Bush defends hiring editor

The governor said that published allegations against Lloyd Brown "were not quite accurate."


Published: Wednesday, January 12, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 11, 2005 at 11:38 p.m.
Gov. Jeb Bush on Tuesday defended hiring a former newspaper editor who left his job in November amid public allegations of plagiarism and sexual harassment.
Bush said the allegations against Lloyd Brown, 65, "were not quite accurate" and said he felt "thankful for the fact that (Brown) is willing to serve here in state government."
Brown did not respond to numerous requests for comment.
Bush was in Washington, D.C., last week when it was reported that his office had hired Brown as a staff writer on Dec. 20 at an annual salary of $80,000. In that post, Brown will write speeches, letters to the editor and other material for the governor.
Brown retired from his position as editorial page editor of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville on Nov. 2 after a newspaper review found instances of plagiarism in editorials he had written.
Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Audrey Gibson said Tuesday that she was "very surprised" that Bush was "relying on someone whose credibility is in question. The foundation is shaky."
Gibson, who is black, said Brown's viewpoints also concerned her.
In 2000, Times-Union newsroom employees wrote a letter protesting an editorial Brown wrote that called the era of slavery in the United States "merely a small and shrinking part of the human condition." The editorial said the effects of slavery "are not permanent."
The Times-Union published a clarification after national commentators ripped the editorial. Brown later said, "We did not intend to downplay the terrible aspects of slavery in America."
Bush spokesman Jacob DiPietre said Brown's personal views are not an issue, since his new job is not to offer his own opinions.
"Lloyd doesn't create policy. Lloyd doesn't create message. The governor dictates policy, and the governor dictates the message," DiPietre said. "Lloyd will facilitate that message."
Brown had worked at the paper for more than 40 years, including 11-plus years as editorial page editor where he created a staunchly conservative page of viewpoints.
The plagiarism review came after a former Times-Union editorial writer, Billee Bussard, wrote a lengthy article in Folio Weekly, a Jacksonville weekly newspaper. In the October article, titled "Porn, Hypocrisy, Plagiarism: The Dark Side of Jacksonville's Daily," Bussard claimed Brown viewed Internet pornography in the paper's office beginning in 1995.
In 1998, after Bussard aired her concerns at the paper, Brown signed a letter saying he had sought help with "an outside counselor for his addiction to the Internet and possession of pornography."
DiPietre said last week that the letter Brown signed addressed pornographic material "only in the context of inappropriate, unsolicited e-mails he had gotten and deleted."
Bussard wrote that she left the editorial page department in 1999 "because of my discomfort and concerns for my safety."
She quit the paper in 2000, she said, in "disgust." Bussard was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
Last week, Bush fired Terry White, the head of the Department of Elder Affairs, for unspecified allegations of sexual harassment.
Bussard claimed Brown's behavior violated the company's "no harassment policy" which prohibits, among other things, "graphic . . . conduct of a sexual nature . . . or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment."
Jacksonville Democratic Sen. Tony Hill said Tuesday that the hiring of Brown reflected a "double standard" in light of White's abrupt firing. Hill said he planned to look into Brown's hiring, saying he was "shocked when the governor hired him."
Bush said Tuesday that his communications office "looked at the allegations, spoke to his employer and was confident that the allegations that were in Folio . . . were not quite accurate."
"The fact is that Mr. Brown served, was employed, by the newspaper for four or five years after these allegations were made," Bush said.
Gibson said Brown's consistently pro-Bush editorials were key in his hiring. On the resume Brown submitted to the governor's office, he touts his editorial page's endorsement of Bush, the production of "thousands of conservative editorials" and claims he was "credited with preventing (a) billion dollar sales tax increase."
"Now," Gibson said of Brown's conservative pedigree, "he's being rewarded for it" with a job in Bush's office.
DiPietre said the position Brown now holds had not been publicly advertised as vacant. DiPietre said that shortly after Brown retired from the Times-Union, he approached then-communications director Jill Bratina, asking to work for Bush. "He was interviewed just like any other prospective employee and was offered a position," DiPietre said.
Bush said Tuesday that Brown was hired for his abilities and for his ideology.
"I'm happy that he is on our team," Bush said. "He's a good writer. He's a conservative, which I appreciate. I'm one."

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