Imagine a dripping wet, shivering kid walking innocently along a ledge at the public swimming pool. That’s Ben Sasse, the University of Florida’s soon-to-be president, who last week found himself shoved in, splashed in the face, and dunked under water by the local bullies. In this case, the bullies were Florida’s legacy media, and the pool was, well, a hideously expensive $300,000 backyard swimming pool at the UF president’s house.
Of course, Sasse, who was tapped for the job last November but doesn’t start until February, didn’t really get pushed into his own swimming pool – he doesn’t even live there yet. Instead, the media took a handful of unconnected facts about the pool under construction, then did their best to arrange them into something that could be used to throw cold water in Sasse’s face before he even started the job.
It all started with UF’s own in-house progressive student journalist factory, Fresh Take Florida, publishing a barely-true and wholly misleading headline that implied a $300,000 swimming pool under construction was some lavish perk insisted upon by Sasse:
UF to spend $300,000 on new pool for incoming university president
The University of Florida is making sure its newly hired president, former Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, can dive into the job: It is spending $300,000 to build a new swimming pool behind the stately mansion where Sasse will live with his family, the school confirmed.
Construction on the expensive addition to the 7,400-square-foot, four-bedroom mansion – provided to Sasse at no cost – started in November and is nearly complete, ahead of his first day as UF’s new president on campus next month. Beyond a perimeter fence, mounds of dirt and pallets of pavers were set to the left of the house, promising a finished pool in coming weeks.
One has to keep trudging through that “journalistic” bilge before reaching the third paragraph – which instantly turns this whole kerfluffle into a non-story:
A university spokesman, Steve Orlando, said Sasse did not ask for the pool to be built and provided no input over its design. Sasse had no pool at his family’s home in Fremont, Nebraska. Orlando said the estimated $300,000 to cover its cost came from the mansion’s donors, John and Mary Lou Dasburg of Key Biscayne, and other private sources he did not identify.
The university decided last year, shortly after Kent Fuchs announced he was retiring as UF’s president and before Sasse emerged as the finalist to succeed him, to add the pool to the residence, Orlando said. The university’s original, smaller president’s house also had a pool.
But in our modern media environment, a headline and the two leading paragraphs are about as far as anyone is going to read before deciding Ben Sasse is an entitled jerk wasting state tax dollars on his lavish lifestyle. Like the famous scene in Caddyshack, the progressive reporters at Fresh Take Florida saw something floating in the pool and screamed “Doodie!” Then everyone starting repeating it.
Quite a few other news outlets – including national sites like The Daily Beast, picked up the story and ran with it. Some wrote their own takes, but most of the state’s legacy media outlets in Florida just picked up the UF Fresh Take Florida version, all with less than flattering headlines smearing Sasse without providing the relevant context:
- Tampa Bay Times: UF adds a $300,000 pool to its president’s mansion as Ben Sasse starts work
- Gainesville Sun: UF spending $300,000 on new pool for Dasburg home where incoming president Ben Sasse will reside
- Orlando Weekly: UF will spend $300,000 on new swimming pool for incoming university president Ben Sasse
- WCJB-TV (Gainesville): University of Florida builds $300,000 pool at President’s House before Sasse moves in
And on and on. You get the idea.
Keep in mind that Sasse’s previous job was serving as a Republican United States Senator from Nebraska, and was almost certainly the best candidate for the UF job because, among many other things, the school’s trustees probably believe his presence will help keep fellow Republican lawmakers and Governor Ron DeSantis from clamping down ever harder on the left-wing ideology oozing from its campus like toxic sludge.
But while his GOP bona fides a likely part of why he won the job, it’s also the reason that Florida’s rabid left-wing media – starting with UF’s student “journalists” – wasted no time smearing and maligning him a full two weeks before he officially starts.
Obviously, a $300,000 swimming pool seems an unusually lavish extravagance, particularly if state tax dollars are involved. But according to the school, that’s not the case. And by the third paragraph of the story, savvy readers who trudged through that far would have realized they’d been duped with a clickbait headline.
Based on what we know, it looks like progressive activists at the school were hunting for anything they could find on their new president, hoping to push his head underwater and drown his presidency before it began. Latching onto the pool construction story, Fresh Take Florida dove headfirst into the scandal before they understood how deep it went, trying hard to uncover evidence about Sasse’s swimming habits. They pulled up his old property records, talked to his neighbors, and scoured his social media, undoubtedly looking for photos of Sasse wearing Speedos, or anything that might imply that he was the one who insisted on the fancy new pool himself:
The Sasse family home in Nebraska has four bedrooms with about 5,700 square feet and includes a waterfall and life-size chess board – but no pool, according to real-estate records.
As a senator, Sasse had access to the Senate gym swimming pool in the U.S. Capitol complex. He also owned a townhome in Washington’s suburbs that had no pool in the building, property records showed. Sasse has said on social media that he and one of his daughters have worked as lifeguards in the past.
They did their best to make the story tread water, but the effort invested begs the question: Why work so hard to find a scandal, if not to try and smear Sasse? And, would they have worked this hard if he wasn’t a hated Republican?
Credit the Tampa Bay Times for at least having the decency to put the relevant context into a subheader, before running the story under a misleading headline. Of course, with proper context, the whole affair becomes boring and not even newsworthy.
Like the Baby Ruth candy bar in Caddyshack, context is important. Floating by itself in the middle of a swimming pool, it’s a toxic contamination requiring immediate evacuation. But upon closer, more careful examination in the proper context, it’s no big deal.