In 1844, a writer produced a blockbuster story for the New York Sun claiming that a balloonist had crossed the Atlantic Ocean in an astonishing three days. This news caused a sensation but it was a complete hoax, and the Sun had to run a grudging correction two days later.
The author, by the way, turned out to be Edgar Allan Poe. His hoax was not a desperate grab for personal publicity. He had not previously been part of public entertainment about wife swapping. Nor was he scheming to get his own reality series ("New this fall: Buried Alive, 9 p.m. Wednesdays").
Had there been a CNN at the time, of course, Poe would have had to go to greater lengths to pull it off, perhaps even producing an actual balloon for the cameras to track breathlessly, second by second, wafting in from the east. The mutton-chopped experts of the day would have been interviewed live, or at least, the ones who agreed the thing must have come from Europe — the skeptical ones would have gotten shorter shrift, and soon been dismissed from the all-important spotlight. Poe, once revealed, would have been reviled: "Melancholy loner," the crawl at the bottom of the screen would say.
But this is not my point. This past week, our state's new U.S. senator, George LeMieux, delivered his first speech on the floor of the Senate. His main topic was that we are in a lot of debt, which certainly is important.
Did the senator offer a solution? He did not. He did declare that we ought to be cutting taxes these days, which I am thinking would make that debt thing worse, unless we also cut spending. The senator did not really get into that part. We have to cut one of these things: defense, Social Security, Medicare. Or we have to raise more money. Or else keep borrowing it like the drunkard deadbeats that we are. Hey, look over there! A boy in a balloon!
But that is not my point. I noticed the other day that Florida is demanding $20,000 for the public to be able to inspect the public records of Holly Benson, who just resigned her job as secretary of the state's Agency for Health Care Administration. Benson is said to be running for state attorney general.
Apparently Benson's e-mails, memos and such contain so much sensitive information (medical stuff, you know) that it will take many important lawyers many important hours to vet them, which is why it will cost $20,000 for anybody who wants to see them, including her potential opponents.
I have two questions: How much just to poke through, say, her wastebasket or her desk calendar? Can I get a better deal on that? Also: Do I want Holly Benson to be my attorney general if I have to pay $20,000 to exercise my right as a Floridian to read her public records?
But this is not my point. Did you see that the Taser people told police this week (1) don't zap people in the chest while (2) pretending that is not a big change? Or that the president of the United States is not going to talk to television networks if he doesn't like their commentary, which is a dangerous and arrogant thing, no matter which president?
Or, last, that Tampa Bay Water voted to spend big money last week, as I understand it, to hire some guys to hire some guys to maybe hire some guys to fix that reservoir? Shouldn't the contract say, "By the way, if this thing gets screwed up again, the consultant has to pay for it"? That's my point.