It seems like just yesterday that we were all bidding the year 2020 “good riddance,” and welcoming 2021 with open arms, secure in the knowledge that the new year couldn’t possibly be worse than last. On balance, the assumption proved correct, but some notable news events in 2021 still have most of us longing for the good old days of 2019…
From the perspective of The Capitolist’s newsroom, COVID-19 remained the dominant news subject, easily the primary driver of public policy debate at every level in government across the world. And so we decided to dig a little deeper to bring our readers some insights into the past year that go beyond the pandemic, look past the vaccination battles, the school masking fights, and latest Greek-alphabet mutations of the virus.
Without further adieu, we present our top stories for 2021.
Top Political News Story: Palm Beach Post caught misleading readers about investigative partnership with ProPublica
Part of The Capitolist’s primary mission is to provide news coverage with unique angles that few other outlets in Florida provide. Holding the state’s existing media infrastructure accountable is a core value, and in late July, we broke the news that the Palm Beach Post had been caught actively misleading readers about the funding and objectivity of a feature news article published and heavily promoted by the Post.
In a nutshell, The Capitolist obtained documents and on-the-record statements from the Post’s top leadership that contradicted a carefully crafted narrative that a Post reporter (who has since left the paper) conducted a fair and impartial investigation into the impacts of sugar cane burning in the Everglades Agricultural Area.
Despite the Post’s claims that it invested substantial time and resources into the project, The Capitolist’s own investigation uncovered evidence that the Post’s original story concept was funded by a third-party group and that the story had a preconceived outcome in mind from the very beginning. To this day, the Post has refused to disclose to its readers the initial concept pitch that it made to the third party group who funded the entire project from start to finish.
In the golden days of journalism, news outlets like the Post did invest heavily in investigative journalism, their reporters diligently seeking the truth, where ever it might lead. This year, we showed that’s no longer the case, that the Palm Beach Post effectively farmed out one of its reporters to an agenda-driven group who paid for a story with a foregone conclusion.
Top Education News Story: FSU’s search for John Thrasher’s replacement
A case can be made that the school mask mandate fight, in terms of sheer news volume, could be a contender for 2021’s Top Education Story. But even though that story had some unique Florida flavor with Ron DeSantis duking it out with Joe Biden, other states waged similar battles, and our focus is specifically on Florida education stories.
In terms of pure drama, Florida State University’s search for a new president proved one of the most notable events of the year, and came loaded with political intrigue. Fueled by rumors that the search process was “greased” for Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran The Capitolist dug deep and reported the full extent of Corcoran’s campaign for the job. But well-connected sources also pointed out that powerful forces inside and outside FSU wanted the new president to come from academia, not politics, and so our coverage – led at the time by Karen Murphy – rejected the conventional insider wisdom and doggedly covered the search process through its conclusion with the widely acclaimed selection of Harvard’s former Vice-Provost for Research, Richard D. McCullough.
In all, The Capitolist published nine exclusive stories on the subject, and augmented that effort with a handful of News Service stories, providing some of the most robust coverage available.
Top Business News Story: The rise and fall of the Seminole Compact
Few topics took up more news coverage than the sports betting agreement reached between Governor Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
DeSantis inked the gaming compact back in April that was expected to give the Tribe exclusive rights over sports betting in the state, allowing the Tribe to open statewide mobile sports wagering, as well as retail sportsbooks, which would only be offered through their own Hard Rock facilities, as well as through state pari-mutuels. In return, the Seminoles would pay the state of Florida $500 million a year, or $150 million more than the old deal. The new gaming compact guaranteed a minimum of $2.5 billion in revenue sharing for Florida over the first five years.
Despite pushback from lawsuits and groups, the Tribe quickly capitalized on the deal, quietly launching Hard Rock Casino’s sports betting app on Nov. 1. The app was expected to be home run and put the Tribe in the driver’s seat of the state’s gambling scene, allowing Floridians across the state to place sports bets on their cellphones, with all wagers being hosted through computer servers on tribal lands.
But where wagers could be placed proved to be the Tribe’s house of cards.
A U.S. district judge struck down the Seminole Compact in November, ending what served as a short-lived gambling monopoly in the state. The ruling, made by Judge Dabney Friedrich, was largely predicated on the location of where bets would be placed. U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, on behalf of the Seminole Tribe, emphasized the Compact’s provision that online bets were deemed to take place only in the location where a bet was received by the Tribe’s computer servers located on Seminole lands.
While the Tribe have attempted to rebound in court, and continue to look for ways forward, a gaming compact is proving to be a Sisyphean Task. What’s more, the court ruling has opened the door for Florida Education Champions (FEC), who seek to expand online sports gambling beyond the proposed compact.
Backed by major sports betting operators, DraftKings and FanDuel, FEC was formed in June to secure placement on the November 2022 ballot to authorize sports and event betting at professional sports venues, pari-mutuel facilities and statewide via online sports betting platforms. Thus far, the sports-betting committee has received major contributions from both betting platforms, with FanDuel contributing $14.38 million, while DraftKings has contributed $22.71 million, according to a newly filed finance report.
FEC released a study in November analyzing the economic and revenue benefits from its 2022 proposed voting initiative. The FEC commissioned report found that the political committee’s proposed constitutional amendment is expected to generate $350 million in state and local tax revenue annually, including $247 million that would be directed to the Florida Department of Education’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund.