Thursday, November 10, 2011

The silly obsessions of Scott Maxwell

Not in Dorworth's Fan Club
How can you tell if Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell will be attacking State Representative Chris Dorworth? If it's a day ending in a "Y."

OK, it's a dumb joke, but there is some truth to it...

I don't expect journalists to be cheerleaders for elected officials. Disagree with some proposed legislation or how a government program is funded? Fire away. If a politician does something illegal or unethical, the media should call them out. But looking back over Maxwell's columns during the past two years, I can't help but wonder if there isn't something else going on.

Maxwell's bomb-throwing has been especially vitriolic recently. In a column on October 22 titled "Why won't Rep. Chris Dorworth explain $713,000 in new assets?" Maxwell rants and raves about information in Dorworth's latest financial disclosures, insinuates that Dorworth is involved in shady business dealings, and then claims that Dorworth refused to answer a list of 21 questions that Maxwell sent him. Maxwell followed up that column with a blog post two days later.

I know Dorworth from when we were both in college at the University of Florida together, and called him up to hear what he had to say about all of this. As I suspected, his side of the story is a lot different than the one Maxwell wants you to hear.

Maxwell makes two main allegations in his column: (1) that Dorworth is somehow hiding his wealth, and (2) that Dorworth won't answer Maxwell's questions. 

On the first point, Dorworth filed, on time, all of the financial disclosure forms that he is required to file. He actually disclosed more information than the law requires. Anyone who knows anything about real estate and business development knows that there is a value to information, and usually you don't want to disclose anything, for fear of helping your competitors or risking a deal. One little detail that Maxwell omits is that Dorworth was willing to provide the complete details to his business ventures, but wasn't willing to violate contracts or ruin his business deals by letting the newspaper print all the confidential details. Hmmm, that's funny, Maxwell doesn't mention that Dorworth was willing to do this in any of his articles. 

What seems to have Maxwell's panties in a bunch is that Dorworth is doing better financially than he was the year before. Surprising as this may be, Chris Dorworth didn't hatch out of an egg the year that he was elected to the legislature. Ask anyone who went to UF in the past few decades and they'll tell you that being elected Student Body President is a huge deal, but also a job that requires a lot of hard work. After he graduated from UF, Dorworth headed to Duke and earned an MBA: another accomplishment that requires a high degree of dedication and initiative. 

Is it really that shocking that someone who accomplished these things might be able to turn a profit in business once in awhile? Now, Dorworth's business certainly took a hit from the real estate downturn (and, I suspect, from the time he spent away in the Legislature), but now he's turning things around again...and...gasp! He's showing a profit! It's the end times for sure, my friends.

Seriously, what is Maxwell's problem? That Dorworth didn't curl up in a ditch and die after one unprofitable year? That he dared to get back out there, search for projects worth investing in, and do his best to make them successful? Quelle horreur!

The saga gets even wackier when you look at the timeline of events last month as a whole. Dorworth forwarded me emails and phone records that confirm this timeline:
  • October 20 – Maxwell contacts Dorworth and emails him the infamous 21 questions. Dorworth was overseas at the time and got the impression that Maxwell had already made up his mind about the issue.
  • That same day, Dorworth had a conversation with the publisher of the Orlando Sentinel, where he explained he would no longer deal with Maxwell, but would welcome the opportunity to answer any questions posed to him by other Sentinel reporters, and specifically expressed his willingness to answer the questions that Maxwell was asking.
  • October 22 - Maxwell publishes his column, accusing Dorworth of being evasive and refusing to answer his questions.
  • October 25 - Dorworth has two telephone conversations stretching almost two hours in length with Victor Schaeffer of the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board, in which he answers in detail the vast majority of Maxwell's questions. This call resulted in a several hundred dollar phone bill for Dorworth for the international call on his cell phone.
  • October 26 – Dorworth submits MyWord column in response to Maxwell’s writings answering in detail questions about his financial disclosure. 
  • October 27 –The Sentinel responds that they will not publish Dorworth's MyWord column without significant edits to not just the length of the column, but the content as well. 
  • October 28 – A second column is re-submitted by Dorworth. Again, the Sentinel objects to the length of the column. (You try answering 21 complicated questions about your financial dealings in 400 words or less. Just saying...)
  • November 1 – Maxwell still refuses to admit that Dorworth has provided any additional information to the Sentinel, even though he wrote another blog post suggesting that Dorworth is refusing to answer questions about his financial dealings. 
  • November 1 – A third column is submitted by Dorworth. The Sentinel agrees to publish the column the next day. 
As I mentioned, the Sentinel did publish a short "My Word" column by Dorworth last week, but even that was only half the story...literally.

