Fox News host Sean Hannity on Friday night continued following developments in Panama City Beach, Fla., a community where his Fox News show “Hannity” is driving political outcomes. As noted last week in this space, Hannity’s wall-to-wall expose on spring break excesses at the Florida panhandle destination has stirred locals to action: Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen has proposed a number of measures to tamp down the bacchanalia, and the Panama City Beach Council last Thursday night voted to explore many of them.
In recapping the developments, Hannity noted that he’d invited the “mayor, the police chief and the city manager to come on the show tonight and explain. They all turned down our invitation.”
Snubbing “Hannity” is an offense that the Erik Wemple Blog takes personally, so we rang up Panama City Beach Mayor Gayle Oberst and asked, what’s the deal with blowing off “Hannity”? Oberst: “I believe what our staff told his staff was that the city council had voted to take some action and our staff was working on putting those actions into ordinances and we would be voting on them again and would rather wait and talk about it when we had things in place.”
Hannity doesn’t like to be put on hold for bureaucracy!
Whatever the rationale, Oberst didn’t have to go on air and defend the actions of the Panama City Beach Council, which had voted down two significant spring-break-madness-reducing recommendations. Those two recommendations are:
* Allow no alcoholic beverages on the beaches (sand) or parking lots during College Spring Break.
* Restrict any type of cooler regardless of size or shape on the white sandy portions of our beach during College Spring Break. This would still allow our residents and guests to consume a single alcoholic beverage on the beach, but would eliminate the large parties with coolers that usually contribute to the underage drinkers.
The city council did approve a number of other measures for staff consideration, though these measures won’t pass into force without another vote of the city council. Included among these items is beefing up police patrols, rolling back bar-closing hours from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m., closing city-owned parking lots at 5 p.m. and . . . oh my, this one merits a verbatim treatment:
*Prohibit the digging of any holes on the sandy portion of the beach. This is not only a safety issue for emergency personnel, but for people just walking on the beach. Some of these holes are large enough to hold eight or ten people and illegal activities along with sexual misconduct do occur within them.
Hannity should read that one on air.
Reviewing the enforcement of spring-break rules, says Oberst, happens as a matter of course every year in the halls of Panama City Beach’s government. “We usually do have meetings with the county and tourist development council and the city, and we talk about what we need to do,” says Oberst. “Unfortunately we just had some national publicity this year. That’s the only thing that changed.” Spring break, the mayor suggests, is custom-made for a “Hannity” special: “If you take a camera and turn it on college kids at the beach when they’re partying, they put on a fairly good show,” says Oberst.
When asked about reports on “Hannity” about college kids ending up in the hospital and worse, Oberst responded, “Let me just say that we at any given time probably have more students here than they do at college campuses. I would say that we don’t have any more kids that get in trouble than at college campuses.”
That a Florida municipality is throwing around proposals and directives and talking about coolers is a great moment for “Hannity.” Though this isn’t Benghazi, it’s impact, and many cable shows out there have none of it, ever. The peril for “Hannity,” as Panama City Beach moves forward with its considerations, is that big-government opponent Sean Hannity aligns himself with big government.
Have a peek at some of the measures under consideration. One would require a state-issued picture identification/driver’s license for anyone in “possession of an alcoholic beverage.” Overreach! Oberst acknowledged that the measures would have to undergo scrutiny from lawyers.
And what of the prospect that Hannity is driving a need for higher taxes in this Florida community? “We’re going to have to raise more revenue,” says Oberst, noting that the hope is to grab the money from an existing “bed tax.”
— Brad Friedman (@TheBradBlog) May 8, 2014