I have been asked several times about the coverage of my campaign by one Tampa Bay Times reporter so I would like to address it here.
To put this coverage in context, newspapers have covered my work for about twenty years. I have worked with reporters from local and national papers like Reuters and Business Week and even if the reporter and I had ideological differences, I have never had a negative experience. I graduated from the university where the Pulitzer Prize is awarded and I was mentored by a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and journalist. I too am a published academic author and I have gone through lengthy training on research and writing ethics. I am a firm believer in the First Amendment and I have worked for legal organizations that defend freedom of the press.
I first learned that Tampa Bay Times reporter, Mark Puente, was covering my race after my communications assistant told me he had “abrasively chastised” her over a press release she had sent to him. I responded by reaching out to him and meeting him for coffee. I researched his work and told him about the things that I appreciated about it.
Unfortunately, life does not stop during a campaign. To the contrary, life is often affected by it. Soon after my campaign began I had a frightening and difficult encounter. I was assaulted by a loved-one in crisis. I attempted to Baker Act this person but it backfired. This person falsified claims about me in an attempt to keep me from protecting myself, or him. While politicians should be held to higher ethical standards we are not gods. We are human beings doing our best to deal with the realities of life just like everyone else.
After this happened, I was told by a political insider that The Times was planning a “hit piece” on me and I called my attorney.
Puente wanted to interview me about this encounter and I obliged in spite of this warning and recorded my interview. I tearfully explained how terrifying the experience was and I brought a pile of evidence with me including photos, texts, videos, dismissals from judges, which proved the claims against me were not simply outlandish, but false.
Puente refused to look at this evidence. I realized this was not a typical interview and I told him, “I feel like I’m being attacked for being attacked,” and I later read the tabloid-style spin in the paper.
Weeks later Puente surprised me at a yacht party fundraiser for my campaign. He cornered me, and my assistant, in a locked entranceway and demanded that I respond to questions about campaign expenditures. Seconds before this, I had shaken his hand and asked him to e-mail his questions to me because I was late for my event. I think Puente may be good at getting stories because he is aggressive. He spent most of his career as a truck driver and carries himself as one who has been hardened by the trade. I admired this about him when I first met him. But his confrontational manner that day began bringing back fresh memories of my assault and I started to shake.
I politely explained to him that I might need “a new Times reporter to cover my run because I did not feel safe” around him. He dismissed my request and refused to back away, so I walked away from him with my assistant, went into my car and called the police. I never claimed he was “stalking me,” as he now publicly claims. I merely told the responding police officer what I shared above and asked her to escort me in. I was not “calling the police on a reporter for asking a question,” as this encounter has now been spun, I called the police because I didn’t feel safe.
I am 5’3” and weigh just over 100 pounds. I am this small because I am still regaining the 30 pounds of body mass I lost during chemotherapy. I was just getting back on my feet, from a challenging two-year battle with stage-three cancer when I chose to run for office. Even before cancer I did not have the physical capacity to defend myself in threatening situations and unfortunately this is not the first time my size has been exploited.
Mark knew how traumatizing my encounter was earlier in my race; I told him during our interview. There is a duty of care that reporters are expected to give subjects under those circumstances and Puente seemed to not only disregard that duty, but exploit it.
This experience strikes a far more personal chord as well. At the age of ten I watched my mother lose her closest sister to a horrific murder at the hands of a jealous and abusive ex. Her killer is still in Attica Prison today. The day before she was murdered she and her daughter were hiding from him at our home and he called there looking for them. It has never been lost on my family that he could have shown up that day and killed us all.
My family has lived in fear of this man my entire life and we take a zero-tolerance approach to abuse. I was taught to protect myself and get help at the first sign of trouble and I always have. I once had to get an order of protection against someone myself. I know it is still hard for some people to believe, but there are times when people are assaulted. I have been no exception.
I will not apologize for doing what is necessary to defend myself, or my loved-ones. There have been times in my life where I have called first responders for people in need and I am tremendously grateful for the police and paramedics who arrived in order to serve and save. I think about all the times I have walked to my car in dark parking lots, phone and 911 speed-dial in hand, just in case. People should not be vilified for using legal, safe and responsible means to de-escalate situations and protect themselves. But during my run this has happened to me twice.
Since my campaign has begun, two papers have covered my race and the difference in coverage is stark. One of those newpaper’s articles is on this website. That reporter compared my candidacy to my opponents’ and asked questions about my campaign platform, past accomplishments and how those accomplishments might impact the work that I do as Commissioner for Pinellas County.
