No matter what else the reporters of Florida Politics wrote on Monday, I knew that the story that would be most-read would be whatever we posted about a congressman’s wife being arrested for disorderly intoxication.
On that day, FP served up a steady stream of first-of-the-quarter, post-holiday scoops and stories about candidates maneuvering their campaigns into position for 2018 and politicos maneuvering their careers into position for the long term.
That didn’t matter. People wanted to see a mugshot. They wanted to read a police report.
They wanted to be reassured that a politician’s day-to-day life is no better or worse than theirs. Lots of families have someone who drinks too much on a holiday. Some of those folks even end up running head-long into law enforcement. A handful of them get booked into jail.
But is it news? Did we really need to publish the story about U.S. Rep. Darren Soto‘s wife being arrested at Disney World?
If you go by the standard of ‘Well, everyone else is publishing, so why aren’t we?’ then, yes, our reporter in Orlando, Scott Powers, had to write about it. The Orlando Sentinel was covering it, and certainly so were Central Florida’s voracious television news stations. Powers wasn’t first to the story, but since he was close to being first, I knew we’d win the click-bait race.
Later in the day, after I looked at the viewership stats on the story, I pushed Powers to take another bite at the apple. To Powers, a classy veteran of the newspaper industry, I had to have sounded like Jason Sudeikis’ character in the fake movie trailer from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight:“Get some likes. Get some clicks. Get some retweets. Get some forwards.”
Powers’ concern about hyping the story stemmed from Congressman Soto’s acknowledgment (via a press release and a statement) that “my wife has been honest about her struggle of living with mental illness…”
By re-upping the story, would we be taking advantage of someone who needs help and was just having a really bad day, just to earn a few thousand more clicks?
The police report further complicates the story. In it, the officer (who seemingly could not have been more patient) writes that “even while attempting to speak with her (Mrs. Soto), she continued to utter that her husband is a congressman, therefore, she can do whatever she wants.”
It’s that last part – the sense of entitlement it suggests – that guided me to my decision about pushing the story.
Yes, Mrs. Soto is suffering from some sort of mental illness. Yes, she had been drinking and only by the grace of God have I not found myself in the back of a police cruiser for similar reasons. But neither of those reasons are an excuse for haranguing a law enforcement officer.
That’s why we had to publish the story about a congressman’s wife being arrested for disorderly intoxication.
Here’s to hoping Mrs. Soto gets the help she needs.