Now I've heard it all:
the coverage of
Sembler's 50th wedding anniversary

by Wes Fager


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Perhaps you know that on April 25 the Saint Petersburg Times ran a story announcing the upcoming party the Sembler's were planning for their big five-O wedding anniversary at their Magic Kingdom in Rome. Well Tampa Bay's Dynamic Duo had the "mother of all parties" on May 2 - 4, so why didn't we hear about it from the Times? Or did we? The Oakton Institute previously reported a story that the Times appears to have gotten a sweetheart deal from Sembler in return for killing a damaging story about a protest at Sembler's house. The Institute has also reported on the softening approach that the Times, once Sembler's biggest critic, has taken with the Teflon Ambassador since Paul Tash took control. Is it possible that the Times is finally listening to us? Is the Times trying to put the brakes on its spin campaign to glamorize this once controversial couple? Is the Times afraid to report on the Roman Holiday?

Well, not exactly. But it does look like it wants to camouflage the story? Mel and Betty are Jewish. Menorah Manor is a Jewish home for the elderly down there in Tampa. On Sunday May 4 Menorah Manor held its 18th Anniversary celebration at a hotel in Saint Petersburg. Times' reporter Mary Jane Park was dispatched to cover the story which was published on May 7 under the name, Menorah Manor marks its 18th anniversary Series: ON THE TOWN. For seven paragraphs Ms. Park wrote about the festivities at the Menorah Manor anniversary party; but then, in paragraph eight, she abruptly shifted gears and started talking about all the important Bay area citizens who could not be there because they were in Italy attending Mel and Betty's Roman holiday. Prominent citizens like retired Pinellas- Pasco Circuit Judge David Seth and Joan Walker, and retired pediatrician Bruce Epstein who stated "What impressed me the most was the love and affection the Italians have for the Semblers. . . . I sat next to the Italian Minister of Defense, Antonio Martino . . . (and he) made a point of mentioning how well the Semblers represented the United States and that we should be very proud of them." Incidentally, Dr. Epstein is a former Straight board member as is Marilyn Benjamin, another guest at the "Nozze d'Oro" (that's Italian for golden anniversary).

Besides the Italian Minister of Defense, other tablemates of Dr. Epstein's were the Israeli ambassador to Italy and "an orthopedic surgeon who once treated Betty." That's a mysterious way Ms. Park uses to describe this only "unidentified" guest. I wonder. When Betty turned 70 the Times did a glowing article on her birthday party mentioning that Judge Irene Sullivan had been there and had been asked, along with the other guests, to donate money to the Drug Free America Foundation (formerly Straight, Inc.) in lieu of gifts. Judge Sullivan had been one of the three Republican candidates for judgeships whose campaign had been actively pushed by the Pinellas County Republican Party causing great consternation from local newspapers. Her husband Donald C. Sullivan is an orthopedic surgeon who is being considered for the top Republican Party job in Florida. Dr. Sullivan used to be the secretary for Straight Foundation. But in 1993, after the Times noted that a report from the IG for the state Department of Health had concluded that Mel Sembler and unspecified state senators had probably interfered with a state attempt in 1989 to close Straight's flagship treatment facility in Saint Petersburg, Sullivan resigned from Straight and successfully ran for state senator. Eventually he was appointed to the senate committee which oversees the state Department of Health! (When Donald Sullivan resigned from Straight Wesley Pennington, then president of Straight, Inc., did too to run, but unsuccessfully, for the state House Representatives.) Strange Ms. Park does not mention the "orthopedic" surgeon's name. You know how those Israeli intelligence officers are. They know everything. Suppose the Israeli ambassador brought up the rumors of the dark side of Mel Sembler, rumors about Straight and child abuse, in front of the Italian Minister of Defense. Those ministers would have been surrounded by two American medical doctors and maybe even a judge (provided Dr. Sullivan's wife was also there) who could have set the record straight.

I mean it's not like Ambassador Sembler should not worry about a scene happening like I just described. Arnold Trebach is a professor emeritus of law at American University who has written extensively about the abuses of Straight. He happened to be at a dinner in Australia back when Sembler was our ambassador to that country. Listen to what Dr. Trebach writes on his web page about that dinner.

While attending a major international conference in Melbourne in 1989, I heard the American ambassador to Australia brag that he and his wife had formed a drug treatment organization called Straight in Florida. The ambassador was of course Mel Sembler who had been appointed by President Reagan and was the featured after-dinner speaker. ( I was sitting at a table composed mostly of foreign drug officials. When my wife and I reacted in quiet astonishment, they asked the cause of our outrage. As I started to explain in a whisper, they looked puzzled, but then a top Dutch drug policy official at the table offered his own explanation, “Oh yes, I know about the program, Hitler Jungen!”).

Ms. Park spends seven paragraphs on Menorah Manor; 13 on the big L. This is beginning to sound like journalistic buffoonery to me. I mean you title an article Menorah Manor marks its 18th anniversary Series, perhaps hoping that Sembler's critics won't catch it, when the real story is about the toga party at Mel's house! Time's story