Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Does Rick Scott read newspapers?

We couldn't find a picture of Florida Gov. Rick Scott reading a newspaper. Here he is during a radio interview.
We couldn't find a picture of Florida Gov. Rick Scott reading a newspaper. Here he is during a radio interview.

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.

Thus was born Rick Scott, the Governor Who Does Not Read Newspapers. 

"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
 
 
"Said he didn't read newspapers," Palm Beach Post, Aug. 6, 2011
 
A Wonkette blogger went as far to declare in June that Scott "has never read a newspaper in his life."
 
Really? PolitiFact Florida wanted to know. In this case, we're not fact-checking an individual statement -- after all, a reporter asked Scott if he reads the Florida papers, and he answered no. We were simply curious whether the governor of the fourth-largest state in the country has truly ignored the traditional printed press.


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.

Times/Herald staff writers Steve Bousquet and Michael C. Bender contributed to this report.