These questions are similar to the questions I have been asked for decades. I have been a public figure before and reporters have written about me in a way that contextualized their coverage with my past work: awards I’ve received, enterprises I’ve started, laws and policies I’ve championed, small businesses I’ve protected, people I’ve helped, values for which I’ve passionately stood. They have also asked me challenging questions as a journalist should. But for those who only read the Times’ coverage about the new candidate in town, the good I have accomplished throughout my life does not exist. Moreover, there have been so many falsehoods and inaccuracies in Puente’s reporting that I will need to enumerate them in a separate post.
I would like to think my experience with one Times reporter is not representative of an entire newspaper, yet I remain perplexed by what is happening. I have discussed my experience with friends who are journalists and they have called this conduct “harassment”. I think harassment is a strong word. However, reflecting on the day of my fundraiser, Puente stood outside my party, in the rain, until it ended attempting to talk to those who came and went asking them for their full names and other details. He has since written about my supporters. He has called top political leaders, as well as my donors and endorsers to ask them whether they are aware of his articles about me and to ask why they are still supporting me. He has asked me questions on my social media pages. He has shown up to ask questions and has run his coverage of me strategically before important political events in what I can only guess might be an attempt to intimidate my support base, alienate them and/or embarrass me.
As time goes on I find it more believable that Mark’s assignment was, indeed, a “hit piece”. Since this has happened, several sources, journalists included, have told me that at the beginning of election season, editorial boards get together and determine the year’s winners and losers and assign writers accordingly. I’m told I should expect this.
There is now an ad that pops up online when my name is googled which leads readers to these articles. Campaign expense records show that Kathleen Peters’ campaign paid for this negative Google Ad Words campaign called “TheRealAmyKedron.” Really? Should anyone’s career be defined by one journalist or one paper? I invite readers to look at my resume on this website if they are interested in who I am. I have carefully built my reputation over decades and I’m not going to let one writer or one opponent, tear it down.
Several supporters have told me my opponent is now sending around these hit pieces and she is spreading other simply tasteless falsehoods about me. Such is the world of dirty politics. When my race began I invited my opponent to lunch as an act of good will. At lunch she promised me that she would not run a negative campaign and I did the same. I intend to keep my promise and focus on the issues.
My opponent is known as an advocate for mental health and substance abuse. I find it truly unfortunate that she has chosen to spread falsehoods about me especially because I was trying to take care of a loved one in crisis. She, of all people, should understand how sensitive and private these matters are.
I believe democracy is a sacred American right. Over the years many countries have looked to America as an example of the republic they strive for. The democratic process needs to be fair and public and we need the press to do its best to responsibly vet candidates and keep it that way. But I do not believe that large newspapers should take it upon themselves to skew the democratic process.
In the wake of all the recent attacks on the media and the confusion among the general public about what is, and is not, reliable news, I think there has never been a more important time for the press to act with integrity and build the public trust. I think our elected officials should as well.
My Pulitzer-Prize winning mentor published well over a dozen books throughout his life but he used to say the publication of which he was most proud was his column in national newspapers. Why? Because it “kept him honest”. He believed that the press was the one medium that people from all walks of life had access to on a regular basis and that, in turn, gave them access to leaders.
As a public figure I simply want to be kept honest. I do not expect positive coverage but I think democracy is protected most when coverage is fair and when it endeavors to be accurate. I invite the public to compare the tone and spin of Puente’s coverage of my race with his coverage of my opponent. Is he discussing the issues each of the candidates stand for? Is he examining our past accomplishments and shortcomings in these areas? Is he discussing our ethics as leaders? Is he asking questions about both our strengths, as well as our weaknesses? If not, why?
Since posting the piece above, I received the following response from Mark Puente. To his credit, he sent fair campaign questions. Read my 10/11/18 answers and they way those were spun as well in favor of my opponent here.
I posted this interview to my blog on 10/11/18, the day I e-mailed my interview answers to Mark Puente. I did this to ensure transparency. One key question I was asked was why I was being outspent by my opponent recently. I explained that I had suspended fundraising to assist my community as it dealt with a serious Red Tide crisis. On 10/14/18 Kathleen Peters announced on television that she was suspending her campaign to assist with Hurricane Michael relief. Only after Kathleen’s announcement did Mark Puente run parts of this interview on 10/15/18 discussing how we had both suspended our campaigns. The full article can be found here. There is new evidence that confirms that Kathleen Peters knew and understood the malicious intent of my campaign coverage by the Tampa Bay Times here. The Tampa Bay Times is the only major newspaper in our region and it holds itself out as the recipient of 12 Pulitzer Prizes. It has tremendous influence over political races in this area and has recently been sued for defamatory coverage of Democratic candidate Jeff Greene for $500 Million. They settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. Read other examples of Mark Puente’s tabloid-style political coverage of Democratic political leaders here.