Scripps Script

When it comes to the huge biotech project, the Sentinel's editorial license should be revoked

"I'm Earl Maucker, Sun-Sentineleditor. How can I help you?"

Well, for starters, Earl, you can start acting like a journalist rather than a castrated helper monkey. If you can't do that, go ahead and pour me a double vodka martini. And throw in a full frontal lobotomy. Then I might really be able to appreciate your newspaper more often.

Big Earl is asking his craven question all over radio and television these days as part the paper's new ad campaign. It ends with his announcing, "I am the Sun-Sentinel."

It's not a commercial, really, so much as a public service. The Sentinelis finally defining its true mission to the public. It's not to inform the public of what the politicians are doing with tax dollars. It's not to investigate corruption. It's not even to entertain or amuse us.

It's to grovel like a five-dollar street walker with an empty crack pipe.

And the campaign follows in the best tradition of the newspaper's pandering past. Look at its blind backing of the billion-dollar expansion of the Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport, which will displace hundreds of homeowners and threaten environmentally sensitive coastal lands. While cheerleading for the grandest and most controversial version of the project, Sentineleditorialists have regurgitated bogus facts and basically urged the Broward County Commission to waste tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to approve it without studying the most cost-effective and least damaging way to do it.

Why? Because the newspaper's top brass is deeply allied with the Broward Alliance and other public-private business networks that are pushing for the project (see "Axis of Influence," March 25).

Now the Tribune Company-owned daily is using the same m.o. with the giant Scripps Research Institute project in Palm Beach County. The plan, which was secretly orchestrated last year by Gov. Jeb Bush, is to spend more than $1 billion in taxpayer money to lure the biomedical industry to Florida. To cover the fact that this is would be one of the most obscene corporate giveaways in modern times, Bush likened Scripps to the discovery of air conditioning and Walt Disney World and wildly inflated job creation numbers.

But even if the public wants to subsidize Scripps (and the army of developers and special interests that will follow in its wake), the planned site for the massive project -- which will include a huge corporate complex, about 7,500 homes, a shopping mall, and space for pharmaceutical and medical companies -- should be a deal-breaker. It's an orange grove way out on the edge of the Everglades called Mecca Farms and more agricultural turf and wetlands at neighboring Vavrus Ranch. Putting the project in the middle of nowhere will create the kind of thick urban sprawl patently despised by Homo sapiens of the nondeveloper variety. It will hinder the $8 billion Everglades restoration project, and it goes against every established tenet of smart growth in South Florida.

The project will create more traffic, harm the environment, and suck the life from the existing downtown core. "Look, Scripps is fine; we're just saying it's in the wrong place," says Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation, which has staunchly fought the proposal. "It's going to promote urban sprawl. It's unnecessary to build it out there."

The newspaper's rank and file has done a passable job covering the thing. Palm Beach columnist Howard Goodman recognized the complexity of the situation. "Do we really want to flood the rural Mecca Farms and Acreage area with traffic loads already predicted to reach gridlock?" he wrote this past June 27. "To spur biotechnology, must we threaten the biosphere? Do we have to cut into conservation lands that taxpayers have spent millions to preserve?"

Yet the Sentinel's editorial page -- the soul of this Faustian newspaper -- has devoutly followed the Scripps script. It's been hawking the project like Jeb's brother sold the Iraq War, with a mixture of fear-mongering, hypocrisy, startling half-truths, and loads of misinformation. Worse, the Sentinel is obviously doing this because Scripps is expected to provide an economic engine for the newspaper's risky and costly expansion into northern Palm Beach. The newspaper has already opened an office in Wellington and placarded billboards with the Sun-Sentinelbrand name all over town. If Scripps fails, the Sentinel's expensive bid to find its market up north would be put in serious jeopardy.

Ah, good old corporate self-interest at the expense of the people. The governor must be proud of Maucker's minions, most notably Editorial Editor Kingsley Guy. But then again, what would you expect from a fellow whose mama would name him "Kingsley"?

The paper has rah-rahed for the project since its inception in 2003 but has really ratcheted it up during the past several months. This past March, when Gov. Bush said that the Scripps deal wasn't as promising as it first appeared and noted it wasn't finalized, the editorialists cried foul. "This is not a good time for Gov. Jeb Bush to be tempering his zeal for [Scripps] with cautionary realism," they wrote on March 6.

No, governor, with this much money involved, we must stick with the wild fantasy you used to sell the thing to the public. They ended the editorial with this line: "This is no time for warnings, just action."

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