Last year, Javier Manjarres was a landscape designer who'd had a couple of "chainsaw incidents" -- one of which severely gashed a leg -- and was thinking that maybe fate was telling him to change occupations.
That's when Manjarres -- a 37-year-old first-generation Colombian-American who lives in Fort Lauderdale -- started getting serious about Republican politics. He strongly backed Marco Rubio's U.S. Senate campaign when most still believed Charlie Crist was a shoe-in for the job.
He was, of course, proven right. And now, after riding the midterm Republican wave and becoming a player in the local Tea Party, Manjarres is a full-time conservative blogger with his site "The Shark Tank." His work has made it to national cable news stations, and if the money is any indication, he's taken very seriously by those on the right side of the ledger.
Campaign records dug up by another local conservative site, Political Watchman, found that Republican candidates about whom Manjarres has written -- including Rubio, Gov.-Elect Rick Scott, Attorney General-Elect Pam Bondi, Sen.-Elect Ellyn Bogdanoff, and many others -- had paid more than $37,000 in campaign funds to Manjarres' blog company, Shark Tank Media LLC.
Manjarres says all the money was paid for advertising on the site, and he says it had minimal effect on his reporting. "The only favoritism I may have showed was that I didn't bash anybody [that advertised with Shark Tank] over the head," he told me this week. "I said [to candidates], 'Look whoever wants to advertise, it doesn't matter, because I am going to be objective.' Not that I portray myself as totally objective, because I'm very biased to the
Republican side. I'm not saying I'm fair and objective, because I'm not. But if I make a claim about anyone, I'm going to back it with a public record that can be verified."
Manjarres' honesty regarding his agenda is refreshing, and what he is doing isn't much different from what many politically ideological blogs do to various degrees. The idea that a politician who buys ads from Manjarres won't get severely criticized -- or "based in the head" as Manjarres puts it -- certainly presents a sizable journalistic problem. The way Manjarres funds his website illustrates some of the ethical quandaries arising in the new-media arena. While old-school newspapers have traditionally had a "firewall" -- or at least a promise of one -- between the advertising and editorial departments, blogs and upstart websites are often one-man shows like the Shark Tank. Manjarres does it all, from soliciting the ads from candidates to writing the posts to shooting videos at campaign events to pushing "send" when it's time to publish. Needless to say, it's well beyond the bounds of accepted journalistic ethics for a reporter (or blogger) asking candidates or anyone else they're actively covering for money.
here have been other serious questions raised about the way "El Sharko" operates. The Political Watchman blog investigated campaign payments made to Shark Tank after liberal blogger Joy Reid first exposed the fact that Marco Rubio had coughed up thousands in advertising dough to Manjarres. Reid learned about it from an anonymous Twitter comment.
Political Watchman then found that numerous GOPers -- you can see the websites' findings at right -- had paid Shark Tank for advertising. The Watchman, under the byline Charles Robinson, wrote:
It is with considerable disappointment that we must report that the allegations made in the Reid Report are true and further, Ms. Reid didn't get to the full extent of the issue.
Manjarres, a blogger from South Florida, who holds himself out as an objective journalist who is "keeping everyone honest on both sides of the aisle," should be more open and honest about how he earns a living.
Mr. Manjarres, as we have reported in earlier articles, frequently attacks Republican candidates in primaries, and has a record of only attacking those candidates that do not pay him for advertising space on his site. Frequently, positive articles about his clients and negative articles about their opponents only appear once payments are made.
Manjarres denies that his coverage was tied to the payments and says that he even called out Marco Rubio once, though he readily concedes he gave Rubio extremely favorable coverage overall. He says he makes it clear when he makes his pitch for advertising from candidates that he's not going to become a mouthpiece for them.
"This is my pitch: I just say, 'If you are ever interested in promotiing your campiagn on my site, let me know,'" he told me. "If they say yes, we follow it up. Bogdanoff was interested, and they bought in, and that was it. I say, 'Look, don't think you're going to win favor with me. This is strictly for ad space to promote your campaign. If you get caught with your pants down in a park, that's on you. I won't run cover for you. This is not your vehicle to run your campaign. It's ad space, and that's it.'"
Manjarres says he usually asks candidates once, maybe twice, and then forgets about it. One candidate he backed as hard as anyone, Allen West, never bought advertising, he notes. He said he asked Charlie Crist to buy ads on his site "four times, which is unheard of."
The Political Watchman also wondered if part of the payments from Rubio weren't for Manjarres to work as a campaign "tracker," that is, someone who follows opposing candidates around with recording devices to catch them in a blunder. Manjarres did catch Crist during the Senate campaign make the following comment, which inflamed many Republicans:
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That tape went viral, but Manjarres says he was never paid to be a tracker for Rubio.
"I went to five Charlie Crist events in the course of the election cycle," said Manjarres. "If that's a tracker, then I'm a tracker. Marco had a tracker, a cute chick, and she went to all the events."
We'll take his word for it, and capturing that tape and his quick rise in blogdom shows that Manjarres has talent in his new vocation. Let's just hope he doesn't jump that shark.