Two weeks ago this wildly popular columnist wrote a squib defending the Orlando Sentinel, of all things, for their October series investigating deaths from the prescription drug OxyContin. Predictions that monkeys would take wing and swine recite poetry when Slug wrote a kind word about the Sentinel failed to materialize. In an odd twist, however, the Sentinel has gone out of its way to beat itself up for portraying a convicted felon as a modern Ward Cleaver.
After "Drug deals" appeared in this space Jan. 29, the Sentinel went public Feb. 1 with the fact that David Rokisky, an ex-cop upon whom reporter Doris Bloods-worth lavished five stories, was not as he appeared. Turns out the paper's favorite "accidental addict" has convictions for drug conspiracy and forgery. But the Sentinel didn't know that until Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin, did a check on Rokisky and detailed their findings in a Dec. 15 letter to Sentinel managing editor Elaine Kramer. The Sentinel quoted Kramer saying that Feb. 1.
Four days later the paper ran a story stating that Rokisky's past was known by "one or more people in the newsroom" in early November -- before the Purdue letter arrived -- making Kramer look silly. Taking a page from the Bush administration, the Sentinel launched an official investigation. Public editor Manning Pynn, likely awakened from an afternoon nap, got righteous and indignant. "After several hours of initial interviews, though, I can confirm that there was a basic flaw in the Sentinel's research of Rokisky," he wrote Feb. 8. (Let's hope the paper is paying top dollar for that kind of insight.)
Pynn went on to quote from an article written by former Sentinel editor Tim Franklin: "Our mantra should be: Transparency builds trust." Right. Except when other media get interested. Then it's time to play duck and cover.
You see, there's a troubling question about the OxyContin/Rokisky/Sentinel flap that hasn't been cleared up: When Bloodsworth interviewed Rokisky last summer for her stories, did she know he was -- in addition to being convicted on drug and forgery charges -- a well-compensated spokesman for the doctor that detoxed him? If so, why didn't she report that fact? And if not, why not?
I called Bloodsworth to ask her about the relationship between Rokisky and Dr. Rick Sponaugle of Florida Detox in Tarpon Springs, but she didn't want to be quoted. Then she stopped talking and referred me to Sentinel spokesperson Ashley Allen, who promised to shop my questions around the newsroom. Allen called back a few days later to say she couldn't talk either. "It wouldn't be appropriate at this point for me to go into any details until we have completed our investigation."
Dr. Rick Sponaugle, the medical director of Florida Detox in Tarpon Springs where Rokisky went to have the OxyContin flushed out of his system, says he often gives patients free treatment in return for their cooperation with the press. "We have financially assisted all patients who are willing to go public with their story." Rokisky was one of the patients who got $10,000 worth of treatment for free in return for cooperating with the media, Sponaugle says.
Which is acceptable, maybe, if readers are aware of it and can weigh his comments accordingly. But Bloodsworth didn't mention it in her five-part series about Rokisky's treatment. That's a problem when Bloodsworth calls Rokisky "another success story for Dr. Rick Sponaugle, the Tarpon Springs anesthesiologist who fine-tuned the process called rapid detox."
Sponaugle says he never told Bloods-worth about the story-for-treatment deal. But, he adds, neither was he hiding it. He did it all the time.
The fact that Rokisky was both a convicted felon and a shill for Florida Detox makes him a very bad choice indeed for a human-interest angle, and seriously discredits Bloodsworth's otherwise excellent series. And though I'm still troubled by the fact that it was Purdue Pharma, in full damage-control mode, that brought to light allegations against Rokisky and the Sentinel, sometimes you gotta give the devil his due.
Lynum goes apeshit
Government in the sunshine kinda bugs Orlando city commissioner Daisy Lynum. So much so that on Feb. 10, Lynum shut down a meeting between herself, two other commissioners and representatives of the 55 W. Church Street development after Å¸ber-gadfly -- and Lynum archenemy -- David van Gelder showed up at a public meeting at City Hall ... WITH A FREAKIN' TAPE RECORDER!
Eight minutes into the meeting, Lynum noticed something. "Excuse me, whose tape is this?" she demanded.
"Mine," van Gelder responded.
"No. I want it out," Lynum said. "We don't have to have a tape."
"It's my tape," van Gelder responded. "I'm leaving it in."
That set Lynum off. "Get it out!" she screeched. "Or I terminate the meeting. ... I don't care what you do, you don't intimidate me!" (The whole exchange was, happily, caught on tape.)
Then Lynum stormed across the conference room and ripped the recorder's plug from the wall. Van Gelder plugged it back in and demanded that a city lawyer clarify the issue. "I warned you to unplug," Lynum raged.
So they waited for city attorney Amy Iennaco. A cop and a security guard showed up, ready to "export" van Gelder from the room. When Iennaco said van Gelder was within his rights, Lynum took her ball and went home. "It is obtrusive to me. I'm terminating this meeting."
It's nice to see elected officials conducting city business like mature, responsible adults.