When I recently called The Palm Beach Post a “morally bankrupt institution,” I had no idea how quickly, and how spectacularly, Editorial Page Editor Randy Schultz would prove my case.
It’s a story as old as Schultz’s tenure at The Post, where he has used the opinion pages of his newspaper as a personal bully pulpit. Once again, he’s smearing yet another politician he doesn’t like, and all who would support him, based on little more than speculation, rumors and baseless anonymous attacks.
Schultz’s latest target is Democrat Dave Aronberg, who had the nerve to challenge Michael McAuliffe, the state attorney with whom Schultz and Editorial Page colleague Ronda Swan had a cozy relationship. So cozy, the word “collusion” comes to mind. In a recent post about their email exchanges, I allowed some sun to shine on the little man crush Schultz and McAuliffe shared with each other. It’s important to remember that bromance when relating a smelly piece of “journalism” cranked out recently by West Palm Beach’s declining newspaper.
On April 15, The Post’s one-time editorial-writer-turned-reporter Joel Engelhardt and reporter Stacey Singer wrote a purported expose on the insider machinations that led to Judge Krista Marx’s decision not to run for Palm Beach County state attorney.
The flimsy piece tried mightily to paint a picture of a vast and coordinated political conspiracy to stop a Marx candidacy with a campaign of threats and intimidation led by supporters of Dave Aronberg, a former Democratic state senator running for state attorney.
When approached by Englehardt and Singer, Aronberg refused to comment for the piece saying, “It’s hard to respond to anonymous hearsay except to say that it didn’t come from me and I didn’t know about it.”
This may be a good time for a disclosure: I served as a co-host for a fundraiser Newsmax’s Chris Ruddy hosted for Aronberg. But this isn’t about protecting sacred cows. That’s The Post’s domain. This is about exposing the truth, and The Post’s own dirty political game.
Schultz, in the first of two redundant editorials on the topic, defended the paper-thin Englehardt-Singer piece, saying, almost as if while stomping his loafered foot, “The story quoted Judge Krista Marx.” That’s all that counts for verification for The Post, folks: a single quote, pulled out of context.
This is what Marx actually said: “I considered running for 2½ weeks, and many unpleasant things happened during that time. In the final analysis, having waded into partisan politics, I decided I wanted to continue my service from the bench and retain the great luxury of a job separated from partisan politics and undue influence.”
The quote couldn’t be more generic, and the first sentence contains a sentiment almost any candidate for public office would echo. But important parts of the narrative, cobbled together by Englehardt and Singer and supposedly providing the needed context and substance, are based on private conversations Marx allegedly had with her friend, Amy Young, and with Boca Raton lawyer Howard Weiss.
“I never confirmed any of my private conversations with The Palm Beach Post or any media outlets,” Marx told me. So how to vouch for its accuracy? The Post doesn’t bother with such nonsense.
That leaves just two scenarios: Either The Post wrote up its big expose based on the information provided by an anonymous third party, or Marx is lying to me and everyone else about what she may have told The Post. I would like to think that a sitting judge would not lie to cover her own political fanny and to further a damaging conspiracy theory that cannot be substantiated. Either way, it’s a disgusting abuse of journalistic powers by The Post and does nothing to inform the public about Palm Beach County’s political landscape. I offer my readers this possibility in the interest of fairness but I will proceed under the assumption that Marx is telling the truth.
The story accuses Weiss of threatening Marx, in a private conversation, with recruiting an opponent to run against her husband, also a judge, if Marx opposed Aronberg for state attorney.
Weiss may or may not have done that. Who knows. But since he refused to talk to The Post, and Marx denies confirming to the newspaper any of her private conversations, the reporters could only have gotten their information on what this alleged chat entailed from someone who was not present at the time – someone who wasn’t quoted for the record, either. How do you spell yellow journalism?
The story left open to interpretation Young’s intention in telling Marx she had heard some rumors of a possible ethics complaint being filed against her for campaigning from her chambers. Young has been friends with Marx since college, and even had Marx officiate at her wedding a few years ago. So it is entirely credible that Young was, as she told me, “just trying to protect a friend.”
That’s not enough for Schultz, who writes bogeymen into plots where he sees fit. No, Schultz, from his perch on the bully pulpit, manipulated a snippet of conversation between two friends – related by that anonymous third party, and a one sentence email from Young, – into a “plot,” a “conspiracy.”
