Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D
Last week, I wrote about the alleged power of the press and told you that it may not be as powerful as you may have thought. A well-established academic theory known as “Agenda Setting” holds that mass communication is not very effective in persuading people concerning what to THINK; but it can be quite effective in persuading people concerning what to THINK ABOUT. In the years before I founded Key West The Newspaper (The Blue Paper) here in 1994, I earned an advanced degree in mass communication and spent a number of years in advertising and public relations in New York City and Philadelphia, as well as down here in Florida. I also taught these topics, as well as journalism and marketing, at the college level. So I was exposed to the “academics” of mass communication.
Many critics dismiss advertising and public relations simply as “spin”– efforts to manipulate a hapless population. In essence, PROPAGANDA. But if we can accept the Theory of Agenda Setting, we have to accept the fact that, in most cases, even the best efforts of advertising and public relations professionals can persuade only a percentage of their audiences to even THINK ABOUT the ideas they are attempting to communicate. But that is no small deal– because, if the message being communicated is truthful and attention-grabbing, a percentage of the audience will not only think about it, they will accept and act on it. Continue reading
Everybody has their own opinions about the “media.” Some say that the media is too powerful and often unfair. Others recognize the important role the media plays in our democracy. Keep in mind that journalism is the only business specifically protected by no less than the First Amendment of the US Constitution: “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . .” The founders saw the “power of the press” as a that of a government watchdog, as well as a catalyst for discussion of public issues.
I have always been fascinated by the mass communication media. In fact, I was fascinated enough to pursue college degrees in the field, including a doctorate in mass communication. Before I founded Key West The Newspaper (KWTN) in 1994, I spent more than 20 years working in virtually every facet of mass communication– advertising, public relations, writing and teaching. Do you want me to tell you how powerful the press really is, according to the academic literature? I’ll do that at the end of this column. You might be surprised. Continue reading
Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D
If you are a longtime reader of Key West The Newspaper, you know that, over the years, we published a number of stories about police officers. Although we have certainly published lots of favorable stories about police officers and the police department, most of the stories were about officers who beat the hell out of somebody for no good reason, officers who tried to enforce laws that don’t exist or officers who got caught lying on their police reports. Let’s face it. When police officers break the law, it’s news.
Many think our police reporting has helped make a difference in Key West. Our editorial support is one reason there is a Citizen Review Board (CRB) here, an independent city agency that reviews complaints against police officers. Before the CRB, citizen complaints often just disappeared into a black hole at the police department. We also made new free speech law in Florida. Citizens who file complaints against police officers are no longer prohibited from speaking to the press about their complaints during active investigations.
Because we didn’t beat around the bush when reporting corruption and incompetence in the police department, some readers told us that we were “picking on” the department. Not at all. We were just reporting the truth. For example, several years ago, our critics said we were unfairly picking on Officer Michael Beerbower when we reported that, more than once, he punched handcuffed suspects in the face and, sometimes, after he had punched them a couple of times, he also pepper-sprayed them in the face. But everything we wrote about Beerbower was true– and subsequently, he lost his job and was prosecuted by the state attorney’s office. Continue reading
President Obama says that he wants to make income inequality– the growing gap between the richest and poorest Americans– the defining issue during 2014. He points with alarm to the fact that distribution of economic gain is increasingly favoring a small percentage of the population– those who are already well off. Duh! Why would anyone find that surprising, much less somehow illogical? But to Obama, it is simply unfair for a corporate CEO to be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, while a high school dropout working at a fast food restaurant makes minimum wage. And in the president’s mind, that can be fixed by simply taking money from those in our society who have figured out how to be successful and giving it to those who haven’t figured it out– in essence, redistribution of wealth.
The fact is, however– except maybe in Sherwood Forest– taking from the rich and giving to the poor is not going to have much impact on the problem of income inequality. Continue reading
Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D
A couple of weeks ago, we looked back on some of the stories of the year during 2000- 2005. This week, let’s re-look at a few more recent stories, starting with 2006.
During 2006, beleaguered City Manager Julio Avael was still trying desperately to hold on to the job he had held since 1996. Even before the city elections in 2005, he knew he was in trouble when several of the city commission candidates were promising to dump him if elected. His response to this was classic Avael. Just a few weeks before the election, he tried to slip a contract extension onto the commission agenda. The plan was that his cronies on the lame-duck commission would quietly approve the contract extension before any of those pesky anti-Avael candidates could take office. But when the press picked up on this story, the plot imploded. We have told you before and we’ll tell you again– we don’t make this stuff up.
Avael was right to be concerned. After the election, the mayor and commissioners actually discussed firing Avael on the spot, but opted instead to give him a one-year “transitional” contract to give themselves adequate time to search for and hire a new city manager. Humiliated, Avael announced that he had planned to retire anyway. But that wasn’t the case at all. To Avael, the transitional extension just gave him another year to try to convince at least four members of the commission to give him a multi-year contract. Part of that plan was to try to curry favor with the newly-elected members of the commission. For example, he openly fixed a job for a longtime buddy of new City Commissioner Danny Kolhage. And, suddenly, Kolhage became one of Avael’s defenders on the commission. Continue reading
Dennis Reeves Cooper being interviewed by Bill O’Reilly on the Fox News Channel in 2001. Cooper founded the Blue Paper in 1994 and was editor and publisher for 18 years before he retired in 2012.