Once again, Dorworth asked if he could write an op-ed in response to Maxwell's accusations, and submitted a column. He was told that it exceeded the word count, and that some of his direct critiques of Maxwell would not be allowed. Dorworth revised the column and resubmitted it. It was rejected again, with the excuse that it needed to be under 400 words (never mind that the Sentinel's stated editorial policy on their website is that My Word columns are "about 450 words").

For the record, here is the full My Word column that Dorworth originally submitted:

Setting the Record Straight, Again. 
By Chris Dorworth

In just the past year, Scott Maxwell has published columns and blog posts about my mortgage, my marriage, my EPass, my cell phone usage and my Facebook account.  He ignored my work to pass landmark legislation to protect victims of sexual violence, my advocacy for a property tax constitutional amendment and some of the most aggressive pro-jobs regulatory reform in Florida’s history --- issues that matter in the lives of everyday Floridians.
I did not run for office to seek approval from the Orlando Sentinel.  I ran to represent my constituents and to advance good, conservative policy. Scrutiny is part of the job, but no one should be allowed to print lies about people they don’t like, as Mr. Maxwell has done time and again.
Mr. Maxwell’s latest distortions are based on his examination of the financial disclosure form I file each year as a state legislator.
What makes this remarkable is that it was my thorough and extraordinary disclosure that made this available to him in the first place. I went well beyond what is required by state law to disclose, in painstaking detail, how I earn a living, and the valuation of the business endeavors I am involved in. His complaints about a lack of transparency are ridiculous.
Far more troubling however is that Mr. Maxwell levels serious allegations without any facts to back them up. In Mr. Maxwell’s court, you are convicted first and asked to prove your innocence second.
The truth of the matter is that I do not now, nor have I ever, profited in the private sector because of my public service.  In fact, my overall net worth has decreased 99% since my first disclosure was filed.  How anyone could twist this into accusations that I profited from my office is bizarre.
In addition, I do not have any ownership in anything related to the Wekiva Beltway project, another baseless allegation leveled by Mr. Maxwell.  I have never used my position to unduly influence the outcome of any deal – real  estate or otherwise.  Florida law requires that I disclose where my income comes from, and who pays it, and I have done so to the fullest extent of both the letter and spirit of the law. 
My net worth is driven by two projects that I have worked on since 2009.  The increased values were a result of successfully rezoning the land for development and arrangements to sell the improved parcels.  Mr. Maxwell wonders why they were not disclosed on my 2009 form.  It’s simple, there was no new value added to the projects until the 2010 calendar year. 
Finally, Mr. Maxwell wonders in his column why I don’t reply to his questions.
It’s simple.
I consider Mr. Maxwell a gossip columnist, not a serious journalist, a point I made to his editor in explaining why I would no longer have any dealings with Mr. Maxwell. He is not bound by the same rules as legitimate journalists, who need to provide facts to back up the claims that they make.
Any legitimate review of his writings would reveal that the targets of his attacks are almost universally elected officials from the Republican Party.  Further review would show that his political views are almost always liberal to the extreme.  I’m just the latest in a long line of conservative Republicans that has become a subject of Mr. Maxwell’s obsession.
Scrutiny is part of the job for elected officials, and I believe the constituents who I serve have a right to know certain things about those of us who have been placed in a position of trust. I owe it to them to be transparent and accountable, and I will continue to be, but I won’t allow Scott Maxwell to continue to make up lies about me.
To paraphrase the late Patrick Daniel Moniyhan, Mr. Maxwell is entitled to his opinions, but he is not entitled to his own facts.


  1. There is no doubt that the Sentinel has it out for Dorworth because he is a powerful conservative republican.

  2. That's crazy. I had no idea Maxwell was that slanted. Well they call it the "Slantinel," right?

  3. great article, Sarah! Now if you could simply uncover why Scott Maxwell feels so scorned by Dorworth. Then we would all know why he so obsessed... Do that and you may win a pulitzer ;-)


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