“She Who Is Without Sin”: Notes on Angela Corey


She Who Is Without Sin

Angela Corey’s Folio dis merits greater scrutiny

[Full disclosure: I voted for Angela Corey in 2008, and will probably do so again.]

As a general rule, writers spend Sunday morning asleep—phone calls sent in their direction are, in a word, doomed. But there are exceptions. Case in point: May 20. This writer was enjoying the only day of the week with no pressing business, when a reader called up at 9:33am to report that perpetually-embattled State Attorney Angela Corey had taken the opportunity to opine with vigor on Folio Weekly while appearing WJXT’s Sunday chat-fest, “This Week In Jacksonville”. Because, of course, the best time to criticize someone is when they’re asleep.

In the pro-wrestling business, it’s called “cutting a promo”; in her business, it’s called “hearsay”. Without naming Folio specifically, she noted that “[I]t’s a small paper, not many readers because they aren’t saying much, no one buys it. In fact, they have to give it away for free.” First of all, all that is fair game. She had every right to say those things; Folio hasn’t been exactly nice to her in its reporting, which is a consistent complication of telling the truth. Any critiques she has are worth listening to; in fact, her every public utterance is always worthy of intense focus—for entertainment value, if nothing else. But, given that an elected official was willing to characterize this publication using words designed to denigrate and delegitimize its work, one feels compelled to analyze her statement in greater detail—especially as it offers some useful insight into the thinking of Northeast Florida’s leading legal light.

When Corey says Folio has “not many readers”, that’s an impossible charge to rebut. Our current readership stands at just over 127,000, and like any business the publisher would like to see that number increase, because there is certainly room to grow. As for the idea that we’re “not saying much”, the industry insiders who give out Association of Alternative Newsweeklies awards tend to disagree, several times a year, for as long as we can remember. However, if she meant to imply that our readership makes us somehow obscure or not credible, she should note that 127,000+ readers equals double her vote total in 2008. There were 495,316 registered voters that year; almost 80% didn’t even show up, so her mandate basically amounts to about 8% of the city’s population—which may explain why she draws so much heat.

Is Folio Weekly the most-read print publication in Northeast Florida? Certainly not. That honor goes to the Florida Times-Union, which has been bleeding both staff and money for over a decade, leaving a franchise worth, at best, half of what it was 20 years ago. Nothing wrong with that; thinning-out a paper before sale is a lot like fattening an animal before slaughter. Is it given away for free? Of course—that has been the alt-weekly tradition since the industry’s flagship, the Village Voice, was founded in 1955. Many publications in this region are free, because they have developed a business model that allows them to do so. Folio can’t just raise the cover price to close gaps in revenue; it has to actually make a product people want.

While the daily papers are like commercial music, overpriced and trading on bad-faith, losing money on CD’s every year, the alt-weeklies are like vinyl records, slowly but steadily picking up market share every year, while stimulating the kind of broader changes needed in the industry. Alt-weeklies are showing print media how to remain relevant and vital in the Internet age, and the lack of a cover price makes their achievements all the more explicit. And during an era where even alt-weeklies have lost readers, Folio has only gained in circulation. Our coverage of Angela Corey’s hijinks has certainly helped—thank you!

It’s hardly surprising that Corey has little love for Folio, as our coverage hasn’t always put her in the best light, but one would think she could at least appreciate some of the things we have in common. We both began serving this city in the 1980s, we are both local institutions, and we both share the contempt of the political establishment. Despite whatever flaws she may have, the fact is that Corey never had a chance to prove herself; the basic caricature that most citizens mistake for the real Angela Corey was not created by the media—it was created by her fellow attorneys, then leaked to the media so we could feign loyalty while the sharpened daggers stayed firmly tucked into their sleeves. But when the next election comes, look for them to unbutton their French cuffs and do their best impression of the Roman Senate.

The election that installed her as State Attorney was a debacle. It marked the dissolution of Harry Shorstein’s legacy, as he came off as someone without the authority to ensure a smooth transition of power, which would have sent a strong message at a time when this city’s identity is built largely around violent crime. Instead of running a clean campaign and presenting a unified front to the bad guys, Shorstein’s underlings, Corey and Jay Plotkin, took the “scorched-earth” approach, which ensured that the credibility of whomever won would already be compromised by the time they took over. If the job were about competence and credibility, our State Attorney would be Bernie de la Rionda, who is not only undefeated in murder cases but has no record at all of saying ridiculous things into live microphones.

For voters, it was a harsh lesson in the reality of our judicial system, in which the only thing that matters is who your friends are. If you have the right lawyer, who knows the right people [names omitted, for legal reasons], you’re getting off, no matter what you did. But if you’re one of the poor saps stuck with a public defender, you might as well just hang yourself—and some of them do, allegedly. It’s not Corey’s fault that she was put in such a bad position, and it must have sucked to know how little regard her own mentor and colleagues had for her. She purged her office of veteran prosecutors because they backed the wrong candidate; some of them are now working against her, in the private sector.

The Marissa Alexander situation is a case in point. If Corey is so adamant that justice was done in this case, and that the 20-year sentence was justified, then why was she willing to let Ms. Alexander plea-out to a three-year bid? Same reason that many of the killings here are done by people who should have still been locked-up for previous violent crimes: Because justice serves political interests, not the other way around. Corey’s appointment to run the prosecution of George Zimmerman was, too, motivated by politics: Our weak, embattled governor (who’s only there because of the fecklessness and treachery of state Democrats) made his smartest move to date by picking someone with even more of a knack for controversy than he, to serve as the scapegoat for the inevitable fiasco. Put simply, Angela Corey is his Katherine Harris.

All of this is by way of clarification. At the end of the day, it’s no big deal what Angela Corey says about Folio Weekly, or what Folio Weekly says about her. It’s about a jail that’s almost full, with no possible short-term solution short of giving more plea-bargains to more violent thugs, so they can get out earlier and kill people sooner. It’s about a courthouse that the Mayor and judiciary are treating like a child in a custody hearing between two drunk parents. It’s about a citizenry that feels vulnerable and unprotected, and a criminal class that feels empowered to violate people by the perceived weakness and corruption of our justice system. It’s also about a tourist market, worth millions to local businesses every year, whose decision to mostly bypass Northeast Florida is partly based on what they see of us in national media—which is to say, a steady stream of preventable tragedy, and a nonexistent response to it. It’s not about Angela Corey. The sooner she realizes that, the better off we’ll all be.

sheltonhull@gmail.com; May 20, 2012

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