Porn, Hypocrisy, Plagiarism: The Dark Side of Jacksonville's Daily

Folio Weekly | October 12, 2004
Editor's Note Prior to publishing this story, Folio Weekly reviewed extensive documentation relating to incidents described here. Among the documents were Billee Bussard’s numerous letters of complaint to the Times-Union and the Times-Union’s sole written response, an August 1998 letter signed by Lloyd Brown acknowledging his "addiction to the Internet and possession of pornography." Folio Weekly also examined Bussard’s extensive work logs, her correspondence with attorneys and computer printouts of hundreds of photo downloads taken from Lloyd Brown’s computer discs. Folio Weekly spoke with Florida Times-Union assistant publisher Bobby Martin, who sat in on at least one meeting with Brown and Bussard. Martin declined to comment on "personnel matters, whether it did or didn’t happen." He added, "I don’t know why Billee would bring that up ... I don’t know what her point is." Publisher Carl Cannon did not return a call seeking comment. Folio Weekly also attempted to interview Lloyd Brown. In a brief telephone conversation last week, Brown was asked about Bussard’s allegations of his workplace use of Internet porn and her claim that this created a hostile workplace environment. He responded: "No, I don’t know anything about that. Billee left us -- I think she had some kind of complaint. I don’t know." Pressed about the reasons for Bussard’s departure from the editorial page department, Brown replied: "I can’t go into all that." He added, "I hope you all are careful about publishing any unsubstantiated allegations," before hanging up. Following publication of this article and accompanying sidebars, the Times-Union announced the formation of a panel to review the allegations of apparent plagiarism.

On Nov. 2, three weeks after Folio Weekly published its stories, Florida Times-Union Publisher Carl Cannon announced Editorial Page Editor Lloyd Brown’s resignation. And then, on Dec. 20, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush hired Brown to serve as Bush's speechwriter and letter-to-the-editor writer. See commentary.

It should have been just another routine day working on the staff of The Florida Times-Union editorial page, that section of a daily paper that serves as a community’s moral compass, a guiding beacon for the complex issues of our time. On a late May afternoon in 1995, as I was making my rounds collecting page proof corrections for the next day’s editorial page, I walked in on the editor of the editorial page staring hypnotically at Internet porn. Shocked and embarrassed, I let out a loud and scolding "Lloyd Brown!" much the way a mother might admonish a child caught doing something naughty. Brown, my boss, uttered some kind of expletive as he clicked the mouse to erase the picture of the nude, busty brunette, her legs dangling from a chair in a sexually provocative pose. I attempted to be a "good sport" and made light of the situation, saying something like, "I’m sure you are doing research for an editorial, but I would sure be careful. Other people might misinterpret this." The incident marked the beginning of a four-year nightmare that included implied threats both to my employment and personal safety. But the worst part was the response of Times-Union management after I made the agonizing decision to seek their help. In a 1997 letter I relayed details of Brown’s Internet porn habit, his inappropriate workplace behavior and a corresponding erosion of the editorial page, which I had carefully documented. The response was worse than dispiriting. Brown kept his prestigious position (which he still has) while I was eventually forced out. In the four years since I left the T-U, I have seen no significant changes on the paper’s editorial page. To this day, T-U management wears blinders regarding problems in the editorial page department, from opinion pieces based on racist theory to those that rely on shabby research to editorials that "borrow" or outright lift, word for word, ideas from right-wing think-tank publications. If only Lloyd Brown and his boss, publisher Carl Cannon, practiced what is preached by the T-U’s owner, William S. "Billy" Morris III. Morris, who professes to run his privately held media conglomerate according to Christian principles, laid out his corporate philosophy at a July 1995 management meeting of the Augusta, Ga.-based Morris Communications Company: "My father told me many times when I was growing up: ‘Son, a community is never any better than its local newspaper.’ "I have come to find truth in Dad’s statement, and I believe those of us who have the responsibility for managing newspapers must realize the vital role we play in the life, growth, tone and tenor of our communities. It is a sacred trust and we must treat it as such." Unfortunately for residents of Jacksonville, the editorial page of its only daily newspaper betrays that trust every day. Like many Times-Union readers, I naïvely assumed before joining the editorial page staff in 1992 at age 46 that opinion pieces were based on careful research by thoughtful and experienced professionals. In joining the editorial page as the sole female editorial writer — assigned to generate opinion pieces on state and local issues and to edit the op-ed page — I felt my perspective, both as a journalist and a small business owner, would be an asset to a conservative-leaning newspaper. Given my own conservative leanings, including a strong belief in family values, fiscal caution and an aversion to taxes, I thought I would be a good fit. But during my seven-plus years on the editorial page (1992-1999), I would discover that T-U opinion pieces — especially those on national, international and legislative issues — are largely culled from "research" fed to the paper by the far right. Many editorials amount to little more than a regurgitation of this extreme right propaganda (see sidebar). Perhaps the most controversial piece ever written by Lloyd Brown was the Jan. 10, 2000 T-U editorial on state affirmative action requirements. The piece, which prompted an uproar from the black community and a minor insurgency in the T-U newsroom, dismissed the era of U.S. slavery as "merely a small and shrinking part of the human condition," adding "the evidence is rather conclusive that slavery is not unique and its effects are not permanent." A protest letter signed by 70 T-U newsroom staffers contended, "This poorly thought-through editorial only served to inflame racial discord." The controversial piece and reaction to it was subject of an article in Editor & Publisher, as well as newspaper and wire service stories circulated nationwide. The E&P article noted Cannon printed a short "clarification" two weeks after the editorial appeared but did not apologize. Brown offered no response. Sadly, the editorial pages of other Morris-owned papers reflect the same kind of racist and right-wing viewpoints found on the T-U editorial page, which moved even further right after Lloyd Brown became editorial page editor in the mid-1990s. The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, the Morris-owned daily in the city where Morris Communications is headquartered, has come under fire numerous times for racial bias. When a history professor at historically black Paine College in Augusta analyzed the editorial page, he found that race-related editorials cast the black community in an unfavorable light 96 percent of the time. According to an Oct. 2, 1994, Atlanta Journal/Constitution article, Morris’ role in crafting editorial positions is clear: "He isn’t involved in writing daily editorials but he speaks frequently with [Augusta Chronicle] editorial chief Phil Kent, and the two usually agree on issues. To a lesser degree, editors at Morris papers in Athens, Savannah and Jacksonville also express his views." The editorial page’s racism, right-wing rhetoric and masterful manipulation of historical fact is a source of embarrassment for T-U newsroom reporters and editors. Journalists I knew sometimes asked me how I could stand working on the editorial page. My pat answer was: "I look at myself kind of like a copywriter. My name doesn’t appear on the opinion pieces I am asked to write, and at least the pieces I write are not as far right as they might be if someone else was sitting at my desk." This rationalization helped me deal with the often suffocating politics of the editorial page. So did taking occasional digs at my boss. The Times-Union publishes a daily Bible quotation on its editorial page. During my time at the paper, I was occasionally responsible for picking the quotations. In late 1996, a period when Lloyd Brown’s porn habit became increasingly unbearable, I tried to pick material that I hoped would send him — and upper management — a message. On Dec. 27, I quoted Ezekiel 7:12: "The time is come, the day draweth near ..." The next day, I picked from Chronicles 16:14: "He is the Lord our God, his judgments are in all the Earth." On Dec. 29, I picked Job 19:17: "Behold, I cry out of wrong but I am not heard; I cry aloud but there is no judgment." On Dec. 30, I selected Job 20:27: "The heaven shall reveal his iniquity, and the Earth shall rise up against him." It was my hope that these lines would somehow serve as a wake-up call for Lloyd Brown. As far as I can tell, they had no effect. One of the most difficult decisions in my life was going to T-U management about Brown’s porn habits and his corresponding hostility. It was a difficult decision because Brown and I had a long history as friends and coworkers, dating back to 1963 when I joined the now-defunct Jacksonville Journal right out of high school. Brown was my husband’s roommate when they were bachelors living in Jacksonville Beach. My husband, as city editor and later managing editor of the Journal, was Brown’s boss. We were social friends of Browns, and my husband and I were even the signing witnesses at the first of Brown’s three marriages. I was reluctant to betray this relationship, but at the same time, something had to be done. Almost immediately after the company placed a computer with an Internet connection in a small vacant office in the editorial department (one of the first Internet connections at the paper) Brown developed what seemed to be an insatiable appetite for Internet pornography. Between 