By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
What stoked Clayborne's ire? Lieberman had challenged black elections supervisor Miriam Oliphant's hiring of consultant Chris Hood, a black man, to evaluate companies vying for Broward's voting-machine contract.
Using a quote from a November 22, 2001, Miami Herald article in which Lieberman says of Hood, "I was kind of surprised that he'd been hired," Clayborne writes, "That's interesting Ilene. There must be hundreds of good old white boys who know next to nothing... except they're white."
Lieberman says race had nothing to do with her comment. "I said that because we had someone already working, doing the same job [as Hood]," she says. "A responsible journalist doesn't just take a quote out of context to stir the community up."
The commissioner didn't catch Clayborne's follow-up column in which he writes that he had "a lot of calls" about Lieberman: "They ranged from a group in Lauderhill who would like to hang her by her fingernails on the tallest tree in Inverrary to some White folks (yes, they even call)."
Lieberman's colleague, Commissioner Diana Wasserman-Rubin, elected in 2000, began reading the Times frequently after Clayborne wrote November 30 that she "has as much empathy for minority issues as Joe Lunchbucket. She's a White-Cuban."
"It's an incredible personal attack on my integrity, personality, my whole being," says the commissioner. "I thought about hiring a lawyer, but I talked with my friends, many of them prominent black leaders, and they told me not to waste my time, that no one reads the Broward Times. But I know that some people are reading it, and I have to admit that knowing that hurts me."
As the first Hispanic elected to the Broward County Commission, Wasserman-Rubin continues, "It hurts me that another minority would say those things, and it damages my career if people take that man's word as bible."
Bill McCormick, president of the NAACP's Fort Lauderdale branch, may be more vulnerable than many others to the Times' claims. He and Clayborne have been feuding in the newspaper's pages since McCormick took the post in January 2001. Unattributed quotes and unsubstantiated claims of corruption fill most Times articles about McCormick, the NAACP leader says. Phrases such as "word is" are often used. And many articles lack specific examples of mistakes that could warrant such criticism.
Clayborne writes in the November 9, 2001, "Off the Vine" column, "Pundits say [McCormick] failed miserably in working on behalf of the black community while using the post to enhance himself and a few close cronies. He has even sabotaged business dealings that were none of his business, says one local black business owner. He's the wrong guy to lead the NAACP -- period!... Maybe he knows the jig is up.... McCormick's on his way out...."
A month later, Clayborne writes that McCormick has "all but lost support in and outside [the NAACP]." But the publisher offers no quotes or examples of McCormick's waning authority. The week following, Clayborne leads his column by commenting, "Bill McCormick is an example of what I called our "flawed black leadership'" but doesn't mention the leader again. In a January 4, 2002 column, the publisher pens, "Word is -- other members are considering leaving the [NAACP] and a great many have just decided to sit on the sidelines until the McCormick regime is gone. Look for more weak knee responses by McCormick in the Gazette on why everybody who once supported him is now out to get him."
It took almost a year for mainstream media to clue into the ink war. This past December, the Sentinel reported that McCormick was fed up with the treatment he's received in the Times. McCormick was particularly ticked off over a December 7 Times story by Elgin Jones that called for the NAACP president to "Get Out of Dodge by Sundown." The reporter alleged that McCormick was not working with the city to hurry clean-up of cancer-causing dioxins at the Wingate Landfill. Jones stated that "several" NAACP members wanted McCormick ousted. The story also says that McCormick used his position to "sabotage" a deal involving an unnamed "Broward business owner." McCormick isn't quoted throughout the story because, Jones reports, the leader could not be reached.
"It was a personal attack, and I'm very mindful of that," McCormick says. "It's very irresponsible, completely untrue. But I'm going to keep leading the NAACP and not let this poison that."
But Jerry Carter, president of the Fort Lauderdale Midtown Business Association and developer of affordable housing, believes that the bad press has had a "disastrous effect" on McCormick's ability to head the civil rights group. "I'm very surprised he's not taken legal action, because a lot of what's written is blatantly incorrect," he says. "You can say that one article doesn't make a lot of difference, but when you keep reading week after week about him doing something wrong, people start believing it."
Former Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Andrew DeGraffenreidt, who is black, suspects that McCormick won't loudly condemn the Times for other reasons. "He's in a bad position, because he should do something, but as a black leader, it's tough. No one wants to be singled out as creating a problem with the Broward Times. I mean, you have to wonder what else they'll print if you do. And some people might holler racism."