TALLAHASSEE — During debate Thursday, a new Capitol Web outfit called the Sunshine State News captured video images of Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, looking at what appeared to be a Girls-Gone-Wild-type of photo on his computer.
The image of the scantily attired beach-babe foursome was up for about four seconds before Bennett closed it, according to the SSN video.
Bennett said the image "popped up" when he clicked an e-mail sent from an old friend to his private account. He said he closed it as quickly as possible, but it wasn't "porn" as SSN reports.
"I didn't know it was in there. As soon as I realized what it was, I shut it," Bennett said. "I don't know how many girls there were, what they looked like or what they were wearing. I have no idea what the picture looked like because when I saw what it was, I closed it.
''I had (Sen.) Eleanor Sobel behind me on one side and Sen. Frederica Wilson on the other side. On the side of me is (Sen.) Nancy Detert, who has expressed her dislike for me for a long time. And then there's the Democrat, Dan Gelber, who's running for attorney general. And we were all talking about these issues.
''Are you out of your mind? There is no way that anybody would knowingly open up something like this in that situation."
In the background of the video, Gelber's voice says: "It disrespects too many women in the state of Florida." He's talking about a bill. Not the picture.
The Sunshine State News isn't mainstream media, has unknown investors behind it and told St. Petersburg Times reporter Lucy Morgan a few months ago it would "emphasize business and politics."
SSN wanted to see Bennett's e-mails, but he and the Senate declined, saying personal e-mail information isn't public record.
Bennett said the episode shows the dangers of the Internet. He said he's sure someone will use this against him politically in a "misleading'' way.
"Do you know what's on every e-mail before you open it? None of us do," he said. "This could happen to anyone."
On Tuesday, Bennett released a statement on the incident:
"Last week, during final deliberations on the Senate floor to fulfill my sworn duty to do the people's business, I opened e-mails sent to me and discovered one disturbing and offensive transmission that I immediately moved to the trash.
"Unfortunately, this reality was not enough to dissuade an internet-based reporter from taking an innocent act — opening e-mail — and sensationalizing it into something it never was in an attempt to smear my reputation. As for the reporter, his refusal to let the facts get in the way of a good story speaks for itself.
"Anyone who has ever used e-mail understands that you don't control all incoming messages, and that subject lines often are used to mislead people into opening messages that defy decency. This past week, I found out just how it feels when you're on the other side of one."