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Florence Snyder at the movies

At long last, an edge-of-seat movie about journalism where the woman on the I-Team is not sleeping with her boss, her source, or her media lawyer.

That’s just one of a million things to love about “Spotlight.” Audiences burst into applause as the end credits roll in this two hour cinematic distillation of two years in the lives of four Boston Globe reporters as they piece together a big and ugly picture of the Catholic Church’s spare-no-expense cover-up on behalf of pedophile priests harbored and enabled by Cardinal Bernard Law.

Forbes Magazine calls the film “a superb love letter to journalistic competence.” Indeed, it’s a video textbook.

Reporters knocking on doors. Reporters getting doors slammed in their face. Reporters unfazed by the dead rat decaying in a dusty storage room where they discover old Church directories. Reporters turning old Church directories into proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

All in a day’s work for journalists who get their stories from people who aren’t being paid to talk to them and documents which are hard to get and harder still to assemble into a damning database. In one particularly satisfying scene, we see reporter Mark Rezendes refuse to be stonewalled by a smarmy court clerk who won’t give him a public file full of smoking guns. Rezendes goes straight to the duty judge and politely but firmly insists that the law be followed.

Like most jaw-dropping scandals, the Catholic Church sex abuse story hid in plain sight for a very long time.

Small stories that should have made reporting radar go up had been published in the Globe. Victims had approached the paper years earlier and couldn’t get the time of day. Eventually, some found their way to the Boston Phoenix’s Kristen Lombardi.

Lombardi, now with the Center for Public Integrity, is a fearless and highly decorated investigative reporter, but an alt-weekly was no match for the Cardinal’s decades of experience at running a conspiracy of silence.

The paradigm shifted when Martin Baron arrived for his first day of work as Editor of the Globe. Baron had held the same job at the Miami Herald, and no one who worked with him there was the least bit surprised when the movie-Baron ordered his startled staff to push past the omerta that prevailed in the Church, the courts, and the community.

The real Baron told the real backstory to WGBH’s Emily Rooney in 2011:

“When I first came, before I even came, I was reading stories in The Globe about Father Geoghan and that he was alleged to have abused 80 children. It was an extraordinary story and I thought, what could be done with that? I read a column by Eileen McNamara who was a columnist for us at the time, who had said these documents were under seal and perhaps the truth would never be known.

“It came up at my first news meeting here. I raised the question of what we could do…..”

In the beginning, the Spotlight team could think of plenty of reasons to do something else. They’d all been raised Catholic, and nobody wants to tell Grandma that her trusted spiritual advisers are not really doing the Lord’s work.

The Spotlight reporters warm to the story as they pursue the extraordinarily hard task of thawing out sources who understandably believe the Globe is in the tank for the Church. Slowly, the traumatized victims come around. Like this:
You can use my name if you want.

Thanks, Patrick.

Don’t thank me. Just get the assholes.


Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com

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Here’s to a few more friendly shoulders in our future

Cheers to Lea Marshall, who sent this video along with this note: tis the season. may we all give others a chance to rest their heads (or even their thoughts that maybe aren’t the same as our thoughts) on us peacefully and gracefully…

Collaborative Leadership and Economic & Community Development, hosted by FSU FCRC Consensus Center

FCRC logos 2Join the FSU FCRC Consensus Center on Thursday December 5th from 3 to 4:30 pm (Sittig Hall, Kleman Plaza, 301 S. Bronough Street) for a free forum that is open to the public on collaboration, civility and leadership. The program will be led by Richard Walker, Senior Vice President/Regional Outreach, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and and Todd Greene, Community and Economic Development, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Chairman Bernanke recently observed, “Industry mix, demographic makeup, and geographic location make less difference to success than the presence of a community leader and collaboration around a vision for the future.” Walker and Greene will share their insights on collaborative leadership from the Bank’s research and the “Working Cities Challenge” initiative in Massachusetts with an audience of scholars, students and professionals in Tallahassee. The event is part of the FSU FCRC Consensus Center’s initiative “Collaborative Leadership and Florida’s Civic Future” being developed with the FSU Askew School of Public Administration and Policy, Florida League of Cities, Florida Association of Counties, Leadership Florida, AARP Florida and the Village Square. For more info CLICK HERE (and page down for an RSVP link or CLICK HERE.)

Good to know, if you want to be a professional asteroid deflector like Bill Nye

Apparently to deflect an asteroid we shouldn’t “run in circles screaming” – we just have to change it’s speed a ten millionth of the total (as long as is still way out in space). One thing for sure, you don’t address an asteroid problem by ignoring it until impact (apparently our current plan). Find our new Village Square Dinner at the Square season “Join the Asteroids Club” online here and our first dinner of the season “American Dream Lost” online here.

