With or without me, Florida will always be wonderfully, unrelentingly weird

By Carl Hiaasen - March 12, 2021 12:47 PM

Let%u2019s get it over with.

This is my last column for the Miami Herald. I didn%u2019t plan to write about that because there%u2019s actual news to be covered, but my dear friend Dave Barry told me I%u2019d look like a jerk if I didn%u2019t say some sort of goodbye.

So here goes. I grew up reading the Herald and what was then the Fort Lauderdale News, my parents holding this radical notion that being factually informed would help us develop into conscientious, fully functioning citizens.

I fell for newspapers and ended up at the University of Florida%u2019s journalism school, still one of the best. The Herald shelved my first job application, but in the summer of 1976 I got hired as a city desk reporter.

Reubin Askew was governor, and a harmless fellow named Gerald Ford was president only because the paranoid criminal who preceded him had been forced to resign, and the criminal president%u2019s criminal vice president had also quit after getting busted for taking bribes.

Those were the days when all of us wanted to be Woodward or Bernstein.

Meanwhile, South Florida was growing into an outrageously fertile news mecca %u2014 weird, violent, drug-soaked, exuberantly corrupt %u2014 and eventually I landed on the Herald%u2019s epic investigations team.

Years later, my oldest son, Scott, was doing that same job for the paper. I wasn%u2019t always good at telling him how proud I was, so I%u2019m telling him again now.

I was equally proud of my only brother, Rob, a columnist and editor who was murdered with four co-workers when an angry gunman charged into the Annapolis Capital Gazette newsroom on June 28, 2018. Rob%u2019s family and mine will be forever grateful to the hundreds of you who reached out to us after that heart-crushing day.

Most opinion columnists start out as street reporters, an experience vital to understanding how things really work as opposed to how they should. My own approach to the column %u2014 drawn from the incomparable Pete Hamill, Mike Royko and others %u2014 was simple: If what I wrote wasn%u2019t pissing off somebody, I probably wasn%u2019t doing my job.

Take a sharp-edged stand on any issue, and the other side seethes. Show me a columnist who doesn%u2019t get hate mail, and I%u2019ll show you someone who%u2019s writing about the pesky worms on his tomato plants. The detestable first-person pronoun will likely appear in this column more times than in the archive of my last three decades combined.

Nobody becomes a journalist because they yearn for mass adoration. Donald Trump didn%u2019t turn the public against the mainstream media; the news business has never been popular. We%u2019re tasked with delivering information that some readers don%u2019t want to hear, and will claim not to believe.

Lyndon Johnson blamed the press for turning Americans against the Vietnam War. Richard Nixon blamed the press for overblowing Watergate. Trump blamed the press for everything except his bronzer.

The internet has made it easier to wage war on the truth. Yet, as shown by the Capitol uprising of selfie-snapping Trump rioters, social media also serves to lure the dumb, deluded and dangerous into the open. Seeing them all offers important, if unsettling, clarity.

I%u2019ve done this column since 1985. No idea how many. No particular favorites, no regrets. Slash-and-burn was the only way I knew to do it.