Long-time Miami Herald reporter Mary Ellen Klas was just caught red-handed coaching Democrats on how to challenge Republican redistricting in Florida.
For conservatives and Republicans, the story is as old as time. But some amazing revelations reflecting the current state of journalism, including indisputable evidence of Klas’ partisanship, help illustrate our current predicament. Klas, who is no newbie, is the Miami Herald’s capitol bureau chief in Tallahassee, where she has covered Florida politics since the 1990s. One wonders how often she has freelanced as a political consultant over the years. In this instance, she was cavalier enough to get caught by a Republican Senate staffer who was sitting right there.
A public records request netted an audio recording by an aide to Senate President Wilton Simpson of Klas talking to state Senator Randolph Bracy, an Orlando Democrat currently running for Congress. The audio, Simpson wrote, showed Klas was “seeking to pre-litigate the 2022 redistricting cycle, pitting Senate counsel against expert witnesses frequently used by plaintiffs in litigation against the state, thereby creating a manipulated legislative record to be used in the courts.”
The story broke with Florida Power and Light—a favorite target for Klas over the years and the largest power company in the nation—taking the extreme measure of publicly going on the attack against Klas and the Herald. FPL on Wednesday launched a website called Truth Matters that details Klas’ duplicitous and partisan coverage against the power company. Giant companies rarely go to such lengths, particularly those as heavily regulated as a utility. But apparently FPL felt it had no choice, and the website makes clear why.
The final straw for FPL was a December 20, 2021 “story” by Klas claiming FPL was using “dark money” and lobbyists to write legislation that would hamstring rooftop solar. In the increasingly dirty world of the partisan media, it’s important to note that this story was done in conjunction with Floodlight, an environmentalist group which describes itself this way on its own site: “Floodlight investigates the corporate interests holding back climate action. We partner and co-publish with local journalists and national outlets . . . .”
So there is not even the pretense of this being honest journalism. FPL vehemently denies the veracity of the story and wrote an opinion piece refuting it. But the Miami Herald refused to run the opinion piece and instead heavily edited it down, removing all criticism of the Herald and of Klas, and then ran it as a watery letter to the editor. Even that was just in the lightly read print edition, and not online.
Obviously, FPL wants to have good relations with the media, but one can sense the frustration from their chief communications officer, David Reuter: “It seems like they are trying to hide something from their readers. We think that’s unacceptable.”
Stymied in their attempt to get any sense of information balance from the Miami Herald, FPL then filed a public records request with the Florida Senate. That action is what netted a November 22 letter reported by Politico Florida from Senate President Wilton Simpson to Miami Herald executive editor Monica Richardson. Echoing complaints against Klas from Republicans over the decades, Simpson in this instance pointed out her overtly biased coverage of Florida’s redistricting efforts.
FPL is fired up and frustrated at the Florida media beyond Klas and the Herald. The company went beyond the records request for the Herald material and also requested any documents exchanged between the Senate and three other Florida newspapers: The Tampa Bay Times, Orlando Sentinel, and the Florida Times-Union.
What’s even more interesting is that FPL’s Reuter said that the public records request was part of a company internal investigation on whether FPL actually was part of dark money funding of “ghost” candidates in Florida that were allegedly used to dilute Democratic votes in 2020 (another long-standing attack on the company). Their investigation—every bit as trustworthy as any media story we are seeing—found nothing.
So after all this, did the Herald respond with a sheepish apology? Oh, that is a hilarious thought!
Herald executive editor Richardson said her paper did not run FPL’s opinion piece because it was critical of Klas, and “an attempt to smear Klas’ work and her reputation.” She went on: “this criticism has crossed the line into an unfair attack on the Herald, as well as a personal attack on a well-respected member of the Herald staff.”
Yes, Florida Republicans are laughing hysterically at all of that.
But Richardson didn’t stop there. She defended Klas’ coaching the Democrat with spinning hubris that would make James Carville proud: “Klas, who covered the last reapportionment process that was a legal quagmire for the Senate, was using her experience in that coverage to inform her work this time around.”
Is there a better picture of the state of the American establishment media today?