Boca News Reaches New Low

The Boca Raton News is going to war with a local political consultant Barry Epstein and the latest volley involves a claim by the newspaper that Epstein has disrespected war veterans.

What exactly did Epstein, who used to write a weekly column for the newspaper, do to earn the "outrage" of Boca News editor John Johnston?

He and the West Boca Chamber of Commerce had the audacity to announce that they would be honoring war veterans during a September 11 breakfast.

That's right, Johnston claims that Epstein and the west chamber are dishonoring war veterans by ... honoring them. The reason: He wrote in his press release that they were honoring "West Boca veterans."

To back up his point, Johnston contacted Barry Goldin, a vice commander for the Boca Raton Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10556. Soon the venerable vet would become a political football.

At Johnston's prodding, Goldin was quoted as saying:

What is a West Boca veteran? I have a real

problem with that. We represent all the veterans, not just some veterans. We all live and work in Boca Raton, be it east or west -- and the specific location where a person lives should not be exploited. I personally haven’t been invited to any activity, and anything that involves veterans in the Boca Raton area should be coordinated among all organizations. In my opinion, West Boca doesn’t exist – it’s just a geographical designation.

Goldin also told Johnston he didn't want to get caught up in a chamber of commerce dispute, but that's exactly what the editor was doing. To understand why this idiotic and miserable little piece of "news analysis" was published, you have to know that the Boca News -- which today is little more than a sad mailer -- has finally taken a strong editorial stand.

For national health care? Bringing the troops home? Cracking down on white collar crime?

Naw. it's against the recently formed West Boca Chamber of Commerce.

The squabble started a couple months ago, when Epstein, one of the founders of the new chamber, realized that the Boca News wasn't publishing its press releases. When he asked Publisher Craig B. Swill what the deal was, Swill wrote a column about it.

"I have some strong feelings on this issue as well, and while it’s rare that I ever interfere on the editorial side, I feel a responsibility to respond as the newspaper’s publisher to Mr. Epstein," he explained on July 17.

He then mentioned his involvment in the original chamber and JCC.

"... when I heard about the formation of a West Boca Chamber of Commerce in June - and which had nothing to do with the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce, I was at first surprised - and then very upset," Swill wrote. "I have spent the last two years trying to bring West and East together and now it appears -- at least if you believe the Sun Sentinel and Palm Beach Post -- that we have two 'competing' chambers in virtually one market."

Then he gets to the nitty gritty.

Considering that the Greater Boca Chamber’s strategic plan is to better serve the West, those who founded the West Boca Chamber could have been on the committee to represent the entire chamber out West. This would have then afforded businesses there the leverage of having the Greater Boca Chamber’s 55 years in the community, and its existing 1,700 company’s representing almost 35,000 employees, in full support of its western neighbors.

But no, it was apparently easier to start a new chamber, regardless of how that effort serves to divide rather than unite the community.

So now the Boca Raton News is supposed to run a press release about the “success” of the new West Boca Chamber of Commerce?

For the record, we did and will continue to publish the calendar of events for both organizations. But we will also work toward getting these two groups together rather than -- as it seems the “other” papers are trying to do - drive a wedge between East and West.

United we stand. Divided we fall.

Let’s stand.

Cue the slow clap.

Me, I don't like chambers of commerce much. I've met Swill and think he's a swell guy, though I'm not sure he should be allowed within 300 yards of a newsroom. I know Epstein and enjoy doing his 1470-AM radio show on Friday mornings (gratis, of course). But I ignored the dispute up until now because I just thought it was so damn Whoville silly.

But this latest manufactured attack against Epstein's patriotism is so ridiculous -- and egregious -- I had to mention it. After Johnston's scurrilous piece was published Sunday, Epstein talked to Goldin and revised his press release. This time he quoted Goldin saying, “we appreciate the chamber recognizing these veterans and their families.”

And why not?