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In defense of the Tampa Bay Times' Adam Smith

By on July 20, 2012

Adam Smith and I have history.

There is no other way around it.

Smith, the political editor of the Tampa Bay Times, was fair, but not kind to me early on in our relationship. Then again, ten years ago, I did not deserve his kindness. As a political consultant in the Tampa Bay area, I had a bad reputation.  Smith knew this and avoided me. Where other operatives would receive the career-helping profile or the day-brightening mention in one of his stories, I was mostly ignored.

Again, I deserved to be.

However, as I took advantage of the second chance provided to me, and especially after I began to date my wife, Michelle, Adam warmed up to me. At first, he was all ‘trust but verify.’ In fact, he probably still is, but our relationship has improved to the point that, dare I say it, Adam is a friend.

We disusss politics. He includes me in his list of Florida Insiders. Michelle, he and I share the occasional round of cocktails. He attended our wedding.

It means a great deal to have this kind of relationship with Adam.

After all, he’s about as good a political reporter as there is in this state. That’s why I’ll be damned if some silver-spoon lightweight like Connie Mack IV is gonna treat Adam like the way he has.

At a media availability earlier this week, Mack refused to answer Smith’s questions, telling him: “When you decide to be a real journalist, I’ll be more than happy to talk to you.”

Smith received the wrath of the Mack campaign after his paper’s editorial board–not Smith–failed to endorse the congressman on Sunday. Mack campaign manager Dave Cohen wrote an open letter calling the paper the “National Enquirer of Florida politics” and accusing Smith of “waging a tireless campaign against conservatives and Republicans.”

This all leads me to ask Connie Mack, are you out of your damn mind?

Adam Smith is many things.  A good father. A pretty decent husband, at least by Adam’s own account.  He’s also a helluva journalist.

Certainly Smith is more of a “real” journalist than Mack is a “real” leader.

Mack, to paraphrase Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple. That’s why I wish Smith would have not kept his cool and just let Mack have it. Of course, Smith is better than that.

He’s a lot better than that, actually. Adam Smith was just named one of the 50 “politicos to watch” by POLITICO for being “one of the most plugged-in and well-sourced reporters in his state,” whose “coverage of the ins and outs of local and national politics has earned him a reputation well beyond Florida, as well.”

Political aficionados in Florida may forget that Smith, almost single-handedly, built the Buzz blog into one of the most powerful forces in political journalism.

“We post to it night and day, and that’s a culture that he brought to our newsroom that didn’t exist,” said Amy Hollyfield, Smith’s boss and the Times’s government and politics editor, said in an interview with POLITICO. “He definitely thinks past his job — he thinks of the newsroom; he thinks of the business side. He’s a leader for our organization.”

I’ve had those conversations with Smith where he thinks past his job, where he shows as much enthusiasm for what’s next as any new media entrepreneur. And while he’s definitely a company man, let’s not forget that it was Smith who offered one of the very few voices of dissent when his and his colleagues pay was cut by 5% by Times management.

Yet what may be most impressive about Smith is his reputation among his peers throughout the nation. I spoke with Ben Smith, formerly of Politico and now executive editor of BuzzFeed, about Adam. The way he talked about Adam — about how there is no doubt Adam could work for any national publication, about how some of those national publications have tried to hire away Smith — reminded me of what a resource, if not treasure, the readers of the Tampa Bay Times have.

Actually, what is really the most impressive feature about Smith, as a real journalist, is his writing. At the end of the day, it’s all about the reporting and the writing. I still consider Smith’s description of mayoral candidate Deveron Gibbons –  “a young glad-hander in an ill-fitting suit spewing vague answers about his agenda” — one of the best single sentences of political writing I’ve ever read.

Real journalist? You bet your ass, Connie Mack. If you were a real politician, you’d know that by now.

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