WTVT ( “Fox 13” ), the Fox-owned affiliate in Tampa, has weighed in on Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott's controversial decision to ask state police to investigate three state supreme court justices appointed by a Democratic predecessor. The station's report hypes the governor's side of the controversy as a major political problem for the justices by asking two unidentified people if they would support judicial candidates who are under investigation and reporting their negative responses.
Florida voters will decide in November whether to retain Justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince for an additional six year term each. Critics of the justices, both Tea Party-backed local groups and national right-wing organizations such as the American Justice Partnership, have begun to call attention to the retention election. If the justices are defeated, Scott would appoint their successors.
Critics of the justices have seized on their use of court employees to notarize filing documents for the election. A state law prohibits candidates from using government staff for campaign work. Critics and supporters of the justices disagree as to whether the justices may have violated the law, and Scott has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to decide whether an investigation is warranted. But the uncertainty regarding what that determination will be did not stop Fox 13's ham-fisted hyping of the controversy in a negative light for the justices.
In an “analysis” posted on its website, Fox 13 Political Editor Craig Patrick states:
But even if this FDLE investigation goes nowhere, the three justices still have a major public relations problem.
FOX 13 asked some people, if you heard the Supreme Court justices were under investigation for campaign violations, would you vote yes to keep them on the bench?
Most answered “no.”
“Ask[ing] some people” and reporting what “most” of them supposedly said is the shakiest imaginable means of characterizing public reaction to an issue. The broadcast report was equally flawed, with Patrick making the same point, but this time posing the question to two unidentified people, one of whom says he “probably” wouldn't vote for justices under investigation and another who says she definitely would not.
Patrick is on firmer ground with two additional points he makes: that conservative super-PACs are likley to use the dispute to attack the justices and that national conservative groups launched a similar political assault on Iowa supreme court justices in 2010.