When I was editor of Key West The Newspaper– the Blue Paper– back in the “old days,” we published a “Story of the Year” feature at the end of each year. Here’s a look back at a few years of those stories.
2000. Our Story of the Year of the year 2000 was the defeat of 20-year incumbent State Attorney Kirk Zuelch at the polls. Few election-watchers thought that could happen. After two decades in the office, Zuelch was thought to be too powerful, too entrenched to get voted out of office. Zuelch was so comfortable in office that he no longer even tried to hide his use of his position to forward the objectives of his powerbroker pals. Selective enforcement of the law was routine. And it was in your face. It was said that Zuelch could even make judges quake beneath their robes. Lawyers with clients facing prosecution by Zuelch’s office often advised their clients to take just about any plea offer coming from the state attorney’s office (SAO) because “the judges do not often rule against Zuelch.”
A PERSONAL NOTE: We here at the Blue Paper were never among Kirk Zuelch’s best friends. For years, we repeatedly published stories that exposed corruption inside the SAO. Less than a year after the voters ousted Zuelch from office in 2000, Key West Police Chief Buz Dillon had me arrested for writing something he didn’t like– and the case went to the SAO for prosecution. New State Attorney Mark Kohl refused to prosecute because, he said, the law Dillon used to have me arrested was unconstitutional. He was right. A couple of years later, a panel of three federal judges did rule 3-0 that the law was, indeed, unconstitutional– and new free speech law was made in Florida. However, had Zuelch still been in office, it is unlikely that he would have made the same decision that Kohl made. In fact, it is quite likely that Zuelch would have enthusiastically gone forward with prosecution. I and my ACLU lawyers would have eventually won in court– but had Zuelch still been in office, things would have been way different for me for a couple of years as the case worked its way through the courts. Continue reading
Dennis Reeves Cooper on Fox News, ‘The O’Reilly Factor’, June 2001
In last week’s column, I looked back into history to re-report to you how former Key West Police Chief Bill Mauldin was tricked into resigning after getting caught sexually harassing his public information manager. But in researching that story, it occurred to me that the Mauldin scandal was just a part of former City Manager Julio Avael’s strange legacy when it came to the appointment of police chiefs. He just wasn’t very good at it.
In Key West, the city manager appoints the police chief. The City Charter is very specific in spelling out that the mayor and the the commissioners have no say in this. So the city manager has complete discretion to hire and fire his “boy” at his pleasure. Avael served as city manager for 12 years, from 1996 until 2008, when he was finally forced to retire from city government in disgrace. One of his first actions was to fire Police Chief Ray Peterson, one of the best police chiefs in the history of the city. Peterson’s crime? He reportedly had called in the FBI to investigate corruption in city government.
To replace Peterson, Avael promoted John Kirvin to police chief in November 1997. That appointment didn’t work out all that well. Kirvin lasted less than three months in the job. He resigned in January 1998 after somebody phoned in a death threat.
For his next appointment, Avael decided to go all out. Continue reading
Because I edited and published the Blue Paper from the first issue in January 1994 until my retirement last year, one of my assignments as a columnist for the new Blue Paper on line is to periodically go back and dredge up some of the more bizarre stories we published back in the old days. One of the biggest scandal stories Key West The Newspaper was covering back in 1996 and 1997 was then-City Manager Julio Avael’s continuing vendetta against then-Police Chief Ray Peterson– despite the fact that Peterson was one of the most popular police chiefs in the city’s history.
But Avael had been virtually ordered to fire Peterson by then-Mayor Dennis Wardlow, supported by several other “Bubba” city commissioners. You see, they blamed Peterson for calling in the FBI to investigate corruption in city government and that investigation had resulted in the indictment of Mayor Wardlow. The mayor was subsequently acquitted. But payback is a bitch. Avael concocted a dozen or so charges against Peterson and the chief was eventually forced to retire– although his settlement included a letter noting that all charges against him were unfounded.
Dennis Reeves Cooper
NOTE: Dennis Reeves Cooper, Phd. founded Key West The Newspaper (the “Blue Paper”) in 1994 and was editor and publisher until his retirement last November. Apparently, he is up for at least one more adventure, so he has now applied to serve in the Peace Corps. While that application is pending, he is contributing a weekly column to the Blue Paper on line.
WHAT’S A BUQUEBUS?
