Does Rick Scott read newspapers?
By Becky Bowers
Published on Tuesday, August 16th, 2011 at 12:44 p.m.
Rick Scott, health care CEO turned candidate for governor, told reporters in October 2010 that he didn't read any newspapers that had his name in them. That went for blogs and ads, too.
"I would feel so horrible. I could never do it," he said.
In January, the freshly inaugurated Gov. Scott was asked by reporters if he read Florida papers. "No," he answered.
"Doesn't read the state newspapers that are reporting on the issues facing Florida," Florida Times-Union, Jan. 21, 2011
"Insists he does not read newspapers," Palm Beach Post, Feb. 2, 2011
"Brags that he doesn't read Florida newspapers," St. Petersburg Times, Feb. 3, 2011
"Doesn't read Florida newspapers." St. Petersburg Times, Feb. 6, 2011
"By his own admission, doesn't read state newspapers," Florida Times-Union, Feb. 18, 2011
"Doesn't read Florida news," St. Petersburg Times, June 17, 2011
"Claims not (to) read newspapers," Orlando Sentinel, June 20, 2011
"Claims he never reads the newspapers in his state," Palm Beach Post, June 21, 2011
"Says he rarely reads newspapers," Tampa Tribune, June 21, 2011
"Says he does not read Florida newspapers," St. Petersburg Times, June 23, 2011
"Says he does not read the newspapers of the state he governs," St. Petersburg Times, June 24, 2011
"Says he doesn’t read Florida newspapers," Miami Herald, July 1, 2011
Turns out the same day Scott told a roomful of reporters he didn't read their work, his staff gave him a 27-page packet of news stories. It featured the full text of 15 articles from eight Florida news outlets, plus the Financial Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and CNN.
The national stories tackled state pensions, job creation and the health care law. The Florida stories covered immigration, high-speed rail, agriculture, school reform, the Florida Cabinet, a new agency chief and Florida's suit against the federal health care law. Five headlines had Scott's name in them.
"He has always read news stories," said Brian Burgess, the governor's communications director. "He stays very well informed."
Burgess explained the briefings started during Scott's campaign for governor. When he took office, they became part of the public record. Seven days a week, a communications office staffer stays up to catch breaking news stories as they hit the Web. The night briefing -- which also includes details of Scott's schedule, speeches and anything else he might need for his day -- gets carried to the mansion, then printed so Scott has it in the morning. A staffer combs the news again at 5 a.m. to update Scott's three-ring briefing binder before 7.
And if news breaks? Scott carries an iPad.
The briefings take hours to prepare, Burgess said: "It's been a major responsibility." And they've grown: Steve MacNamara, a Tallahassee insider who became Scott's chief of staff in June, suggested adding images of front pages of more than a dozen newspapers from around the state, so Scott could take a quick pulse.
Why not clarify the record and Scott's answers?
"Anytime I had the opportunity to push back, I tried to do that," Burgess said. "But it wasn't the biggest myth we tried to refute."
We dug up a tape from Scott's Jan. 19 no-news declaration.
Scott's voice was clearer than the questioner's. But here's what we heard:
JOURNALIST: "During the campaign you told me you rarely read the press about your campaign. Do you read the papers, the Florida media now, as governor?"
SCOTT: "Uh, no."
JOURNALIST: "What's your thinking there?"
SCOTT: "Well, I get some briefings, so if it's something I need to know about, I do. … I believe that what I'll do is if I read what everybody writes every day, then I’ll try to pacify everybody so you guys will only write positive things about me. I understand that that's not your job. I've got daughters and my wife. They'll do that for me. … I have a belief, I have an agenda. But there's, uh, I get a press briefing on some things. One thing I do try to do is follow what's happening in other states, what people are proposing in other states, to see if that applies here."
Scott had tried to explain the briefings. And at least one media outlet reported them. But the declaration that Scott didn't read newspapers stuck.
By summer, the Governor's Office pushed back another way.
In July, a political blogger noticed the governor's staff had added a half-hour to his morning schedule to review "Florida and national news," which soon became a "media briefing." A Palm Beach Post reporter called the Governor's Office for an explanation.