The Newsroom That Isn’t

I don’t get HBO at home, so I have missed the much-acclaimed “The Newsroom” on that premium channel. Since the setting is a TV newsroom, I probably wouldn’t identify all that much anyway. My previous career was spent in newsrooms of daily newspapers – 45 years total.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed a commentary on that show posted on the website of our parent Village Square in Tallahassee. Florence Snyder, an occasional contributor to Village Square Tallahassee, was speaking for thousands of former journalists like me who wonder, “What happened to my newspaper (or TV network)? When I retired six years ago, there had been some cutbacks in newsroom staffing, but nothing drastic. Advertising was down, but nothing drastic. Circulation was holding steady, if not growing. And the newsroom was pretty much as Snyder described it in her article, “The Newsroom That Isn’t Anymore.”

And there still existed, as Snyder put it, this all-important factor: “a shared belief that journalism was an end in itself, a sacred public trust.” We all believed it, and I think most of our readers did, too.

That was then, and this is now. In that brief span the whole profession has been turned upside down. News staffs have been decimated, the news product shrunk, and news coverage softened. And the public trust has been shattered by packs of partisan bloviators who have turned “news” into a perverse blend of entertainment and hate-mongering that mocks objective reporting and commentary.

I know this sounds very old-school, unconnected, and probably grumpy. But I’m happy to know I’m not alone in feeling like something important was lost in the stampede to 24-7 cable and social-media journalism. For all their faults, you could generally count on the “mainstream media” to provide objective reporting with appropriate context, and, most importantly, a commitment to truth. That was “the newsroom that isn’t” anymore.

David Klement, Executive Director

Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions

St. Petersburg College


Time to Reboot at Leadership Florida Conference

I had the privilege of attending the annual meeting of Leadership Florida last week in Orlando. Held at the Yacht & Beach Club Resort at Disney World, the meeting of Florida’s premiere leadership organization brought together some 450 LF alums from across the state to hear interesting speakers (including SPC President Dr. Bill Law and Gov. Rick Scott) and to network like crazy with some fairly influential people.

At least, that’s why I go. I was privileged to be selected for Class XXVII in 2008, and I value the connections that I have made through this organization over the years. And the chance to get away to think, learn and exchange ideas with other professionals serves as a mental reboot.

Dr. Law was part of a panel on higher education, pointing out that the Florida College System is “the envy of America in the way students can move through the system.” He said a particular strength of FCS is the attention paid to helping students prepare to enter the workforce, especially in the health care sector. In response to a question about trends in higher education, Dr. Law said Florida is fortunate to have a public and private sector that work “hand in hand” to provide a variety of choices for students. He identified a gradual shift in higher education in Florida: “As our colleges mature, the universities are moving to more research and we (the State College System) are sharing the undergraduate burden more evenly.”

One of the most interesting presentations was by Dr. Beth Stevens, senior vice president for corporate citizenship, environment and conservation for the Walt Disney Co. She focused on the importance of preserving Florida’s natural resources for future generations, and the growing disconnect between children and nature. Today kids spend on average just 1 percent of their time doing things in nature and 27 percent of their time using electronic devices. Yet a connection with nature is extremely important in childhood development, she said.

Disney is in Year 5 of a proactive program to promote conservation of natural resources and to provide visitors connections to nature. It has created a 12,000-acre wilderness preserve in Kissimmee with the Florida Nature Conservancy, and partners with 350 non-profits worldwide dedicated to nature conservation.

Gov. Scott focused on economic issues, especially his job-creation efforts. “No state in the U.S. should be in a better position economically than Florida,” he said. Its low tax burden, geographic proximity to the Panama Canal, resurgence in tourism and expansion of many of its ports all contribute to “a dramatic turnaround” in the Florida economy in his 2 ½ years in office, he said.

In response to questions, the governor dashed hopes that he might call a special session of the Legislature to reconsider joining the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid plan. “I can’t do anything,” he said, because the Legislature has spoken by rejecting the plan and it is unlikely he could compel legislators to reconsider that decision.

