EDITORIAL: Holding Palm Beach Society Hostage

flag-societyIsn’t it about time for the grown ups to take over Palm Beach society?

That question shouldn’t shield the overarching fact that Palm Beach is home to some of the world’s most generous people.

It’s just that a few judgment calls are beneath some of the philanthropists who make them, and give the false impression they might be petty, selfish and provincial.

Case in point: A handful of gala chairs this season have allowed themselves to be led by the nose by the Palm Beach Daily News (the so-called Shiny Sheet) — thus costing the medical research, homeless and animal charities it’s supposed to raise money for untold damages.

In the non-profit business, you see, exposure translates into cold, hard cash.

And when exposure is being used as a weapon by the Shiny Sheet, everybody loses.

Here’s what’s going on:

The dying newspaper’s columnist, Shannon Donnelly, is talking society mavens who are often unwise to the correlation between exposure and revenues, into declaring their black-tie galas off-limits to other media.

That includes television stations and websites like Gossip Extra.

What happens if an event is open to all news organizations?

Donnelly might not show up to do her job, which automatically places in-depth coverage of the event in the back of the line or off the paper’s agenda.

Leadership asleep at the switch

In making her request, Donnelly breaks so many newspaper business rules that it’s hard to figure out where to begin. And she makes all journalists look bad.

In some circles, you see, trading on or withholding coverage of a legitimate news event fits the definition of blackmail. And incompetence.

Publisher Joyce Reingold won’t comment outside of: “We cover as many events as possible each season, regardless of whether or not other media are in attendance.”

So it’s unclear whether she knows, or cares about, or understands Donnelly’s dirty deals with otherwise honorable institutions like the LIFE Foundation, the American Red Cross and even the Palm Beach Zoo.

All three stupidly caved to Donnelly.

It was partly because they worried that their photos wouldn’t appear in the Shiny Sheet, partly because they thought the lack of coverage by the paper would hurt their cause.

Other groups told Donnelly to go fly a kite — and are not worse off for it. Those included the organizers of balls for the Police Foundation, Susan G. Komen For the Cure and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

All raised record amounts of well over $1 million!

Caving in

To be sure, there is something poetic about multi-millionaires like Lois Pope figuratively kneeling before someone like Donnelly, a wardrobe-challenged woman who lives in a $112,500-condo bought with the settlement money from plastic surgery gone awry.

There’s something strangely attractive about proud one-percenters lending a lowly hack the power to pick who does, and doesn’t, attend its functions.

For those of you who do not know Donnelly, writer Laurence Leamer demystified her role three years ago in his tome about Palm Beach, Madness Under The Royal Palms.

Among other goodies, Leamer wrote about Donnelly allegedly accepting lavish gifts from her sources.

And he hinted that the purpose of her 2001 wedding to a much older man was to collect more expensive gifts without raising suspicion — something that would have cause her firing from 99.9 percent of legitimate news outlets.

In case you’re wondering, Donnelly continues to breach journalistic ethics and the rules of the paper’s owners on a weekly basis with Reingold’s blessing.

This season, she’s on track to accept 25 to 30 tickets into lavish Palm Beach feasts.

Each ticket is worth between $750 and $1,000, and neither Donnelly nor the Shiny Sheet will be asked to pony up for the lobster, caviar, steak and expensive wines consumed by their employee.

“We don’t pay for access,” Reingold proudly wrote in an email.

That’s fine and dandy — then stop leaning on charities to give up valuable coverage.

Because eventually, Palm Beach society will figure out that having a photo in the Shiny Sheet isn’t all it’s made out to be, even after paying dearly for it.

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