by Joe Shea
November 20, 2011
SIGNS OF WEAR
BRADENTON, Fla., Nov. 19, 2011 -- I was looking through the pages tonight of our local Bradenton Herald, a McClatchy News paper purchased from Knight-Ridder a few years ago that publishes photos of people arrested and lists of all the documents filed in the past week at the Manatee County, Fla. courthouse. There in the list of foreclosures was the name of the local weekly newspaper publisher I used to work for.
Bonner Joy Futch rarely publishes her last name, but she has published a good newspaper called The Islander on Anna Maria Island, a very nice resort island just across a couple of reliable bridges from Bradenton, where I live. I went to work for her at $10 an hour in 2004, and being an aggressive reporter I didn't fit in.
She claimed she was firing me for leading Team Kerry, the Manatee County political organization that supported the professional staff Sen. Kerry sent to Manatee County in that year's presidential election. I suspected it was because she got a complaint from Carol Whitmore, the mayor of Holmes Beach at the time (and now the chair of the Manatee County Commission, a $74,300 job she's held for two four-year terms now).
I had been asking questions at a meeting of the Holmes Beach City Council, rather than sitting quietly, just taking notes and otherwise minding my own business. I had once complained that her editing changed the facts of a story I had written about a zoning issue in which she opposed the variance sought.
Another reporter told me - on tape, inadvertently, because the tiny little Olympus recorder I have will sometimes turn on by being jostled in my shirt pocket - that it was her practice to change facts in his stories to suit her agenda. Even though it was a paltry income for someone accustomed to earning a dollar a word from the LA Weekly, and occasionally $250 from the Los Angeles Times for OpEds, or $250 a day as a stringer for the New York Post, or $500 for Reader's Digest stuff, or $1,000 from Argosy, or $5,000 - and, well, a lot - I'd enjoyed spending time on the Island and meeting its inhabitants and leaders, who were mostly a decent bunch.
I was fired from another newspaper job a couple of months ago after I'd angered the county sheriff on at least two occasions enough to make him call the publisher, who sits on the County Commission himself; the commission was what I was covering, so it didn't work too well when people whose votes he might have to count on were angry because of truths I told in The Bradenton Times, an online daily.
Just a few weeks ago, it came out that Sheriff's son had been assisted by 22 deputies at a cost of about $4,000 when his son's wife, a Filipino woman his son met working as a hostess at a fancy Lakewood Ranch bar, called police while her husband - a newly elected Republican state legislator from the county - had been off in Tallahassee.
The son's wife said she'd been raped by men intent on harming her husband's political career. She said they'd broken into their home, found her and spread her naked on the bed, tied to the bedposts, and raped her as her infant son lay on the floor in the same room. That turned out to be a lie, and the Sheriff said his son had not gotten any special treatment. She was not arrested for the lie, and the Sheriff said that was no special treatment, either.
The story didn't make it into the Sarasota newspaper for months, and probably that was not special treatment, either. The last time sheriff's deputies had visited had been when she shot a pistol into the ceiling, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune said. That also failed to make the papers at first.
Interestingly, the commissioner, Robin DiSabatino, who'd read the sheriff's letter to the County Commission denouncing my coverage of his million-dollar error also was battling bad news. She got caught speeding in a school zone and when the deputy came to her wiondow immediately said, "I'm a county commissioner." She got a warning - and a front page headline in the Bradenton Herald..
While the sheriff's complaints about my story on how they had purchased a $1 million encryption system that didn't work and never asked for a refund as four years passed might not have been dispositive, the editor got a call from Commissioner Donna Hayes, a former Republican county chair with eight years behind her on the commission. She complained that I had reported something she told me off the record, but neglected to mention to the editor that she told me her comments were off the record after she'd told me an anecdote during on-the-record time.
Hayes found the anecdote embarrassing - she'd told her late husband that if he died she'd replace him with a dog (she never did - and soon I was again out of a $250-a-week part-time job that was helping me catch up on bills. One of the last things I'd done for the paper was a YouTube video that ran online in which I sort of tried to make up for embarrassing her by doing a nice interview with her about her decision to retire.
At the meeting last Thursday of the Manatee County Port Authority, though, she approached me during a short break in the meeting and told me the video was causing confusion, because after she told the world she was retiring she changed her mind and decided to run again.
The YouTube video I posted had gotten only 124 views apart from the newspaper, but I gathered from her that it was causing a problem for her re-election campaign. I told her I would usually not do something like that, and when she returned to me after the meeting, she asked me again and I said I would think about it. She gave me a cell phone number to call, and when I called it no one answered on the first nine rings. The video is still online.
And, ironically, I had just turned on my other tape recorder Thursday when the Port Authority chairman and the port's attorney sharply reprimanded my former publisher for an unauthorized call and negotiations with a new port director whose hiring he formally opposed.
Today, again, I was looking through the newspaper and saw the name of Bonner Joy Futch (she'd been cagey when I asked if it was her real name; she goes by Bonner Joy, sort of like a former mayor and current councilwoman on the island goes by just SueLynn), and felt no jolt of satisfaction.
It's very hard to run a newspaper, even if it better reflects your facts than someone else's; her competition was likely to be gloating in Island bars all next week, and I resisted the idea that some justice was done on my behalf. And then I left McDonald's, where I'd been nursing a $0.74 senior coffee for the last three hours, and glanced at the Bradenton Herald's newspaper box.
There are four different papers in that rack, including the Herald, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the St. Petersburg Times (which, in a new form of newspaper suicide, is changing its name to the Tampa Bay Times after many decades) and a fourth, which I think is USA Today.
There were still papers in all three of the other boxes, but just the spring-loaded paper-pusher and a printed out-of-papers notice where the newspapers usually are. There was no way of telling whether it was because the paper's banner headline was about a Chris-Craft boat called the Silver Bullet that was featured in a film in New Hampshire, or because the rest of the top half was devoted to photos from two Friday night high school football games, but the citizens of Manatee County stood indicted by the anonymous newspaper delivery person, who is apparently accustomed to such treatment.
Underneath the regular printed notice was his carefully hand-printed, perfectly spelled declaration, written with a black Sharpie, I guess, that said, "All the newspapers in this box have been stolen. Please buy papers at Publix (the big market chain here), Wal-Mart, CVS or 7-11."
Well, I thought, the strangeness is rising.
Our county is getting into a little wider orbit, as in "turning and turning in the widening gyre" (from Yeats' "The Second Coming"), and between Donna Hayes and The Bradenton Times, Bonner Joy Futch and the Islander weekly, and the Bradenton Herald - which carried a Macy's ad offering lovely three-cushion leather couches for $299 on Saturday, by the way - the truth is leaking out, drip by drip. As the county goes, so goes the nation, eh?
It makes me want to run for President and save us all.