Stepping on Freedom of the Press

Tailpipe is always reluctant to use the U word (un-American, that is), but what else do you say about an organization that blatantly violates the First Amendment? Officials at the North Broward Hospital District are apparently so far into denial about their own mismanagement, waste, and insider dealings that they've taken to censorship. That is, they're tossing copies of this newspaper into the garbage. Hundreds of papers containing New Times columnist Bob Norman's reports on the corrupt district have mysteriously disappeared from the racks at or near its four hospitals and 30-odd clinics.

Tough to believe that a public health institution would resort to such illegal and offensive shenanigans. That is, it was tough until a former security guard at Imperial Point Medical Center stepped forward. Howard Schulman, a 43-year-old retired police officer who worked in the hospital's psychiatric ward, says his supervisor ordered him and another guard to remove New Times newspapers from a box in front of the hospital and throw them in a Dumpster.

Bummer. Pardon Tailpipe while he expels a cloud of acrid smoke.

Mark Armstrong

Schulman says the order came from Darren DeBolt, of Wackenhut Corp., which oversees security for the entire district. Schulman reports that DeBolt informed him that the order originated from Imperial Point CEO Dottie Mancini and was in response to a critical Norman column, "Cardiac Cronies," that was published March 18..

"I told DeBolt I didn't think it was morally or ethically correct, but it didn't involve anyone getting hurt, so I just did it," Schulman explains. "I was a police officer for 11 years [in Hillsborough County], and I knew this was theft. And here you also had a person unilaterally restricting New Times' First Amendment rights to distribute newspapers. The whole thing reeked -- just reeked."

When reached at his Imperial Point office, DeBolt referred questions to his Wackenhut supervisor, Michael Boss, who works at the Broward General Medical Center. Boss didn't return phone messages. Mancini also failed to return this tube's calls. District spokeswoman Sara Howley did finally call back. She said that NBHD staff members may have thrown away newspapers, but she denied that "NBHD executives had ever ordered" them to do so. She confirmed that the district had blocked the New Times website. Howley, a masterful practitioner of the ancient art of disinformation, said it was done as a matter of routine to avoid computer viruses and to "maximize productivity" among employees.

Note: NBHD employees continue to have access to other media websites, including the Sun-Sentinel and the Herald.

Schulman, who was employed by an NBHD subcontractor called Enterprise Security, says he and DeBolt debated the legality of stealing free newspapers, with DeBolt arguing that you can't steal what's free. "I told him there was a cost in printing and distributing the newspaper and that was where the theft was," Schulman says.

When the Sun-Sentinel followed one of Norman's stories on April 18, Schulman says he remarked to DeBolt, "What are you going to do now? Throw away all the Sun-Sentinels?"

After Schulman filed a complaint with Wackenhut two weeks ago about the New Times incident, he was called in for a conference with company officials. Enterprise subsequently transferred him from the hospital to a lesser job on the graveyard shift. He refused the demotion, and he's now unemployed.

By the way, it's illegal to steal copies of New Times (one to a customer, folks). Tailpipe would like to get to the bottom of this. If you have knowledge of the district's press pilferings, let Tailpipe know. Of course, it hasn't been decided yet whether to press charges. The worst punishment for Bill of Rights-flouting bureaucrats would be more articles that reveal the truth.

Erick Trader digs deep into his accumulated store of television dating-show gambits.

"So what's the craziest thing you've ever done?" asks the 18-year-old Florida Atlantic University freshman.

His mates in this reality television endeavor, all of them sitting at a roundtable and slurping Jamba, gamely furrow their brows.

"My thing would be coming on this show," says Heather Ross, a sprightly 19-year-old who has a bright smile, loves hockey, and is an FAU frosh. Then she recants. In fact, the craziest thing she has done was sing "really bad karaoke" on a cruise ship once. The ditty was Pink's "Get the Party Started."

That's it? Somewhere, Bluto Blutarsky, patron saint of crazy college stunts, sobs quietly.

In the coming weeks, students at FAU will get to view episodes of this blind-date show, Mating Owls, so named because presumably the campus mascot likes to get it on. Creator Dave Estis, an Abercrombie-clad FAU senior appropriated the format from those enchantingly campy cable dating shows that, when they're most successful, end up with daters in skimpy bathing suits, writhing in hot-tub spume.

When the episode being filmed today at the FAU Jamba Juice outlet is ready for viewing, it will run on Owl TV, the university's closed-circuit station. Alas, no hot-tub scenes.

"What's your favorite animal?" Trader asks.

"I guess a dog," Estis replies.

"Me too," Ross says.

Trader's date, visiting Florida State sophomore Nicole Orts, heart-sinkingly concurs. Rover gets the nod. Whatever happened to cheetahs and sloths, badgers and wombats?

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