There is a reality about this business that has always made me uncomfortable:
Sometimes I write things that friends take personal exception to.
These friends are the newsmakers themselves, often elected officials or people who work in local government who I’ve built relationships with.
Such is the case this week. Thursday’s blog centered around the County Commission’s discussion on travel for conferences. It was not favorable to Commissioner Holly Davis, whose attempts to increase the travel budget went nowhere with her colleagues.
As expected, Holly did not appreciate the blog. She sent me a text at 11 p.m. Wednesday, an hour after it was posted, to let me know how wrong and unfair I am. She said she was hoping to get some relaxation this weekend and the blog ruined it.
Two things happen when I get a response like that, almost simultaneously:
For No. 1, that’s the automatic mechanism hard-nosed reporters such as myself are taught over the years. We write the tough stuff and thin-skinned politicians can’t handle the truth, as Col. Nathan R. Jessup would say.
Frankly, this approach was much easier in the Chronicle newsroom. I usually had editors and Publisher Gerry Mulligan to hide behind (though not always, and those weren’t fun days), so the angry politician dealt with my bosses.
In fact, it often went like this:
Angry Politician: “I’m angry! How dare you write that about me?”
Innocent reporter: “Talk to Gerry.”
An hour later I’d get called into Gerry’s office.
Gerry: “Angry Politician says everything we printed about him is untrue.”
Innocent reporter: “I’ll write a correction!”
Or something like that.
It’s considered a badge of honor in the news biz when politicians react angrily to stories. It shows we hit the sweet spot; a light shines where someone would rather it stay shadowy.
I’ve had politicians and their friends yell at me, call me names, accuse me of purposely writing falsehoods about them and, on a few occasions, tried to have me fired. They’ve hung up on me and closed doors in my face. They’ve posted unflattering photos on social media in an attempt to embarrass me.
One left me a phone message at the newspaper office. The message said: Go to hell.
I’m not complaining. If my name was in news stories all the time I’d be a little defensive about it too. Comes with the territory.
So politicians reacting angrily to criticism or news coverage is routine and should be expected.
It’s the second thought — self-doubt — that isn’t as easy to deal with.
I’ve made friends with politicians over the years. Not all of them, of course, but friendships strike up during political campaigns and spill over into elected office.
When I retired from the Chronicle in August 2021 and started up Just Wright Citrus, the relationships built through Cattle Dog chats became even more vital.
Other than the stories for Florida Politics, I rarely conduct on-the-record interviews anymore. Much of what you read here comes from informal conversations with a host of newsmakers and those behind the scenes.
Well, this is a risk-reward type of thing.
The reward is clear. Building friendly relationships with county commissioners allows me to see things from their perspective. Empathy goes a long way to understanding their challenges.
The risk is clear as well. I make friends with these commissioners and there’s always the chance, as happened this week, I’m going to write something that offends them.
I’m sorry Holly is upset about Thursday’s blog. I’d hate to lose our friendship over it. But I have a duty here, one that Just Wright Citrus sponsoring advertisers and thousands of readers have entrusted me with, to explain things as I see them. I’ll be as nice as I can and try to refrain from making it personal.
— Thanks for the well-wishes after Tuesday's minor crash on S.R. 44. Many people noted the Inverness traffic and wondered why the city would allow a Chipotle restaurant to have a drive-thru that clearly isn’t big enough to prevent cars from stacking up on the roadway turning in. The same issue exists at both the Inverness and Crystal River Dunkin' Donuts.
And the Dunkin’ Donuts set up in Beverly Hills is just plain weird.
So, the question: Are local governments doing everything they can with developers to prevent traffic issues? We’ll explore that soon.
Have a safe and fun Citrus County weekend, friends.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.