The Palm Beach Barn Burners!

Those with barrels of ink never really get their comeuppance.

But…when a major Florida daily that fancies itself an advocate for insurance consumers is accused by a leading advocate for insurance consumers of mistreating an insurance company, well…that’s about as close as it gets.

In this instance Jay Neal, the head of the Florida Association for Insurance Reform (FAIR), called an article by the Palm Beach Post and it’s reporter Charles Elmore “unfair”, “unbalanced” and “over the top”.

Unfortunately for the Post, other papers were going to print Neal’s criticisms. If the Post declined, as it often does when disagreeing with someone’s opinion, it would look even more biased. (See Palm Beach Post..two sides, one story!)

Being forced to share with its readership a credible indictment of its tabloid practices had to really stick in the old craw.

Without a clear understanding of reinsurance or the unregulated global marketplace in which it is traded, Elmore appeared to sculpt every event to build the implication that Citizens had done something wrong. First, that it’s policy regarding outdated roofs (and other claims issues) was unfair (which it isn’t) and second that travel expenses to buy reinsurance were “lavish” which they were not. And third, that the two were somehow related.

The article was titled “Slammed Florida ratepayers rip Citizens Property spending as ‘outrageous’ “.

If nothing else, Elmore is shrewd.

In the article hinting widespread complaints from rate payers about Citizens “outrageous” travel he quotes only two disgruntled claimants and balloons their comments with those from one of the Post’s most reliable sources of verbal inflation, former Senator turned tax assessor, Mike Fasano.

It’s like asking Ralph Nader what he thinks about the Corvair.

Fasano, who knows only slightly more about the reinsurance market than the Citizens “rate payers” Elmore interviewed, agreed with the ordained message Elmore was laying out.

Likely the two did not discuss the fact that Citizens negotiated an awesome deal for its policyholders, purchasing $3.1 billion in reinsurance for only $300 million–nearly twice the coverage of last year for roughly the same price. Or, that it reduced assessments on Citizens policyholders and virtually everyone else from $11.6 billion to $2.3 billion.

It was a late travel booking and a $104 reimbursement by Citizens Chairman Chris Gardner that drew Elmore’s ire. Along with hotel spa pictures and sales puffery from travel brochures, he jabbed financial minutiae at Post readers like a chum stick. Never checking to see how Gardeners’ hotel rate faired with others in Bermuda; among the lowest.

Think about it. Using his own words, Elmore had to explain to a policyholder at Citizens, one trying to avoid the responsibility of replacing an out of date roof, the costs to travel to Bermuda to negotiate this whopper of a reinsurance deal.

Why would that be necessary unless Elmore had an agenda?

That’s the way it sometimes works in media land.

Neal, who has sued Citizens twice, saw through Elmore’s convoluted attempts at linkage.

“The article unfairly attempts to weave these issues together in such a way to suggest that Citizens would prefer to go on junkets to exotic travel spots and waste millions on unneeded reinsurance than to provide coverage to senior citizens and pay legitimate claims.”

Elmore’s sleeve held other tricks though.

“While Citizens officials are jetting around to London, Zurich and Bermuda, Jacques says back in Lake Worth the company’s questionable decisions are hurting people like her and her 82-year-old mother.”

He makes it sound like “Jacques”, a Citizens rate payer, used the words “Citizens officials are jetting around to London, Zurich and Bermuda…”.

But, there were no quotes. Jacques was complaining about rates and roofs. Elmore was putting words in someone else’s mouth in a transparent attempt to link $104 with $3.1 billion.

An old trick and par for the Post’s course. A course at least partly behind the departure of former editor Randy Schultz and one his replacement Rick Christie needs to do a better job of changing.

You can decide. Read both articles here. Read more about why the reinsurance purchase was a sound decision here. Then listen to Governor Rick Scott question Citizens President Barry Gilway on travel expenses next week on the Florida Channel, August 19.

Meanwhile, Neal’s closing quote from the legendary Sam Rayburn accurately describes the Post’s lack of professionalism.

                     “Any jackass can burn down a barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one.”


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