It isn't often one sees a newspaper publish a correction on the front page above the fold, complete with a color photo of the person who was wronged. That's because editors are like doctors -- they like to bury their mistakes.
So what kind of colossal screwup would necessitate such treatment? For the answer check out a March 3 Sun-Sentinel piece by reporters John Holland and Ardy Friedberg. Then eyeball the list of its shortcomings, which ran March 10. Note the lack of a byline on the correction, the use of the word unsubstantiated to describe the original story, and the eight-bullet sidebar detailing what Holland and Friedberg got wrong. It's the journalistic equivalent of being taken out behind the woodshed. Undercurrents can only imagine the squeals when the paddle came down.
Holland and Friedberg were playing catch-up on a hot little story concerning murder cases investigated by the Broward Sheriff's Office and prosecuted by Broward State Attorney Michael Satz. On March 2 The Herald had reported that famed O.J. attorney Barry Scheck wanted a look into how murder cases have been handled here. Scheck cited the case of Frank Lee Smith, who died of cancer early last year while serving time on death row for the rape and murder of a Fort Lauderdale girl named Shandra Whitehead. In December a DNA test exonerated Smith posthumously.
The Sun-Sentinel reporters, possibly desperate to advance the story, went very wrong. In trying to build a case against the state attorney, Holland and Friedberg failed to note that Satz called in a special prosecutor when apparent conflicts of interest cropped up. And they made stupid mistakes that further impugned the work of the State Attorney's Office, such as reporting that Satz blocked a DNA test for ten years when, in fact, defense lawyers were tardy in making the request. The reporters argued that a weak murder case fell apart at trial, even though a jury never heard the case.
Just for context Undercurrents points out that in February 2000 a prosecutor in Satz's office filed four counts of misdemeanor battery against Holland, the result of an alleged sexual assault in Palm Beach County in 1997. Broward prosecutors handled the case because an intern at the Palm Beach State Attorney's Office was peripherally involved. Holland pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor battery count last January and got on with his life -- part of which still involves covering the State Attorney's Office.
Satz's office is steamed. "The newspaper certainly made an attempt in its correction to repair the serious damage it did to our people and this office," spokesman Ron Ishoy wrote in a statement e-mailed to Undercurrents. "And we sincerely appreciate that effort, as far as it went.
"However there are attorneys here who feel that the paper did not go far enough -- either legally or ethically -- to correct what it did. So discussions about this continue here in the office. It will be interesting to see how this eventually plays out."
Neither Friedberg nor Holland returned Undercurrents' calls. Sun-Sentinel editor Earl Maucker offered us this terse statement: "I have no faith in the accuracy of New Times, so I have no comment." No faith in our accuracy?
Every once in a while we like to check in with the Republicans, just to see if there are any left in Broward and to reassure ourselves that someone is out there acting fiscally conservative yet socially responsible, or whatever. That's why we attended the monthly meeting of the Broward County Young Republicans last week. Now we'll cop to a certain morbid curiosity about young Republicans in general, having long considered the term to be an oxymoron. But rest assured, there are people out there younger than 40 years old who are conservative. Go figure.
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The BCYRs used to convene at the Embassy Suites hotel on SE 17th Street in Fort Lauderdale, but in a show of asceticism they changed their venue this month to a stark room on the third floor of the county government center. After giving thanks to God for installing Bush Lite in the White House and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to a chalkboard, they got down to the meat of the meeting: a talk from Fort Lauderdale mayor Jim Naugle.
Now, Naugle is both a hell of an affable guy and a Democrat. But why get hung up on labels? As any gay person or Boy Scout will tell you, the mayor is really a Republican at heart. And he floated a very Republican idea at the meeting: breaking up the massive Broward County School District into five or six smaller chunks. Naugle ticked off the advantages: less bureaucracy, more local control, and the potential to save money. Plus, more districts would mean more school board seats, "and that would make elected offices available even for Republicans," he noted with a grin.
Finally Undercurrents would like to say a few words about our favorite topic: Undercurrents. This wildly popular column is going weekly again, unless there's a monster-truck rally in town or Celine Dion is at the National Car Rental Center, in which case we'll take a bye. Otherwise look for us in this space every Thursday for a mélange of politics, media, and the lush, lovely weirdness that makes Broward and Palm Beach counties so hard to live in yet almost impossible to leave. And we make this unconditional guarantee: In contrast to a certain columnist whose name rhymes with Sherri Winston (oops!) employed by a local daily newspaper we'll refer to as the Sun-Sentinel, Undercurrents will never write a word about our own offspring, adorable though they are. Or your money back.