Florida county to revisit rejection of digital New York Times for libraries

Responding to a public furor, a Florida county board on Tuesday said it would revisit its decision to reject its library system's request for a digital subscription to the New York Times, whose reporting one member had called "fake news."

The Oct. 24 decision by the Citrus County commissioners drew sharp opposition as well as national attention when it came to light in a local report late last week.

“One of the most, if not the most, disappointing aspects of all of this has been the vitriol that has come about so quickly," said Jeff Kinnar, chairman of the Board of County Commissioners. "I have gotten more foul language in my emails in the last 48 hours than I have gotten in the past three years.”

Members of the five-person board in Citrus County, about 75 miles (121 km) north of Tampa, said the request for about $2,700 a year to fund the Times digital version would be taken up again their Nov. 19 meeting.

"Come back during the next meeting when it's on the agenda," Commissioner Jimmie Smith urged critics of the decision. “I don’t expect us all to agree on all these issues. But let’s have a civil conversation. Stop the name-calling.”

On the same day the commissioners met last month, the White House said it planned to order federal agencies to end their subscriptions to the Times and the Washington Post, two outlets often criticized by U.S. President Donald Trump.

The board's initial decision drew coverage on Tuesday from national publications, including the Washington Post and USA Today, as well as an editorial in the Citrus County Chronicle that urged the body to rethink its decision.

"If you attended the meeting or watched the video, it was clear that the reason for rejection wasn’t fully fiscal — it was personal," the newspaper said on Sunday. "It was also downright unprofessional."

The rejection came when a board member withdrew a motion to approve the digital subscription after other members, led by Second Vice Chairman Scott Carnahan, spoke against it.

"Fake news!" Carnahan exclaimed, echoing a slogan Trump has repeatedly used to criticize journalists https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-media-trump/newspaper-editorials-across-u-s-rebuke-trump-for-attacks-on-media-idUSKBN1L1088 or news reports that contradict his opinion or policy positions.

"I will not be voting for this," he added.

The county already pays about $3,000 a year to supply the 70,000 card holders of its four regional libraries with the print edition of The Times, Library Services Director Eric Head told the Chronicle. (Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler, Bernadette Baum and Cynthia Osterman)