Meet Florida state Senator Daphne Campbell, a Democrat who represents parts of Miami-Dade County.
She serves on a number of Senate committees, including one that has oversight over the communications, energy and public utilities industries.
Perhaps that’s why, shortly after Hurricane Irma hit her district in September 2017, she felt empowered to text Florida Power & Light lobbyist John Holley and ask him to get power restored to her home quickly, as well as the homes of her children and sister.
According to a story reported at the time by Rich Robinson, CEO and publisher of the local news website RiseNews.net, at first Campbell was proud she had used her connection to – and influence over – Florida Power & Light to get what some might have perceived as special treatment.
Campbell was so proud, in fact, she allowed Robinson to take photos of the texts on her phone. Here’s just a portion of the exchange Campbell allowed Robinson to see:
A few minutes later, Robinson reported, Campbell again reached out to Holley, texting, “Thank you very much but my sister one [sic] still not on yet. Million thanks. My sick mom thanked you too.”
Parenthetically, Campbell’s mother had actually been dead for some years before that September 2017 text exchange. A spokesman for the senator later clarified that she had really been referring to a close friend whom, he said, she just happened to refer to as her “mom.”
Regardless, watch Robinson’s full video for yourself:
The story was picked up in short order by other news outlets, including POLITICO, The Miami Herald and Miami New Times.
At some point between the time Robinson published his story online and the other publications wrote their own versions, Campbell’s prideful tone had turned not remorseful or apologetic, but defensive – even, according to Robinson, untruthful.
The senator wrote on her Facebook page that she had never given anyone permission to take photos of her text exchange with Holley. As a matter of fact, she actually claimed that her phone had been stolen and surreptitiously photographed at the event where Robinson had learned of the texts.
I spoke with Robinson, who assured me Campbell had, in fact, shown him the texts and allowed him to photograph them.
Sadly, Campbell’s reaction to the post-hurricane storm of controversy she faced has become all too familiar in today’s harsh anti-news media environment. Too many politicians and other public officials at all levels of government have aped our president’s “fake news” refrain, or, in this case, “false news.”
Campbell’s tussles with the news media have not waned since September. In early May, when she attended a Miami Shores Village Council meeting to provide members with a legislative update, Robinson was there to cover her remarks. As she was leaving village hall, Robinson shot B-roll of her and her assistant driving out of the parking lot.
Later, he found out she had called the police about him.
Lest you think Robinson is the only journalist Campbell has targeted, consider Miami Herald reporter Sarah Blaskey.
Campbell is in the final weeks of a tough primary campaign against fellow Democrat Joseph Pizzo, a former Miami-Dade County assistant state attorney. On August 9, Blaskey was covering a forum at which both Campbell and Pizzo appeared. Like any good reporter would do, she used the occasion to ask questions of the candidates. Campbell’s reaction?
You may have guessed it.
The contempt for responsible journalists during the current midterm election cycle has done much more than just make national correspondents feel concerned for their safety at rallies at which the president speaks. It is putting some local journalists – who are merely attempting to serve their communities by seeking and reporting the truth – in proverbial cross hairs.
I have often advised journalists to “watch your back, but don’t back down.”
Maybe I should add this: Watch your rear-view mirror. A local public official may have called the police on you just for doing your job.