Commentary

Talk about ‘fake news’ — a look into FL Power & Light’s covert campaign against the free press

A tale of espionage, subversion, and ‘ghost’ candidates

August 1, 2022 7:00 am

Florida’s Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021. Credit: Michael Moline/Florida Phoenix

Truth? Overrated.

I mean, how the hell do you monetize it? Even worse, what if it gets in the way of the right people having the right power?

That’s why a well-ordered country needs a well-ordered media. You know, like in China. Or Turkey. Or Russia.

The “free press” thing is a problem. So-called journalists from the liberal legacy media think they should be allowed into events like press conferences and the Sunshine Summit. Then they whine when the governor says nyet.

Credit: Creative Commons

What do the Miami Heralds and Tampa Bay Times and Washington Posts of the world expect when they go around upsetting the good folks of Florida with stories about starving manatees, facts about COVID, and scary articles about climate change-driven floods, fires, and famine so they can push their left wing stuff and force everybody to put those ugly windmills up in their backyard?

Is that what you want? Your friendly near-monopoly power company knows it isn’t.

That’s why the MAGA-smart guys at Florida Power & Light figured they’d get hold of their own little political news site and fight back against the Enemies of the People in the Lamestream Press.

The Capitolist, which declares it provides “more complete stories about the businesses, industries, and policy initiatives that drive Florida’s economy, recognizing that today’s legacy media too often oversimplifies or overlooks these important stories,” gets much of its juice from FPL.

Spying

All FPL cares about is you, the Florida electricity consumer, which is why they kind of accidentally got Alabama-based Matrix to hire a private investigator who spied on a Florida Times Union reporter, his girlfriend, and their dog. This guy Nate Monroe didn’t like FPL’s attempts to persuade Jacksonville’s city government to let them buy its municipal utility by donating to charities city commissioners favor.

FPL CEO Eric Silagy swears he didn’t do it. And, if somebody did it, he didn’t know about it.

What’s the big deal anyway, y’all? Reporters get spied on in all kinds of countries like Hungary. And Israel. And Iran.

All this fuss because somebody leaked a pile of Matrix documents to the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, and Floodlight (an enviro-reporting cell so radical they don’t even sell ads) showing that FPL had a hand in some of the Capitolist’s stories.

Hey, why not? These proud businesses pay a lot of the large cash they make off the people of Florida for the privilege.

Solar farm. Credit: Florida Power & Light, 2022

So, calm down, legacy media! It’s perfectly natural that FPL executives might make suggestions about coverage of, say, energy issues, maybe changing a word or two here, a number or two there, and hint that unflattering stories about FPL’s enemies would be favorably received.

Anyway, FPL looked into this fake news scandal and concluded, as spokesperson Chris McGrath says, they’ve done nothing wrong. As for those leaked documents: “We have seen evidence that some of these documents have been doctored to try to make FPL look bad.”

The legacy media types demanded to see the evidence, but they were probably rude so FPL understandably refused to give it to them.

No funny business

Brian Burgess, Capitolist boss-man, also denies there’s any funny business going on, assuring his dozens of readers the Tallahassee-based publication was “never pitched nor solicited feedback from FPL executives on any story or business venture.”

Except maybe for Burgess’ idea that maybe Matrix could pony up $2 million to hire a couple or three “prominent” journalists to start a new, corporation-loving publication, or, even better, buy up Gannett-owned newspapers such as Florida Today, the Daytona Beach News-Journal, and the Fort Myers News-Press to be, as he said in an email, “propaganda outfits.”

Burgess added, “Then we could let most of the clown reporters go, save a fortune, eliminate print, and syndicate content across the entire state.”

This is such an awesomely fabulous business plan you wonder why Brian Burgess insists it isn’t true.

He’s probably just being modest. Instead of bowing to the lib legacies’ narratives about FPL discouraging the development of solar energy or how FPL is up to its insulators in backing “ghost candidates” who run to wreck Democrats’ chances in state elections, he ran pieces in The Capitolist attacking the Miami Herald, Carl Hiaasen, and Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell, as well as hard-hitting, totally objective, take-no-prisoners pieces like “FPL reports best-ever electric service reliability in 2021.”

Brian Burgess has impeccable credentials in this state. He used to be Gov. Rick Scott’s communications director and, after that, communications czar for the Florida GOP.

That is, until certain unfortunate events conspired to force his resignation.

It was so unfair. He said on the record and unequivocally that he did not, NOT, murder Reagan the dog.

You remember the story. Rick Scott got Reagan to, you know, prove he’s not a robot. Scott was even seen walking the dog in Tallahassee the day before his inauguration. Then Reagan disappeared.

Dogs disappear all the time. They “go to live on a farm.”

But reporters just wouldn’t leave it alone. Tampa Bay Times reporter Lucy Morgan (now a columnist with the Florida Phoenix), demanded to know if he’d killed Reagan. Burgess swore he has never killed a dog.

And he hadn’t! Turns out, Reagan acted so much like an actual dog, with the barking, the jumping around, and scaring people who had never hung out with dogs, Scott sent him back whence he came.

Sadly, Brian Burgess’ career never recovered.

But now he’s hooked up with the fine white men of FPL and Matrix, so expect The Capitolist to soon take over those loser newspapers with their Pulitzer Prizes and their trained reporters and their bizarre insistence on fact checking. He’ll tell such happy stories about happy people in Florida making money nobody will worry about global warming or the poor or the subjugation of women or the destruction of democracy.

Nothing to worry about! Have another Margarita!

CORRECTION: Currently, Alabama-based Matrix, LLC does not work for Florida Power & Light, and Matrix, LLC has never had an ownership interest in The Capitolist media outlet. Matrix’s relationship to Florida Power & Light and the Capitolist was incorrectly reported in Diane Roberts’ column on Aug. 1.

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Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee, except for the times she runs off to Great Britain, desperate for a different government to satirize.

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