1995 and 1998, he downloaded more than 200 pornographic pictures at work, many of which, unfortunately, were clearly visible to me in the course of transacting daily business. In the months leading up to my first confrontation with Brown, I’d caught glimpses of nude photos on the computer screen as I passed by the small office. Even when the door to this office was closed, a long narrow window provided an ample view of the raunchy pictures. Because Internet access was relatively new, I initially hoped Brown’s interest might just be a temporary curiosity. As a then 50-year-old female, I had enough experience to know that boys — no matter what their age — often do things just because they think they can get away with it (or in the words of one of Brown’s favorite editorial targets, former President Clinton, "Just because I could"). But as Brown’s appetite for porn increased, so did the number of instances where I caught him with inappropriate material on his computer, or having sexually explicit phone conversations. After that initial confrontation in May 1995, I had several exchanges with him about his habits. Sometimes I chided him, sometimes I expressed my discomfort. On one occasion, a coworker and I jointly passed Brown a note, saying the incidents had to end. He always responded evenly, with an air that suggested he felt untouchable. As the incidents increased in frequency, so did Brown’s condescending remarks and apparent hostility toward me. Brown responded to my complaints by excluding me from meetings, refusing to assign writing topics to me (though he assigned them to a male coworker), responding to my suggestions with curt, demeaning remarks and limiting my involvement in decisions on editorial policy. Brown also began lashing out at women in general. He frequently dropped derogatory remarks about women in meetings I attended with a male coworker ("What can you expect from a woman?"). During one editorial planning meeting on Oct. 5, 1996, he made remarks about the inability of women to think, especially in dealing with technology. The male editorial writer joined in: "Women: can’t live with them and can’t live without them." Brown’s attitude toward women was abundantly clear in an op-ed piece that appeared on Nov. 4, 1996. The bizarre spoof on government bureaucracy, "Bureau of Screwing Up Traffic outdoes itself," had as the villain responsible for traffic woes Brown encountered on his way to work "a cigar-chomping woman — obviously in charge judging by the gleam of her jackboots." I brought my concerns to T-U management in 1997 in a formal letter of complaint. In the Jan. 23 letter addressed to Donna Williams, then-head of the T-U human resources department, I wrote: "The following information is provided because of my concern about a situation in the Editorial Page office with potentially damaging consequences for the reputation of this newspaper and because of my genuine personal concern about Lloyd Brown, someone I have known for more than 30 years. "The situation has had a damaging affect on my ability to do my job and my personal health, and has had an impact on the morale and job performance of the other members of our staff. "It is my hope in filing this complaint that the situation can be remedied without Brown being dismissed from his job. His writing talents and knowledge of the community are great assets to this newspaper. However, the following information shows he is in need of guidance and help in other areas that affect his job performance and the employees he supervises." I went on to detail how Brown had created a hostile work environment, including his continued use of pornography in the office despite my protests, his frequent and demeaning references to women as creatures of inferior intellect, and my diminished role as a member of the editorial page staff. "Sexist and insensitive remarks, including those about the church I attend, have not been uncommon during my five years working in the department," I wrote, "but they became particularly personal and hostile over the last 18 months since the Internet was hooked up in an Editorial Page inner-office. The growing hostility toward me followed accidental encounters with Brown as he viewed pornography on the Internet and engaged in sexually explicit telephone conversations while talking on the telephone line in the Internet office." I also noted that Brown’s porn habit seemed to interfere with his job performance. "A letter dated Nov. 19, 1996 that came across my desk ... accused Brown of plagiarism, and compared paragraphs in an editorial he wrote with ones from Imprimis magazine. That kind of carelessness, coupled with other recent sloppiness in proofing pages, as well as a recent series of demeaning notes and actions aimed at me, convinced me the problem was getting worse and needed to be reported." Finally, I noted that while I was the employee chiefly impacted by Brown’s behavior, "four other employees in our office, including two women, either suspect or are aware that Brown has been involved in making pornographic contacts during working hours on the Internet ..." I attached to the letter a list of "workplace episodes" taken