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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Sen. Mike Bennett on the 'troublesome attachment'

Sen. Mike Bennett is still steaming mad at the Sunshine State News for it's so-called 'porn' piece it ran on him. (More here on the backstory.) He has written this letter and begun circulating it by email:

I am writing today to share the truth about the so-called “porn video” that has been widely and recklessly distributed by Sunshine State News without regard to the facts of the situation. 

Below is a link to a column that is running locally in the Sarasota Herald Tribune.  It includes an interview with my friend who sent the email. This column provides the clearest, most accurate account of what actually happened.  Anyone who reads Tom Lyons knows that he pulls no punches in his reporting and, calls it as he sees it. (Column is linked here)

Additionally, yesterday's Tallahassee Democrat includes a column by Bill Cotterell (who has covered the Legislature for 30 years), where he uses the kind of logic I, myself, have voiced when thinking about the situation.  His column reads:

“There's news, and then there's the cheap shot. Sunshine State News pantingly posted a video this week purporting to nab state Sen. Mike Bennett viewing four topless women on his computer screen in the Senate chamber. Bennett said he opened an e-mail, saw what it was and deleted it.


I don't know Bennett well, but that sounds plausible. To think he meant to open a porn advertisement, you must assume that he: (a) chose to do so in a large, circular public place where perhaps 30 to 50 people — including reporters and cameras — are above and behind him, literally looking over his shoulder, (b) believed that, with 37 other senators' screens showing bills and amendments or other written documents, nobody would notice a big color photo on his screen, and (c) knows the contents of messages before opening them. The story was picked up by the Huffington Post, The Mail in London and even the normally sensible St. Petersburg Times, in Bennett's district.  Tee-hee, snort, giggle. Cheap shot.”

I agree, it is a cheap shot but, it is also a cautionary tale.  In this day and age of tabloid journalism, this invasion of personal privacy could happen to anyone at anytime.  I have always tried to be careful in the use of my state computer for Senate business.  However, in this case, at the end of a long and difficult session and during an ongoing and contentious abortion debate, I took the opportunity to take a break and read a personal email from a friend that contained the inappropriate and troublesome attachment. 

Although this situation was not something I knowingly caused, I deeply regret and apologize for any embarrassment I have caused my wife, my family and friends and for any discredit and/or embarrassment I have brought to my fellow Senators, the Florida Legislature and the citizens of Florida.

 

Sincerely,

 

Michael S. “Mike” Bennett

MB/cre

 

In the spirit of Bennett's effort to attempt to set the record straight, we'd like to do the same. First off, there's something wrong with the Tallahassee Democrat saying The story was picked up by the Huffington Post, The Mail in London and even the normally sensible St. Petersburg Times, in Bennett's district.  Tee-hee, snort, giggle. Cheap shot.”

Contrary to what the Democrat says, the Herald/Times story (it is here) wasn't "picked up" -- that is, copied from a website. The Herald/Times did its own reporting (including this blog), which differed from those of the Daily Mail and HuffPo by questioning whether the senator really was looking at 'porn' in the first place. The other two news orgs just stated it as fact, which we didn't (Daily Mail hed: "Mike Bennett caught watching porn on Senate floor;" HuffPo hed: Mike Bennett, Florida State Senator, Caught Looking At Porn"). The other news orgs didn't speak to Bennett. We did.

So the "normally sensible St. Petersburg Times" reported out the facts with the evidence at hand. The following day Bennett called to thank us for being fair. Hardly a "cheap shot."

The Sunshine State News, though, took us to task, noting Among our critics is Marc Caputo, a red-meat-eating Miami Herald reporter I've long admired. Marc looks, sees no exposure, just women in bikinis, 4 seconds of no-porn, and what's the fuss?

False. We realized there'd be a fuss. That's why we wrote about it. But we're just not ready to call it "porn." One of the reasons it's difficult to determine if it's "porn" -- a serious charge -- is that the SSN blacked out the tops of the women. It altered the photos. At least one woman wore a top. The beach-babe pic would certainly classify as pornography in Afghanistan, but Just Google "free pornography" and see if it looks like anything Bennett was looking at.

-- Marc Caputo, Herald/Times

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 12:34pm]

    

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