I had the opportunity to go down to the city-owned ferry terminal at the foot of Caroline Street a few days ago to meet with Sue Srch, the executive director of the Citizen Review Board (CRB). That’s where the CRB office is located. I had not been in the terminal for several years– and it reminded me of a little scandal story we had covered back in 1996. The city commission passed a resolution “strongly supporting the efforts of Buquebus Inc to establish Naples-to-Key West ferry service.” At the Blue Paper, we thought that resolution was a little strange. Yes, such a service would potentially bring dollars to Key West. And the company was even promising to build a ferry terminal here. But all kinds of companies are always promising to bring business to Key West– and they don’t get special resolutions from the city commission supporting their efforts. After asking around, here is what we learned: Continue reading
Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D
If you are a longtime reader of the Key West The Newspaper, you may know that I retired last November after running the paper for 18 years. But I may have one more adventure in me, so I have applied to join the Peace Corps. While that application is pending, I told new owners Naja and Arnaud Girard that I would be happy to make some editorial contributions to their new online venture, including an occasional look back at stories that appeared in the Blue Paper over the years.
In 2003, Key West The Newspaper was 10 years old. On page one of the January 3, 2003, issue, we did a look-back at various stories that we had published during our first decade. If you are a longtime reader of KWTN, see if this doesn’t take you for a ride down memory lane. If you haven’t been reading KWTN since 1994, rest assured that I am not making this stuff up. Continue reading
Dennis Reeves Cooper
If you are a longtime reader of Key West The Newspaper, you may know that I retired last November after running the paper for 18 years. But I may have one more adventure in me, so I have applied to join the Peace Corps. While that application is pending, I told new publishers Naja and Arnaud Girard that I would be happy to make some editorial contributions to their new online venture. The start point to my piece this week is a blockbuster story (my opinion) that broke in the Key West Citizen last Friday. I bet you didn’t know that the Blue Paper almost took over the publication of Solares Hill newspaper back in 1998.
In a fit of budget-cutting last week, the Key West Citizen finally put the ax to Solares Hill newspaper, one of the longtime icons of Key West journalism. As part of the blood-letting, Editor Mark Howell and Associate Editor Nadja Hansen both lost their jobs. Before the Citizen bought the belly-up publication for a song back in 1998, it had been published off and on since 1971, usually every-other-week with vacation time off during the summer. It only became a weekly in 1994 after Key West The Newspaper (KWTN) hit the streets as a 52-weeks-a-year publication. Continue reading
Former KWTN Publsiher Dennis Reeves Cooper on Bill O’Reilly’s show on the Fox News Channel in June of 2001
If you are a longtime reader of Key West The Newspaper, you know that, after 18 years of publishing The Blue Paper, I retired last November. Since that time, I have been finishing up several personal projects– like sorting out 18 years of back issues to donate to the history department at the library. I also have a Peace Corps application pending– I have at least one more adventure left in me. So while I am waiting to go to Africa or somewhere, I told Naja and Arnaud Girard that I would be happy to make some editorial contributions to their new on-line venture. Those contributions might be news stories or opinion pieces– or re-publication of special stories that have appeared in KWTN over the years. This week, I have some comments about a story currently in the news.
There was a page one article in the Key West Citizen last week about a local man being turned away when he went to the police station to file a written complaint against a police officer who has allegedly been harassing him for at least a year. Scooter deliveryman Kenneth Lawrence told the Citizen Review Board (CRB) that when he went to the police station to file a complaint against motorcycle officer Randall Hartle, Sgt. Robert Allen simply refused to take his complaint.
The members of the CRB voted unanimously to recommend to Police Chief Donie Lee that he formally reprimand Allen for “deficient service” and they asked that Lee meet with CRB Chairman Larry Beaver and Executive Director Sue Srch to discuss changes to the police complaint process.
As a longtime police watcher, here’s my take on this. Continue reading
If you are a longtime reader of Key West The Newspaper, you know that, after 18 years of publishing The Blue Paper, I retired last November. Since that time, I have been finishing up several personal projects– like sorting out 18 years of back issues to donate to the history department at the library. I also have a Peace Corps application pending. I have at least one more adventure left in me.
So while I am waiting to go to Africa or somewhere, I told Naja and Arnaud Girard that I would be happy to make some editorial contributions to their new on-line venture. Those contributions might be news stories or opinion pieces, if I get pissed off about something. But I have to tell you, as a retired guy, I don’t get anywhere near as pissed off at politicians and police as I used to.
Another thing I might do for the Blue Paper while I’m waiting to take off on my new adventure is to re-publish some of the more interesting stories we published over the years. That’s what I have done this week. Back in 1995, the now-famous Mark Howell and David Mock researched and revisited the so-called Bubba Busts of 1975 and 1985. (As you may know, Mark Howell now edits Solares Hill.)
Their story originally appeared in Key West The Newspaper on February 17, 1995. It was updated and re-published on July 25, 2003, adding info about the 1995 Bubba Bust.
Anyone who looks back over Key West history for the last 20 years or so will note that, about the middle of every decade— almost like clockwork— the feds swoop down and make what has come to be called a “Bubba Bust.” It happened in 1975, 1985 and again in 1995.