The item was added to Scott's schedule to challenge the impression he doesn't keep up, the communications director said.
"It's a myth that he doesn’t read news. He just doesn’t pick up a paper and generally avoids 'political horse race' stories," Burgess told the Post. "He focuses on substantive issues and doesn’t care for stories pertaining to political intrigue."
The story selection does reflect Scott's campaign preference to avoid stories about himself, such as those political horse-race pieces or, ah-hem, poll stories.
Take Aug. 6, 2011. Scott's briefing included more than 20 articles, from the S&P downgrade of America's credit rating to the son of Florida State University's head coach battling a rare blood disease. More than half came from Florida newspapers. A story that was not included in that day's briefing: the one that tracked Scott's approval rating, which had risen to 35 percent.
"He doesn't like to read those things," Burgess said. "He doesn't have a real use for them."
On Aug. 9, Scott held a lengthy question-and-answer session with reporters in his office in the state Capitol.
Earlier, he had disclosed that one of his first monthly "work days" will be a stint as a newspaper reporter.
"You know, I always wanted to buy a newspaper. I even looked to buy a newspaper," Scott said.
"I like newspapers, and I like the paper newspaper," he said.
A copy of that day's Wall Street Journal rested on the desk behind him.
Sun Sentinel, "Broward Republicans gather to show unity, raise money," Oct. 8, 2010
Florida Times Union blog PolitiJax, "Rick Scott confident tax cuts will happen, says he doesn't read Florida newspapers," Jan. 19, 2011
Gov. Rick Scott, recording by St. Petersburg Times reporter Michael C. Bender, Jan. 19, 2011
St. Petersburg Times, "Rick Scott: Budget plan will cut taxes despite $3.6 billion shortfall," Jan. 20, 2011
Florida Times-Union, Littlepage: "After seeing plight of Texas, Floridians, brace yourselves," Jan. 21, 2011
Palm Beach Post, "Poll: Most Floridians don't believe Gov. Scott can keep pledge not to raise taxes," Feb. 2, 2011
Florida Times-Union, Littlepage: "Rick Scott isn't consulting much with his many peons," Feb. 18, 2011
St. Petersburg Times Buzz blog, "Scott launches newspaper writing campaign for himself," June 17, 2011
Orlando Sentinel, Maxwell: "Rick Scott pre-writes letters of praise for Floridians to send," June 20, 2011
Palm Beach Post, "Cerabino: Brain strain not necessary to praise Scott," June 21, 2011
Tampa Tribune, "Scott site wants you to let newspapers know how good he is," June 21, 2011
St. Petersburg Times, "Brian Burgess is the man behind Gov. Rick Scott's message, but doesn't always play nice with press," June 23, 2011
St. Petersburg Times, Carlton: "Does Gov. Scott really care what you think?" June 24, 2011
Miami Herald, Editorial: "Vexed in Florida," July 1, 2011
Pensacola News Journal, "Editorial: Needed step by Scott," July 29, 2011
Palm Beach Post, "Gov. Rick Scott rolls up sleeves to fix image," Aug. 6, 2011
Wonkette, "Rick Scott Will Ghostwrite Your Letter to the Editor Praising Rick Scott," June 20, 2011
Interviews with Brian Burgess, communications director for Gov. Rick Scott, Aug. 11-12
Media briefing for Gov. Rick Scott, Jan. 19, 2011
St. Petersburg Times, "Gov. Scott picks Tallahassee insider MacNamara as chief of staff," June 25, 2011
Media briefing for Gov. Rick Scott, Aug. 6, 2011
St. Petersburg Times, "Gov. Rick Scott's approval rating rises to 35 percent," Aug. 6, 2011
SaintPetersblog, "Rick Scott said he doesn't read newspapers, but his official schedule for today suggests otherwise, " July 28, 2011
SaintPetersblog, "Has Rick Scott already given up reading Florida newspapers?" July 29, 2011
Palm Beach Post blog Post on Politics, "Scott reading the news is old news, staff says," July 29, 2011
Researchers: Becky Bowers
Names in this article: Rick Scott