Schultz’s editorials then bloviate omnisciently that any possible ethics charge against Marx would have been “trumped up” or “invented.” It’s nice that Schultz can be so confident about someone else’s integrity, but he doesn’t bother to share his all-seeing insight with us lowly readers. Let’s see a show of hands from anyone who believes Schultz would dismiss rumors of ethics violations against someone like U.S. Rep. Allen West so easily.
A critical aspect of the Englehardt-Singer story, and the foundation on which Schultz builds his entire conspiracy narrative, is the assumption that Marx was a shoo-in for Gov. Rick Scott’s appointment. Marx made it clear to everyone she spoke to at the time that she would only run if she was appointed interim state attorney and could run as an incumbent.
The story quotes GOP fundraiser Mark Guzzetta as saying that after Marx met with Scott, the appointment “would have been hers if she wanted it.”
But even that comment is now being called into question. Guzzetta told me the implication — that he was stating a fact based on inside knowledge of the governor’s thoughts — was inaccurate. In a long conversation with Singer, Guzzetta related all the reasons why Marx should have gotten the appointment, but it was only his opinion. “She only used the last sentence,” Guzzetta told me of Singer’s selective use of his words.
The reality is, according to every insider who knows the score, There was no reasonable chance Scott was going to appoint Marx. It was common knowledge that McAuliffe was supporting Marx as his interim replacement, and that proved toxic. Politicians have long memories, and plenty were willing to remind the governor of McAuliffe’s starring role in TV ads attacking Scott during the 2010 campaign. It is also common political strategy for a governor to prefer not to swing an election by appointing an interim state attorney who planned to run for the office.
That’s certainly more plausible than any orchestrated conspiracy The Post is proffering.
Which leaves Schultz just one credible crumb to draw from the Englehardt-Singer dreck: County Commissioner Burt Aaronson’s meeting with Chief Circuit Judge Peter Blanc. Here, there is fire behind the smoke. The meeting was confirmed by Blanc, and it seems obvious that Aaronson did engage in what most would consider borderline extortion.
I would suggest, as I have before, that the term-limited octogenarian Aaronson is way past his prime and that he was motivated by his desperate desire to convince people he’s still relevant when he isn’t. But that’s pure speculation on my part because I can’t possibly know what any other human being truly thinks, especially one I never talk to. Schultz, on the other hand, has no compunction about casting his opinion as pure fact and not the Swiss cheese we all know it to be. The point, though, is The Post does nothing to connect these sketchy dots back to Aronberg. But that doesn’t stop Schultz.
In his second diatribe on the topic, Schultz scrapes all this nothingness into one dusty pile and declares it a conspiracy by Aronberg to cheat the democratic process, sniffing, “Mr. Aronberg wanted to duck voters, tough questions and all the annoying demands of democracy.” Wow! What a horrible thing for Aronberg to do! How could he? Oh, that’s right. He didn’t. Schultz just made it up.
Aronberg was willing to take on McAuliffe, an incumbent state attorney from his own party with powerful supporters and a substantial war chest. And yet, once McAuliffe withdrew, Aronberg was afraid of a couple of no-name candidates with none of his bipartisan backing? Please.
So there’s just one real conclusion we can draw from all of Schultz’s smoke and mirrors: He has it in for Aronberg. But why? Could it be a little old-fashioned vengeance?
On Feb. 29, I wrote, “Leaked emails between Palm Beach Post and Michael McAuliffe reveal liberal bias.” In that post, I published emails that documented conversations Schultz and Post editorial writer Ronda Swan had with then-State Attorney McAuliffe.
I published the emails in cooperation with former Post writer Jose Lambiet of Gossip Extra, exposing the obvious ideological bias and unethical collusion between a sitting politician and the editorial writers covering his office. Lambiet wrote about even more problematic email conversations, which would have been grounds for dismissal had they occurred at any other major media outlet.
It was only a matter of days after the publication of those emails that Post reporters suddenly seemed to be turning over every rock trying to dig up dirt on Aronberg.
Could it be that Schultz blames Aronberg for the leaked emails and is out to discredit him?
Certainly seems like a plausible explanation.
The bottom line is, a weak story that would have been rejected at most publications, one based almost exclusively on rumors repeated by anonymous third parties with no independent knowledge of what they were talking about, was used by Schultz to smear not just Aronberg, but anyone who supports Aronberg.
This is yellow journalism at its worst. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the game of ambush and sabotage The Palm Beach Post has been getting away with for years.
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