I have often written about the shortcomings of the local media with respect to their coverage of local government. And as the local corruption investigation unfolds, I am sure there will be more critiques of the local media.
However, now is an appropriate time to highlight the power of local media cooperation and how this cooperation, amid competition, successfully moved an important story forward.
It was a story that sought to hold Mayor Andrew Gillum accountable for actions that could reflect badly on the Mayor’s Office and the City of Tallahassee.
This is how the story unfolded.
There had been rumors for weeks about trips taken by some elected officials with FBI agents posing as developers. The sources gave information that indicated the destinations included Las Vegas and New York city. However, no local media outlet was comfortable enough with the reliability of the information to lead with a story.
That was until a picture turned up.
On August 17, 2017, WCTV reporter Mariel Carbone broke a story after obtaining a picture that showed Mayor Andrew Gillum in New York city with city lobbyist and Edison owner Adam Corey and a FBI agent believed to be posing as a developer seeking business in Tallahassee.
Gillum provided comments to Carbone.
“It looks like people hanging out. I really am deeply offended by folks ascribing other meaning to it,” said Gillum.
“I think it’s probably important that I point out I was there for work. (I) went out with them on personal time. There was no city money spent on that trip, no city business discussed. It was frankly a couple of friends getting together,” he said.
Following the WCTV report, TR published a report on August 22, 2017 that significantly added to the WCTV story.
TR had obtained information that indicated Gillum’s trip to New York was more than just a boat ride. TR had information that the trip was planned ahead of time by Mike Miller to include hotel rooms at the Millennium Hilton in New York City, tickets to the Hamilton and a trip to a New York Mets game.
TR also reported that Mayor Andrew Gillum’s brother, Marcus Gillum, was involved in the planning of the trip.
As is usual, Mayor Gillum and his office do not provide comments to Tallahassee Reports.
However, on August 25th, the Tallahassee Democrat contacted Mayor Gillum about the information contained in TR’s story.
“Haven’t seen the article, but based on what you’re asking, not correct,” replied Gillum. The Democrat then asked: “Just to be clear and specific, you didn’t attend a Mets game or ‘Hamilton’ with Adam and/or Mike Miller?”
Gillum did not answer the question.
The Tallahasse Democrat followed up the reporting with an editorial entitled “A simple yes or no could help clear FBI clouds for Mayor Andrew Gillum”
The editorial stated Gillum’s “explanation strains credulity” and concluded that the “mayor’s credibility is also undercut” when he picks what questions to answer and what questions to deflect.
Ultimately, the competing media reports on Gillum’s trip to New York raised serious questions about Mayor Gillum’s honesty with the public he was elected to represent.
Further, Gillum’s actions show that he is more concerned with avoiding criminal charges than he is in explaining breaches in ethical standards. Taking trips that are paid for by lobbyists and/or developers may not be criminal. However, doing so is a clear ethical violation that tarnishes the Mayor’s Office and hurts Tallahassee.
The fact that Gillum will not provide answers should motivate city beat reporters from various outlets to continue to seek answers – even in the most uncomfortable situations.
What is also needed, especially over the next 2-3 months, is more cooperation between Tallahassee’s local media outlets.
I can assure you, Tallahassee Reports will do their part.