John DeGroot was taking a cigarette break at the North Broward Medical Center this morning and he was mad as hell.
"The fucking Sun-Sentinel is so asleep at the switch, it's just fucking embarrassing," he told me on a cell phone call.
You should know DeGroot. He's a 21-year veteran of the Sun-Sentinel, where he was a reporter, editor, and writing coach. He was also a key assistant to former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth. And he was a top aide to Ken Jenne until he realized that the Broward sheriff should probably be incarcerated in the jail rather than run it. (He also uncovered the sheriff's dirty tricks campaign against Miami Herald crime reporter Wanda DeMarzo).
And in between all that, the man managed to write a play about Hemingway called Papa, which is now playing in San Francisco.
Another hobby of DeGroot's is the North Broward Hospital District, which happens to be the fifth-largest public health system in the United States. That's why he was at the medical center, to watch the monthly District public meeting. DeGroot has been investigating NBHD for years, a pursuit that began during his stint at the AG's office. What he didn't know until he got there -- and what the tax-subsidized district apparently neglected to tell the press -- was that after the regular meeting, the Jeb Bush-appointed district board was going to interview candidates for the district's CEO position, the post vacated by ousted Wil Trower, whose tenure was marked by rampant corruption in the ranks.
There were four candidates to be interviewed, including Alan Levine, the head of the state's Agency For Health Care Administration. In other words this was important. This was newsworthy. And nobody seemed to know anything about it outside the district but John DeGroot.
DeGroot called the Sentinel. Couldn't get through. And the Miami Herald -- well, that newspaper has pretty much given up on covering anything north of Sunrise Boulevard.
"What makes this so egregious are the billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives that are directly affected by the North Broward Hospital District," DeGroot told me. "And the Sun-Sentinel does not care at all. They pay more attention to Cuba or Haiti in their coverage.
"They should be fucking embarrassed and the worst thing about this is probably they aren't even embarrassed."
The message DeGroot left with Editor Earl Maucker's secretary seemed to have an impact. After the interviews began, Sentinel reporter Jamie Malernee arrived to cover it. Malernee is a good reporter -- but she doesn't cover the health care beat. That would be Bob LaMendola, but they probably had him too busy with the important work done by the Sentinel's (How Can We) Help (You) Team.
"It reminds of Bill Moyers' old bromide: 'Reporters are paid to explain things they don't understand,'" DeGroot said during a break in the action. "[Malernee] seems perfectly bright. But she has no fucking idea what's going on."
DeGroot did. He called at precisely 2:02 p.m. and told me what the headline would be in tomorrow's newspaper: Levine chosen to lead hospital district. They hadn't made any decision yet and the interviews are continuing as a I post this, but DeGroot guaranteed it.
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"There are four horses in the race and only one of them has four legs," he said, laughing. "Levine is a master of the sound byte. He's very good on his feet, very articulate. He's going to be the guy. And the rationale is that the governor has gambled on his Medicaid reform and a big part of that is in Broward. Levine is going to come down here and help make it work."
My gratitude goes out to John, the newest official honorary Pulp correspondent.
Off To A Good Start: Trevor Aaronson debuts in Miami New Times today with a behind-the-scenes look at the media circus surrounding the "Liberty City 7." Trevor, who did some great journalism in Hollywood and elsewhere for New Times Broward*Palm Beach, was recruited to help shore up the Miami newspaper by Chuck Strouse, his former editor at the Broward paper.