from a log I kept during that time. Among Brown’s retaliatory actions was a Sept. 30, 1996 directive excluding education and healthcare as topics for editorials I could write — areas that were my strength, and which I had spent many after-work hours researching. In response to an editorial topic I proposed, he responded via e-mail: "Take education off your agenda entirely, for eight hours a day, no calls, faxes, in-depth research, etc. Select any other topics from the entire universe of topics, but save education for the other 16 hours of the day, please." I responded by noting the difficulties I’d had in getting him to approve other editorial ideas, hinting at his Internet preoccupation. "I tried several times last week to get with you," I responded, "but each time your door was closed while you were doing work in the room with the Internet link." Brown’s behavior clearly violated the company’s "No Harassment Policy," which prohibits "conduct of a sexual nature" that has "the effect of unreasonably interfering with an affected person’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment." Just seven months before I first caught Brown viewing porn, then-newsroom executive editor Mary Kress circulated a memo after a catalog for phone sex featuring hardcore pornographic photos was left on the desk of a female newsroom employee. "This is unacceptable behavior for any member of this news staff," Kress wrote. "To force material such as this on a co-worker is an action subject to severe discipline up to and including dismissal." Given the clarity of the T-U policy, and the increasingly intolerable work environment, I submitted my formal letter of complaint in early 1997. Regrettably, a few days after handing it in, I asked to withdraw it. I’d been told by Brown’s wife that he had a serious health problem that would require surgery, and I didn’t want to pile on before his operation, scheduled for the summer. Though I withdrew the complaint, two months later, in March 1997, I again requested that the company monitor Brown’s Internet activity. A download list of Internet porn pictures — 221 of them — retrieved from his office in May 1998 by one of Brown’s family members showed Brown’s habit didn’t diminish in the least. I held on to the hope that things would improve at the office, particularly after I learned from members of Brown’s family that they’d confronted him about his porn addiction. But Brown just got more secretive and distant. Increasingly, I was excluded from editorial page planning meetings, which I formally complained about in a memo to Brown on Sept. 11, 1997. He would often fail to show up for scheduled meetings, which I also noted in my log. The final straw was Brown’s Christmas Eve 1998 "greeting" sent via office e-mail — his last correspondence with me before heading off on a two-week vacation. It was a list of names — dozens of them — of alleged Clinton whistleblowers who mysteriously disappeared or suddenly died after they spilled the beans on their boss. It was the first time I’d seen this list, which was circulating on the Internet, but the computer record at the top of the page showed Brown had downloaded it Sept. 9, 1998, some three months before he sent it my way. It appeared to be Brown’s Christmas gift to me, a not-so-subtle reference to my having notified the company about his porn problem. The implied threat was not lost on me, especially since I learned that summer from a member of Brown’s family that he carried a gun to work in his car. Although I spoke to or corresponded with company officials at least five times about Brown, I recall receiving only one written company correspondence about the matter. The letter, dated Aug. 31, 1998, was just six paragraphs long and acknowledged a meeting held Aug. 3, 1998 in which Brown and I met with Donna Williams, the human resources director. We discussed Brown’s porn habit openly. He acknowledged his problem, and we agreed to put the past behind us and attempt to move forward. Later that month, Williams showed up at my desk with the letter, which she asked me to sign. Brown had already signed it. The letter stated, "This meeting was to confirm to Billee that Lloyd had sought help through the company and an outside counselor for his addiction to the Internet and possession of pornography, and assure her that this problem had been addressed and is resolved. Further, the fact that Lloyd had no violent tendencies toward himself or anyone else was discussed. This was confirmed through the counselor and also was confirmed by Lloyd to Billee. Lloyd also signed a document warning him that any further violations would result in termination." I refused to sign the document, particularly after I read the last line: "This document is also an agreement from Billee that these measures have satisfactorily resolved her complaint." I was not satisfied. I had no confidence that Brown had received adequate counseling, and my instincts told me I had not seen the end of the problem. The only other commitments I received from the company regarding Brown were verbal, and disappointing. Company representatives, perhaps out of ignorance, told me it wasn’t technically