Miami Herald reporter Mary Ellen Klas finds herself at the center of multiple Florida-based controversies which includes Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson (R- District 10), utility company Florida Power and Light (FPL), and Florida State Sen. Randolph Bracy (D- District 11).
FPL took the first shot at Klas when it launched a page on its site called “Truth Matters.” In it, FPL accuses Klas of bias against its company and called her reporting on FPL’s effort to oppose new legislation regarding rooftop solar rules as “misleading.”
The company then claimed The Herald, Klas’ employer, “refused” to publish an op-ed in response to Klas’ reporting.
“The Miami Herald refused to publish our full opinion editorial, choosing instead to run a heavily edited version – in their Dec. 26 print edition, buried in their ‘Letters to the Editor’ section,” FPL said. “Only after we inquired why the edited version had yet to appear online did the paper post the same copy to their website, more than 24 hours after it was originally published in print. Typically, news outlets publish to their websites first and follow with copy in their print editions.”
In response to FPL’s page launch, Klas’ executive editor at The Herald, Monica Richardson, defended Klas’ reputation.
“Klas has been a highly regarded member of the Tallahassee press corps for more than 20 years. She does hard-nosed accountability reporting about FPL, the Legislature, Governors and many other people and institutions,” Richardson said. “Some of her coverage of the largest electric utility in the state and the nation has been critical when important issues needed to be raised about solar power, rates charged to consumers, political influence, and more.”
After the story published, FPL filed a public records request, and the request uncovered a letter sent from the pen of Sen. President Simpson to Richardson. In his letter, he makes a separate claim that Klas overstepped a professional line in her reporting on the Florida Legislature’s effort to re-district Florida’s congressional maps.
“My concern, which will be outlined with specific examples below, is that it appears Mary Ellen Klas has crossed the line of reporting and informing to advocating for organizations that will bring litigation against the Legislature As you will read below, she literally asked a State Senator to pose questions before the committee in order to build a record for litigation. Such collusion is not only inappropriate as a reporter, it puts Senators in a position to violate the policies and procedures I have set up in order to keep the process free from improper influence.”
FPL also acquired an audio file from November when the alleged incident between Simpson and Klas took place.
A second audio file has been uncovered by The Capitolist originating from a Senate redistricting committee where she encourages Bracy to seek racial demographic analyses for a specific senate district. She then makes another suggestion that the information could be used by left-leaning third-party groups to benefit their litigation, as Simpson mentioned in his letter.
Klas: “That’s the age old redistricting debate, right? ‘Cause there’s the minority majority districts, and the minority access districts. Access means you don’t necessarily have a majority, but you have enough to maybe elect one in a primary, which is Senator Pizzo’s situation, and obviously he’s not a minority, but um, it…it does, you know, to me, that’s, that debate should be flushed out and we should hear about it in public forums like this. If nobody asks these questions, they don’t get it on the record and if it’s not on the record, they aren’t gonna be held to it when [unintelligible] go to court.”
Bracy: “That’s a good point. Well…that’s what [unintelligible] I hear what you’re saying…[unintelligible]…maybe we’ll…get you something…[unintelligible].”
Klas: “I think it’s…[unintelligible]. As a reporter, the more questions you guys ask, the better we can explain it.”
Klas has since provided edits to what she says was an inaccurately transcribed audio exchange between her and Bracy, but The Capitolist maintains their transcription upholds the scope of the conversation.
Richardson did not say if Klas has been removed from the redistricting beat.
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Grant Holcomb is a reporter at The Florida Capital Star and The Star News Network. Follow Grant on Twitter and direct message tips.
Photo “Mary Ellen Klas” by Mary Ellen Klas. Background Photo “Miami Herald Building” by Marc Averette. CC BY-SA 3.0.