WEST PALM BEACH — With in-over-her-head West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio routinely blaming her administration’s shortcomings on Gossip Extra, is it any wonder that, Friday afternoon, her steroid-loving police officers decided to throw handcuffs on journalist George Bennett?
And with Muoio’s fellow Ibis Golf & Country Club resident, and Palm Beach County Sheriff, Ric Bradshaw finding it appropriate to blame the press for the public’s outrage at the shootings of unarmed civilians by his deputies, is it any wonder that one of his detectives’ ran surveillance on a TV reporter and assigned an informant to trying to get a blogger arrested?
There are noxious fumes wafting over Palm Beach County, and for once, they’re not coming from West Palm Beach’s water plant.
Two-bit politicians empowered by a few moronic voters have taken it upon themselves to crush critics in the media.
In a sense, it’s not surprising. In a democracy, voters always get what they deserve.
They voted twice for an incompetent former school teacher to watch over West Palm Beach, and so they’re getting a sub-par City Hall, dysfunctional police department, crumbling infrastructure — and, thanks to photos of a reporter in handcuffs, the clear message that West Palm Beach shouldn’t be on anyone’s list of places to visit.
They voted three times for a law enforcement dinosaur who believes policing is about shooting unarmed civilians instead of serving them, so they got a $500 million-a-year bureaucratic behemoth where millions are poured into defending embarrassing lawsuits.
Now, the chickens have come home to roost — and the First Amendment right to a free press is substantially weakened.
Frankly, the area’s out-of-town corporate media is partly to blame.
They lost their teeth. They lost their clout. They lost the ability to keep politicians and police in check.
A few years back, any cop anywhere in Palm Beach County would’ve thought twice before cuffing a reporter at a peaceful protest — on a public street.
Now, with loudmouths like Muoio and Bradshaw cheerleading in the background, cops seem to think nothing of harassing a reporter doing his job.
Palm Beach Post reporter Bennett was covering a peaceful protest outside the downtown condo building where State Attorney Dave Aronberg lives when he was cuffed by a WPB officer with suspiciously-bulging muscles and sent to headquarters in the back of a squad car.
He was issued a citation for trespassing, never mind that Aronberg’s condo building is also home to thousands of people.
Never mind that the protest was led by A DOZEN or so citizens who posed no threat to the public. They were just unhappy with Aronberg’s decision to let a grand jury deal with last year’s shooting death by a Palm Beach Gardens police officer of church drummer Corey Jones.
I’ve known George Bennett for years. If anybody in local journalism were to be arrested for anything, Bennett would never be a prime suspect. Even if he is working for people who don’t deserve him, George might be the most-level headed, careful, even-keeled, reliable guy in town. I hope his fellow churchgoers and the parents of his children’s schoolmates will remember his handcuffs when they choose who to vote for.
Of course, the Post‘s response has been totally inadequate and unprofessional. Publisher Tim Burke issued a silly statement and waited for Bennett to be released. Any other publisher would’ve been on the phone with the chief of police, Muoio, Aronberg and freedom of the press groups to demand the reporter’s immediate release.
But then, since the Post wholeheartedly embraces Muoio and endorsed her twice, Burke doesn’t have the fortitude in his groin to pick up the phone.
Neither will he get out of his diapers long enough to order the personnel files of every officer involved in the arrest. This being WPB PD, we’re fairly sure there are some juicy stories of wrongdoing in those files.
But let’s not single out the dying Atlanta-owned newspaper.
When Muoio’s public information henchman used the city’s website to blast CBS12 reporter Kathleen Walter last year, the station’s response from then-newsroom boss Mike McCormick was to take the offending bureaucrat to lunch.
When a PBSO detective staked out the house of WPTV reporter Katie Lagrone moments before workers with the Florida Department of Children and Family Services investigated anonymous allegations of child neglect, the station’s response was a big zero.
And when anti-Bradshaw blogger Mark Dougan‘s home was raided by the FBI three months ago on allegations of obscure computer crimes that have yet to be filed, the media here collectively chuckled and rolled their eyes while the media in Russia — yes, Russia! — made a big deal out of Dougan asking for political asylum.
Now, photos of Bennett in handcuffs are spreading on the web for everyone to see.
It’s testimony to the area’s political instability.
It tells the public loud and clear that police enforcement here is out-of-control.
It speaks volume about the clout of the local media.
And it reflects the collective under-education of voters who, since yesterday, have accepted the arrest of someone who watches out for them as just another inconvenience of life in Palm Beach County.