It’s time to shutter The Capitolist


Dear Brian:

I trust you are doing OK given the circumstances and hope that this missive is received in good faith.

As you know, I have done my best, for whatever that’s worth, to counsel you as you launched and expanded your website, The Capitolist.

Politics makes strange bedfellows, and some may find it odd that two guys on the opposite side of politics, specifically the 2014 gubernatorial race, would get along as well as we did, but I’d admired your ambition and you seemingly admired the path I had forged in new media.

Right now, you are besieged. The threats to your operation are nothing short of existential.

I do not relish piling on. I don’t like to kick a man when he is down. Because I have been down. That’s why I called you the moment after I read the first report exposing the inner workings of The Capitolist.

What did I say? I said, “Do not do anything to exacerbate the situation.”

The reporting is what it is. The emails written by you underpinning the reporting are what they are.

Unfortunately, you didn’t heed my advice. Instead, you played the “fake news” card on Friday, deflecting the legitimate concerns about The Capitolist’s business practices and objectivity by writing about the shortcomings of other media outlets. Yes, legacy media shortcomings are real, and they are many. But their reporting here is not among them.

Had you not written that post, I probably would not have written this one. But since you did, I must.

My advice to you now is to shutter The Capitolist.

To quote Cormac McCarthy, “The world in which you seek to undo the mistakes that you made is different from the world where the mistakes were made.”

You are now at the crossing. And you want to choose, but there is no choice here. The time for choosing ended a long time ago. Now is the time for acceptance.

I won’t be lecturing you about the ethics of journalism, because I am one of the last people to judge you in this regard.

The allegations of pay-to-play and being a wholly owned subsidiary of Florida Power & Light are for others to criticize you for — and they are. Widely. And thoroughly.

But since one of your associates, Jordan Kirkland, once likened me to being the Vito Corleone of Florida politics, allow me to use his words to preface my rationale for why you must shut The Capitolist down.

“It makes no difference … it don’t make any difference to me what a man does for a living, you understand. But your business is a little dangerous.”

It’s not the pay-to-play allegations that are the kill shot versus The Capitolist. Rather, it is your overall intent that was more than a little dangerous.

You recommended to your handlers they should consider buying the Gannett chain of newspapers in Florida and “let most of the clown reporters go, save a fortune, eliminate print and syndicate content across the entire state.”

That sentence would make the actuaries working for hedge funds blush.

Brian, you’ve told me Florida Politics is a model for what you were trying to build. We’ve been on panels where you’ve said that very thing. That’s why I don’t understand how you would ever arrive at laying off journalists as a solution to anything except the death of democracy.

As David Carr foretold, any time any of us in new media can rub two nickels together, we attempt to hire away a veteran reporter from legacy media. That’s why Matt Dixon and Gary Fineout work at POLITICO. It’s why Gray Rohrer and Scott Powers work at Florida Politics.

To borrow once again from the Corleones, everyone who enters the business dreams of becoming “completely legitimate” in five years. The goal isn’t — and shouldn’t be — to destroy legacy media, it’s to do what they do, but better.

The horrible notion of acquiring newspapers to lay off veteran journalists is anathema to anyone who really cares about democracy, the First Amendment, journalism, politics … even basic human decency.

By writing that email, Brian, you have self-selected into a completely different silo than even the hackiest hack journalist.

If targeting journalism was not bad enough, the emails you wrote also make it clear that even your allies and enablers should fear you.

You’re the enemy.

That’s why The Capitolist is done. Not because it was pay-to-play. Not because you are pro-business. Or because you leaned conservative.

It’s because no one can stand next to you now.

You can continue to deflect, downplay or outright ignore the allegations against you and The Capitolist, but no respectable advertiser can. It has come to a point where doing so would be public relations malpractice.

It doesn’t help that you laid bare your plans to drive them out of business. As you put it: “We can be a better use of their PR dollars than their PR firms themselves.”

I choose to believe this is naivety talking, but whether or not it is is no longer relevant because these kinds of emails are exactly the kind of boneheaded unforced error businesses pay PR firms to avoid.

And the machination to cut PR firms out guarantees that “a decent PR consultant or lobbyist” will be taking their dollars elsewhere and that Sachs Media, indeed, “won’t get out of bed” to send you a monthly check.

The Capitolist is simply radioactive.

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