There has been a significant update in a story from this week’s issue (12 August 2018). Let’s start with my original story:
Melissa Howard is running in the Republican primary for a seat in Florida’s House of Representatives for the Sarasota area, pledging to “do my best to support our President and his policies to ‘Make America Great Again’.” A conservative political news web site questioned Howard’s claimed education: she says she’s a graduate of Miami University in Ohio, but FLA News Online couldn’t find record of her graduating and called her out. Howard called the accusation a “lie,” and her spokesman slammed it as “fake news.” Howard later issued a photo of herself and her mother holding her framed diploma. The web site apologized, but took it back after a university spokesman pointed out multiple problems with the pictured diploma. It shows a bachelor of science degree in marketing; the school has never offered such a degree. It’s also signed by someone other than the dean of the business school, and is dated 1996; on her campaign bio, Howard said she graduated in 1994. Some prominent Florida Republicans are demanding Howard drop out of the race, but the Republican Party of Sarasota refuses to condemn her actions, adding they would support whatever nominee won the primary. (RC/WPLG Miami, Sarasota Herald-Tribune) Make Truth Matter Again.
On Monday (13 August), Howard came out fighting. “It was not my intent to deceive or mislead anyone,” she claimed, but “I made a mistake in saying that I completed my degree. What I did was wrong and set a bad example for someone seeking public service.” Despite that, she vowed “I am staying in the race and intend to win and lead by example from now on.”
She didn’t happen to say who forged the diploma, perhaps because it may be a crime. Florida law says that “Any person, with intent to defraud, misrepresents his or her association with, or academic standing or progress at, any post-secondary educational institution by falsely making, altering, simulating, or forging” a degree is guilty of a first degree misdemeanor.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the 12th Judicial Circuit State Attorney, has been formally requested to investigate Howard for the crime — by Former Manatee County GOP Chairwoman Donna Hayes.
Why does Hayes care? “She broke the law,” Hayes said. “There are consequences in life, and if she hasn’t realized that at age 46 this is probably a wonderful learning experience and hopefully this should help Melissa through life as time goes on.”
Voters didn’t stand for it either. By the next day (14 August), Howard admitted “I made a terrible error in judgement” and resigned her candidacy. “We’re glad she’s out of the race,” proclaimed Sarasota GOP Chairman Joe Gruters. “I think she did the right thing for the community.”
Truth Does Matter
It may not seem like it these days, but it does. Not to every politician, obviously, but even in Florida GOP circles, it still does. Far from being “the enemy of the people,” the news media championed the truth. The story wasn’t the “fake news” that Howard’s spokesman Anthony Pedicini claimed. And it was not just a white lie: it was criminal fraud that could, and probably should, land Howard in jail. And for what? Voters are much more respectful of actual success — and Howard is (or at least was) a successful entrepreneur — than they care about college degrees. She didn’t need to lie, let alone go to great lengths to support her fakery, taking it from falsehood to misdemeanor.
Or, as the local newspaper, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, commented in an editorial, “Howard proved that some people will lie even when the truth would serve them better.” And as we’ve seen before, “In politics, the coverup is often worse than the crime.”
Kudos to at least some of Florida’s leading Republicans to demand accountability — and truth. It matters, and it’s the news media’s job to call out lies when they see them. That’s why the Constitution’s First Amendment named them specifically: Freedom of the Press is a basic premise of American democracy, and attacks on the press as some sort of “enemy of the people” is an attack on American democracy.