with such incentives as a deferred retirement option.
The Florida Legislature made changes to the law and that’s what the
June 6 Associated Press story documented.
The story didn’t mention Judge Turner, but it did carry this quote from a state senator who pushed for changes in the law:
“Doing away with the double dipping was pretty much focused on elected officials and judges who were truly taking advantage of the system, it was shameful,” state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said. “It’s frustrating to the average citizen and average taxpayer.”
That quote, published in the Daily News, was taken out of context and used by Florida Judicial Watch to state that “The Naples Daily News says it’s sleazy.”
For the record, editorially the Daily News has no big issue with DROP. There’s no “loophole” as we see it and we question — as do others — if it amounts to an added cost to taxpayers.
We certainly disagree with Fasano, but understand his passion in pushing changes to reflect today’s economic realities.
We also note that Fasano never said “sleazy.” He did say “shameful,” so the ad sponsors apparently felt they could substitute sleazy; after all, sleazy is often listed as a synonym for shameful.
So that’s how the PAC, which supports Judge Turner’s opponent Samuel Lopez, gets away with the attack ad.
You will see other shameful ads, especially on the national scene, as the Nov. 6 election nears.
One thing this newspaper can do is to explain it all and let the voters decide what’s sleazy and what isn’t.
Speaking of the Nov. 6 presidential election, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are scheduled to participate in three televised debates this fall and one will be in Florida. It will be Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton.
The Florida Society of News Editors, of which I am a member, is partnering with Lynn University on a number of initiatives surrounding the debate, including educational meetings with students and development of a news feed on the official debate website.
The partnership was born when FSNE endorsed the school’s application to host the debate.
“Florida is again at ground zero of a hotly contested presidential race and it is fitting and appropriate to hold a debate in this swing state,” said Mark A. Russell, executive editor of the Orlando Sentinel and FSNE president. “FSNE is pleased to be assisting Lynn in this worthy effort.”
FSNE is a professional association established by Florida newspaper editors to guard the state’s tradition of open government, recognize outstanding work and advocate for journalism’s highest standards.
Lewis is executive editor of the Daily News. Email him at email@example.com or call him at 239-263-4863.