Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried falsely claimed that reporters who examined her policies on sugar cane burning were paid by environmental activists.
Fried’s comment followed the publication of a 6,000-word investigation by The Palm Beach Post into Fried’s promise as agriculture commissioner to make “historic changes” to the sugarcane crop.
The Post is August 11 report found that his changes to the state’s burn program did not address the health risks people in Palm Beach County may face from pollution. He also noted that Fried’s political committee receives contributions from groups funded largely by the sugar industry.
The sugar industry’s practice of burning acres of cane fields is a harvesting technique to strip the plant of its tough outer layer, according to the Post.
Fried went beyond simply dismissing the story when a reporter covering one of his campaign events asked him about his findings. He said the Sierra Club, an environmental group, wanted him to ban sugarcane burning.
“The Sierra Club had one mission and one mission only,” Fried said in Tallahassee on Aug. 14. “It’s unfortunate that they didn’t recognize all the other tremendous accomplishments our department achieved.”
When pressed further, she said: “We also know that they paid for these reporters.”
It is not unusual for a politician to say that unfavorable coverage is inaccurate or biased. But Fried’s claim suggested journalistic corruption.
PolitiFact found no evidence to support Fried’s allegation. The commissioner’s office said it would not answer specific questions about the claim. His campaign did not return multiple requests for comment.
The Sierra Club does not fund the Palm Beach Post
When we asked the Post about Fried’s claim, executive editor Rick Christie said none of the reporters, photographers or editors assigned to the latest investigation were paid by an outside entity, let alone the Sierra Club.
“It is unfortunate that the commissioner of agriculture felt the need to initiate and propagate an outright falsehood,” Christie said. “We are awaiting our reports.”
He did not clarify where he heard the complaint. Fried’s office only pointed to one Article of August 15 from the Capitolist to support his claim.
The Capitolist is a business and politics website with a questionable relationship with the state’s largest electric utility, Florida Power & Light.
Consultants hired by Florida Power & Light bought a controlling interest in the website before the 2020 election, on Herald reported. It was also revealed that the articles had been pre-selected by the consultants.
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Florida Power & Light used the Capitolist to “settle scores and bend the will of regulators, politicians and the public,” the Herald wrote.
The capitolista article that Fried cited linked to his criticism aa Research 2021 in the sugar cane cream that the Palm Beach Post published in partnership with ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative news site.
As part of its Local News Network, ProPublica offers grants to local news organizations for specific investigative journalism projects. A grant from ProPublica funded the Post’s investigation in 2021.
In July 2021, the Capitolist said the Post’s partnership with ProPublica for the investigation posed “a troubling and obvious controversy.” this he tried too to link ProPublica to the Everglades Foundation, a group working to restore the Everglades.
The Capitolist said both ProPublica and the Everglades Foundation received funding from the Knight Foundation, a longtime journalism, community and arts foundation.
Robin Sparkman, president of ProPublica, told PolitiFact that funders have no say in which organizations the publication partners with and which stories it investigates.
“They see our stories when the public sees them,” Sparkman said. “Furthermore, we have never applied for or received funding from The Sierra Club or The Everglades Foundation.”
The Capitolist reported that the Everglades Foundation invested in the Sierra Club, but did not make a credible connection between the Sierra Club and the Post.
The Sierra Club also denied paying for news coverage of the sugarcane harvest.
“There is absolutely no truth to Commissioner Fried’s statement,” said Patrick Ferguson, organizing representative for the Sierra Club of Florida.
Fried said the Sierra Club “paid for these reporters.”
There is no evidence for Fried’s claim. The Palm Beach Post and the Sierra Club refuted Fried’s accusation about the paper’s coverage of sugarcane burning. A paper highlighted by Fried’s office did not uncover this link, instead relying on a chain of association with no direct financial relationship.
Fried suggested that the unfavorable coverage was a result of journalistic corruption. His claim is not only wrong but ridiculous. Pants on fire!