Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and President Donald Trump are two peas in a pod.
While Trump blasts news organizations for "fake coverage," and closes off press to White House gaggles, Levine takes censorship a step further, trying to gag the press by blocking them off of social media. Mayor Levine's feelings are so fragile, in fact, that he's gone block-happy on Twitter, censoring reporters and members of the public who raise questions about his tenure as mayor or say, well, pretty much anything else he doesn't like.
How do I know? I'm one of the reporters who's found herself in the crosshairs of Levine's Twitter-block spree.
It all started three weeks ago when SSN published a column raising questions about Levine possibly using Miami Beach taxpayer dollars to fund a lawsuit against Florida and in turn, raise his profile for a gubernatorial bid.
I tweeted out the story the Monday after it was written, just ahead of his city commission meeting. From what I heard, Levine didn't take it well, exploding at Miami Beach commissioners and threatening to sue.
By Saturday, I noticed Levine had been running a paid ad campaign promoting his "living wage" schtick. I tweeted it was ironic to run a paid campaign so close to what was undoubtedly critical coverage of Levine -- coverage that didn’t make him look good. Can you say PR overhaul?
Levine fell off my radar until last Friday, when I heard he was speaking at the Central Florida Urban League conference in Orlando with other possible gubernatorial contenders. I went to tweet about it, but Levine's name turned up blank when I went to tag him.
I searched for him, clicked on his profile, and saw I had been blocked. I still have no idea why it happened, but suspicion leads me to believe Levine wasn't thrilled about my previous tweet.
Levine's adviser Christian Ulvert told me the page was not an official Miami Beach social media account, but Levine does officially represent the city and often tweets what he's up to on a day-to-day basis, which seems pretty official to me.
Ulvert said Levine's accounts don't allow individuals to post "slanderous, false ... misinformation" and says anyone who uses social media for those purposes is blocked. He also told me I could look at how many people the mayor was following, which has zero indication of how many people Levine has actually blocked.
I can only imagine it's because the number is so high, Levine has lost count.
"His long-supported policy, utilized by many, is to allow constructive dialogue to take shape through social media," Ulvert told me, adding that I was "inadvertently" blocked, assuring me it would "be corrected."
Constructive? What's constructive about blocking people you don't agree with? By the way, at the time of this article's publication, I am still blocked.
I'm not alone in being cut off from Levine, though. I recently found myself welcomed into the fold of dozens, possibly hundreds, who have also been given the "Closed for Business" sign on Levine's social media pages. A quick search on Twitter showed many other people had been axed from seeing what Levine was up to -- some of them merely replied to tweets criticizing him for failed projects and high crime rates.
Take Grant Stern, for example. Stern, a journalist and activist with Occupy Democrats, wrote a tweet criticizing Levine last year. Blocked. So, Stern took his comments to Levine’s official Facebook page. Blocked again.
Dozens of people came to Stern at the time and said they, too, had been closed out of Levine’s social media pages for criticizing him. Hundreds of comments from Levine’s official Facebook page have “disappeared,” presumably deleted by the miffed mayor.
Levine has a history of lashing out at critics. Last June, he accused the Miami Herald of “conspiring” with scientists for a “hit piece” because they wrote the city was pumping human fecal matter into Biscayne Bay. The Herald stood by the story.
But wait, there’s more. In 2015, the Miami New Times criticized Levine. They got blocked, too. Levine said it was a mistake (sound familiar?), but never unblocked the paper.
Stern filed a public records request to get the names of all the people Levine had shut out from his accounts, but the city denies that request was ever made. In the suit, Stern claims Levine uses the Twitter account, @MayorLevine, to communicate official city business, which would make his accounts subject to the Sunshine Law. That means the proceedings of Levine’s accounts would have to be public information.
Beyond communicating what’s going on in the South Florida city, it appears Levine also uses the account to snuff out and censor comments he doesn’t like.
Levine’s skin is so thin, he should be known as the naked mole rat of Miami Beach.
“For someone with his political desires, he’s got the impulse control and knowledge of a 10-year-old,” Stern said.
That, to me, is a huge red flag for someone who's thinking of running for governor next year. For all we know, Levine might censor the entire Tallahassee press corps once they dig -- and they will -- anywhere below the surface of Levine's corrupt career as mayor of Miami Beach.
Let me ask you: Do you really feel comfortable putting someone in the governor's mansion who can't even handle one critical tweet from a reporter?
Can you imagine? The entire Tallahassee press corps would be cast out with the click of a button should they "wrong" Levine.
Bye bye, free press. This circus only runs as long as Levine is the one cracking the whip.
In a way, the timing of this story couldn’t be better. It’s like journalistic kismet. On Friday, President Donald Trump deliberately expelled CNN and scores of other news organizations from a White House press gaggle. Unsurprisingly, the entire press corps is now out behind CNN, screaming bloody murder.
Is this ringing a bell yet? Mayor Levine is Florida's very own Donald Trump, attacking outlets and squenching coverage he doesn’t like. Except, unfortunately for Levine, he has no solid message and no parade of hundreds of thousands of adoring fans to push him to the top like Trump did.
“He's delusional,” Miami filmmaker and Levine critic Billy Corben told me. “He runs around everywhere with a Secret Service-looking security guard. But nobody even knows who he is.”
But as Trump has realized, the funny thing about censorship is that, more often than not, it has the opposite of the intended effect. Censorship causes journalists to pursue stories they wouldn't otherwise write. It emboldens us to dig deeper. It compels us to push harder.
Mayor Levine can try to silence members of the media from knowing what he's up to, and he can block us all he wants, but it's only at his own peril.
Levine, totally naive in underestimating the power of the reporter, has only shot himself in the foot.