Another speaker, Peter Kageyama of St. Petersburg, offered a truckload of ideas on how to make our cities more safe, functional and fun. Especially fun. In a fast-paced presentation, he showed dozens of examples of what cities have done to add life to the streets and boost municipal morale. For example, spray-painting weeds in a vacant lot and labeling it a “weed garden.” Or turning that lot into a “barking lot” mini-dog park. One city created an inexpensive water park with a garden hose. Another urged citizens to attach post-it notes to derelict or under-used buildings. The notes bear the title “I wish this was. . .” and people write in their idea for improving the structure. One city turned the problem of gum litter into an attraction by declaring a vacant stone wall the “bubble-gum wall.” Instead of tossing gum on the grass or walks, citizens are encouraged to stick their used bubble gum wads on the wall. Somewhat gross, but also interesting.

Kageyma’s message: “Play is central to our relationships with other people.” It’s a good takeaway for our community.

By David Klement, Executive Director

Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions

St. Petersburg College


NRA Lobbyist Backs Gun Limit on Mental Patients

It’s safe to say that most of the recent mass shootings have been perpetrated by men with serious mental problems. Who in his right mind could turn automatic weapons on innocent people going about their business in malls, offices, schools and movie theaters?

So it was good news the other day when Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a bill to close a loophole in Florida gun laws that permitted some persons with mental illness to buy guns. But not everyone agrees with that statement. The governor’s office was flooded with almost 25,000 emails urging him to veto the bill.

Why would anyone want to allow mentally ill people to buy guns? Because the bill applies to people who have voluntarily submitted themselves to mental health exams or treatments. The old law allowed such people to buy guns once they are released from mental health institutions. The new law requires a judge and doctor to concur that an individual is no longer a danger to himself or others in order to get off the database of those prohibited from buying a gun.

To the surprise of many, even Marion Hammer wanted Scott to sign the bill. The longtime National Rifle Association lobbyist seldom gets behind any restriction on gun ownership, but even she could see the sensible justification for this one. In fact, she and her allies flooded the governor’s office with 200,000 emails asking Scott to sign the bill.

As was noted in our Village Square forum on guns held on May 22nd, (http://bit.ly/120hazK) the Second Amendment‘s guarantee of the right to bear arms is not voided by reasonable restrictions to protect public safety. No “right” is absolute; no “liberty” is open-ended. Preventing harm to others seems a reasonable limitation.

By David Klement

Executive Director, Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions

St. Petersbug College

Faith, Food, Friday’s on summer hiatus… but you can listen to both the last program and the whole season with just a click!

squares-fff-archivesListen to the last Faith, Food, Friday of the year HERE. Listen to the whole season of programs HERE. We’ll see you next October!

Jonathan Haidt on why we should “think asteroids”

When Dr. Haidt was in Florida this month, he spoke at the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at University of Florida. They did this videotaped interview that features an important concept he shared with us: if we want to succeed in these conversations, we need to think common threats more than common ground. We need to think asteroids.

Announcing our new Dinner at the Square season!

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OUR TOWN: Burying the Franklin Blvd. ditch – wise or wasteful?

Like it or not, the deep ditch dividing Franklin Blvd. is currently being buried to alleviate flooding risks and to make this roadway more friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists, too.  The ditch has a much more pleasant history as a stream, the St. Augustine Branch, but its more recent past has come to define it as more of a hazard, eyesore and great inconvenience.  The construction currently underway on Franklin is part of the “Capital Cascade Trail” project led by the city-county collaborative Blueprint 2000.  This is phase 1, and phase 2 is Cascades Park.  The renovation of Franklin will reduce it down to 2 lanes and add both sidewalks and bike lanes.  It certainly sounds more pedestrian/bike-friendly, but perhaps less appealing to drivers during rush hour.  Some area residents say this is a good thing because they’re tired of it being a dangerous speedway.  Others say the old stream could have been spared and revitalized with a different approach.  The ultimate decision appears to be that the safest options just didn’t include the ditch/stream and drivers coexisting.  So, as early as this August, we will drive over top the ditch instead of navigating around it.  We still have Cascades Park to look forward to, which is where the former stream flowed to in its heyday.

Check out The Village Square‘s discussion on the topic in our “Get Local” Tallahassee section of our We the Wiki website.  Feel free to add to it, too — additional sources, fact checks, even write an op-ed.  Remember, the content of our Wiki is made greater by factual, civil, diverse contributions from people like you.  So, go ahead — check it out.  And if you’re a first-time user, be sure to check out the Tools & Tips page, too.  If you have trouble with the site using Internet Explorer, try switching over to Google Chrome, Firefox or Safari.

Miss last week’s Dinner at the Square? WFSU will air the program Friday at 7PM

Did you miss Wall Street, Main Street, Easy Street, our Dinner at the Square focused on the economic crisis, particularly in Florida? WFSU airs the program this Friday night, May 4, from 7 to 8pm. Mark it on your calendar now! Tune in to 88.9FM to listen.