We're Full of Crap -- Film at 11!

You get used to fakery in South Florida — the inflated boobs, the pie-in-the-sky sales pitch. But when the flimflammery comes from reporters, Tailpipe draws the line. Bogus "news" is creeping into local broadcasts via video news releases (VNR), which are filmed segments produced by public relations companies and sent to news stations around the country.

Source Watch, a project of the Vermont-based Center for Media & Democracy, recently released the report "Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed," which over a ten-month period found that 77 stations used VNRs without fully disclosing their origins.

Some stations behaved worse than others, but one of the most egregious examples came from our own local UPN affiliate, WBFS-33, "South Florida's Hot Choice for News." On March 20, morning news co-anchors Jade Alexander and Angela Rae introduced a segment called "Work Woes" with this snappy exchange:

Rae: "Check this out."

Alexander: "OK."

Rae: "According to a new survey, 55 percent of Americans are either looking for a new job or open to new offers."

Alexander: [eyebrows raised] "But I want you to check this out. It's not always about money. That's not all these people are looking for."

The ensuing two-minute segment prominently featured advice from two managing directors at Towers Perrin on retaining employees, and it touted a work-place survey by that large management consulting firm.

As Source Watch discovered, however, the entire segment had been produced by D S Simon Productions and paid for by — surprise, surprise — Towers Perrin. WBFS ran the segment without disclosing that and even went a step further to hide the tape's origin: A station employee rerecorded the voice-over but used verbatim the original script written by Simon Productions. At one point, the station inserted the network logo into the segment. (The station manager didn't return a phone message requesting comment.)

Not that WBFS didn't come up with a little original material for the segment. Although most of Rae and Alexander's intro was lifted from the VNR's original PR script, the "check this out" phrase was a piece of unexpurgated, WBFS-produced dialogue.

Children Are Waiting

State Sen. Nan Rich (D-Sunrise) has proposed a bill that would allow judges to sanction adoptions by gay foster parents, in part overturning a 29-year-old state law that forbids adoptions by homosexual couples. Florida is the only state with such a standard, say supporters, who view the law as a kind of outdated Jim Crow restriction on a minority.

So where's the bill now? Introduced in February in the Senate's Children and Family Committee, it failed to get the necessary support, while 709 Florida foster kids await adoption and countless gay couples stand ready to pitch in.

This week, when the session resumes after Easter break, the bill has a final chance at being at least considered by committee. What are its odds? Can you say zilch? Republican House Speaker Allan Bense (R-Panama City) said he would block any movement of the bill, and Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton), chairman of the House Future of Florida's Families Committee, who last month said he'd consider the bill if it gained more support in the Senate, didn't return a call from the 'Pipe. Maybe he was still smarting from the backlash: The Tallahassee Democrat reported that the right honorable gentleman's office received 50 phone calls in opposition to the bill in the two days after he said he might consider it.

Sen. Skip Campbell (D-Tamarac) figures Galvano was just saying what many conservatives were thinking. "They all say the same thing," Campbell says. "There's really no empirical studies out there to suggest homosexual parents turn a kid into a homosexual. They say it's the right policy to at least give a kid a steady home."

Campbell chairs the committee in which Rich introduced the bill. "It's two Democrats against four Republicans," he says. "She just has to get two votes or have two people not show up. I'd love to get it out of committee, but there's just no way." The count in the Senate at the moment is 14 Democrats, 26 Republicans.

Catching up with the other 49 states may yet be a way off.

Zero-Competition Democracy

Don't tell anybody, but Tailpipe is working on a deal to get into politics. The 'Pipe thinks the state House of Representatives would be a great place to start. It's just a matter of carving out a Tailpipe-friendly district (with the help of the status-quo-lovin' House incumbents), going through the formality of an actual election, then holding tight until term limits kick in (a balmy eight years). The boys in the backroom are working on a variation of the traditionally amoeboid district. Would you believe arachnoid? Tailpipe's district will have a tight center that includes all the auto salvage yards along Dixie Highway, with a few spidery extensions to give the district a little heterogeneity (like a westward loop along I-595 to include the 'Pipe's brother-in-law in Weston and a southeastern extension to lasso in his best friend, Alternator Al, in Hollywood).

That's how we do politics here in South Florida. It's a wonderful thing.

Zero-competition democracy reigns in the people's political palace. With representatives serving two-year terms, the state House is designed to have new blood and fresh energy circulating through the revolving door of the election process, they say. Uh, make that new blood and fresh energy that's got connections.

Take the next round of legislative voting. Of the 17 House seats that serve parts of Broward, eight of the incumbents — four Republicans and four Democrats — have yet to draw challengers. In fact, three of the eight — Republicans Ralph Azra and Mike Davis and Democrat Jack Seiler — weren't opposed in 2004 either. If no challengers come forward by the July 21 qualifying date, the eight lucky candidates will sail back into office without the expense of even a single lawn sign.

There's such a dearth of political competition in this year's House races that only three incumbents are being challenged. The hotly contested House seats are, of course, the vacant ones, with five of the six open seats drawing at least four candidates.

The sixth open seat, though, is further evidence of how Broward's political scene is a big club run by insiders. With Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan forced out of his District 100 seat by term limits, only one person has signed up to replace him. His name: Evan Boyd Jenne. That's, ahem, Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne's little boy.

Even with a crime-reporting scandal that leads all the way to the top of BSO, Jenne still has enough political capital in Broward to ensure that no one runs against his kid. After all, it would just be so tough for Little Jenne — a Democrat like papa — to start his political career by actually campaigning. Eeuw!

— As told to Edmund Newton

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