possible to monitor Brown’s Internet activity, though I would later learn otherwise. They also claimed they had no power to force Brown to seek counseling for his problem. Neither Brown nor Cannon ever apologized to me, the only female on a three-person staff of editorial writers. The high-powered workplace law attorney I consulted described it as the "worst case of hostile workplace environment" he’d ever encountered. In early January 1999, two weeks after Brown returned from his holiday vacation, I gave notice that I wanted to transfer out of the editorial department. Because of my discomfort and concerns for my safety, I agreed to take the first job the human resources department offered, a position as an "advertorial" writer. My reward for trying to be a responsible journalist and watching out for the interests of the company was a transfer from what is considered one of the most important jobs in a newspaper to an entry-level slot. After working in the Special Sections department for 14 months, I left the paper in June 2000, in disgust, for a lower-paying, temporary job. In the course of those harrowing years, three attorneys said I had solid grounds for filing a lawsuit. Conditions appeared favorable for doing so or for getting a comfortable severance, especially since having this information emerge would be extremely embarrassing for Carl Cannon (then in line to become president of the Florida Press Association) and Billy Morris III, then chairman of the Newspaper Association of America. But I’d come to believe, from reading numerous T-U editorials trashing trial lawyers and pushing tort reform, that it was possible to work within the system to solve my problems. There were also practical reasons for not litigating. Not only had a conservative Congress recently restructured rules governing workplace complaints, making such suits more difficult, but changes in the law greatly limited damage awards, according to my legal counsel. My greatest concern, however, was the prospect of never being employed again in Jacksonville. In this good-ol’-boy town, women who sue find it difficult if not impossible to get a job — a fact confirmed by the lawyers I consulted. With my daughter’s college costs looming, I could not afford to be without a job. It’s been four years since I worked at the Times-Union. I have no intention, at this point, of suing the paper. The only reason I decided to write this story was because I became aware of continuing concerns about plagiarism at the paper’s editorial page, and I felt the need to speak out. I have no idea whether Lloyd Brown’s porn problems persist. I do know that even when publisher Carl Cannon was made aware of them, he did little more than give Brown a slap on the wrist. The same was true when instances of apparent plagiarism were brought to his attention. Perhaps he was too busy interfacing with Jacksonville luminaries to pay attention to what goes on in the department he oversees. Perhaps Cannon, a Georgia native and a newcomer to Jacksonville when he took over as publisher in 1990, needed Brown for the insights he provided on the power structure that runs Northeast Florida and supports the T-U. Perhaps Cannon feared making a change would reflect badly on his own management in light of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed in 1995 against a T-U ad sales supervisor by a 19-year employee. Or perhaps Cannon valued Brown’s public profile. Over the years, Brown’s combination of skills have made him something of a darling of the right-wing. His editorials have appeared as attachments in right-wing think-tank press kits that are circulated nationwide and can be found on conservative Websites. These ultraconservative views have earned Brown his bonafides among the ascendant right. Indeed, the T-U editorial page has become a vortex through which information from right-wing think tanks flows. The editorial and op-ed pieces frequently cite conservative groups, including Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Cato Institute, Hudson Institute, Hoover Institution, Manhattan Institute and Reason Foundation — some of the groups that have been instrumental in shifting public sentiment to the right. Unfortunately, in an era of media mergers, the imbalances on the Times-Union editorial page may be a precursor of things to come. Veteran journalist Bill Moyers recently warned: "As ... media conglomerates put more and more power in fewer and fewer hands, we have witnessed the rise of a new phenomenon — a quasi-official partisan press ideologically linked to an authoritarian administration that is in turn the ally and agent of powerful financial and economic interests that consider transparency a threat to their hegemony over public opinion." The failure of the Times-Union editorial page is obvious to many in the community. As a former employee, I can attest that the rot begins at the paper’s core. The editorial page of the city’s newspaper of record is not what its owner professes it to be, nor what this community deserves. It’s a disgrace, a disappointment and — in my experience, at least — a terrible place to work.

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