(SS) It’s an infinitesimally small percentage of our readers who can say they’ve seen someone run down by a vehicle just a few feet away, but Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis is now among them.
We can’t know what it’s like to be in that situation. The horror of watching people maimed and killed directly in front of you might make you assume the worst. But Trantalis is the mayor of the largest city in Broward County. What he said, calling the accident at the Stonewall Pride parade a “terrorist attack,” was irresponsible.
That was bad enough, but his follow-up statement, in which he recanted his jump to conclusions without offering an apology, was worse. It’s one thing to exercise poor judgment in the immediate aftermath of tragedy. It’s another thing entirely to put out a statement hours later that you were mistaken without offering anything conciliatory to the many people terrorized not by the act itself, but by the thought, made all-too-real by the statement of an important local leader, that hatred and violence had come to one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in the country on the day it celebrates its diversity.
The mayor owes his constituents an apology, and Trantalis’ words at a vigil the next day — “I regret the fact that I said it was a terrorist attack because we found that it was not, but I don’t regret my feelings” — is the sort of half-hearted attempt too common among politicians who feel they can’t even afford to be seen as mistaken.
Journalists, meanwhile, have an obligation to get all of the facts before reporting. It’s one thing to report what the chief elected official of Fort Lauderdale, and a direct witness to the events, said. It’s another entirely to draw your own conclusions based on those words. If journalism is the first rough draft of history, then Twitter is the first rough draft of journalism. And in the hours after the accident, many journalists failed in their duties.
“Is this someone emboldened by the new law Gov. Ron DeSantis signed in which it’s legal to drive into protests?” tweeted liberal radio host Michaelangelo Signorile, a tweet he later deleted.
“There is a claim, unconfirmed, that he was aiming for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and missed her by ‘just inches,’” tweeted author and former Editor and Publisher editor Greg Mitchell.
This unverified claim then became the basis for warped reality in other tweets.
“2 hit by truck that was aiming for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s car, in [sic] person is dead,” tweeted author and activist Soraya Chemaly, who also included Trantalis’ quote about it being a “terrorist attack,” though she attributed the quote to “authorities,” making the statement seem far more authoritative than it actually was. She also later deleted her tweet.
As irresponsible as Trantalis was — and as irresponsible as were many of the people who used his quote to pile on — what came next was all-too-predictable as a legion of haters demanded Trantalis’ removal from office. It should come as no surprise that many of these people are political adversaries of the liberal Democratic mayor.
Trantalis’ expression of remorse showed that he knew he had made a grievous mistake and a rush to judgment. He knew he was wrong. To demand his removal from office is another gross overreaction.
To elected officials everywhere, remember: In a moment of crisis such as what occurred in Wilton Manors Saturday, the first imperative should be to protect public safety and offer calm and reassuring words, as soon as possible. The last thing we need is more divisive rhetoric. We urge Trantalis to clear the air and offer an unconditional apology.
The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Deputy Editorial Page Editor Dan Sweeney, Steve Bousquet and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Editorials are the opinion of the Board and written by one of its members or a designee.