John Reichard represents Ward 1 on the Panama City Beach City Council. He watched earlier this year as staffers from the Fox News program “Hannity” rolled into town and produced a series of programs on the boozy excesses that went on during spring break festivities. The councilman didn’t approve, of the coverage.
“I think it was extremely bad journalism,” says Reichard, referring to host Sean Hannity’s critique of mass partying. “They came down here, they went on the beach behind the largest nightclub in the county and found a kid who had too much to drink and said, ‘Hey, kid, have you seen any drugs around here?'”
The councilman’s media criticism notwithstanding, he’s prepared to vote in favor of three ordinances designed to tamp down the madness of next year’s spring break in Panama City Beach — ordinances that quite clearly stemmed from a ruckus kicked up by Hannity’s expose. As explained in a previous post, those regulations would roll back alcohol-sale hours next March, require ID for beach drinking and curb special events. The thinking behind the roll-back, says Reichard, is that “by reducing those hours, there’s less chance of underage, 17-year-old underage drinkers falling prey to the predators,” says the councilman, referring to drug dealers and other riff-raff who descend on the beach during spring-break weeks. Reichard says he’d be “surprised” if the package doesn’t pass the council.
So would Mayor Gayle Oberst. “Unless someone has changed their mind, I don’t think there’ll be any problem,” says Oberst, who has a vote on the city council. The council’s first vote on the measures takes place Thursday, and by law the measures need to be approved in a second vote as well. Meaning: Sometime in October, Hannity likely secures a meaningful legislative victory.
Officials in Panama City Beach acknowledge that Hannity’s focus on the problem of drunken, out-of-control spring breakers forced change. One newspaper columnist wrote a piece titled, “How Fox News and Twitter pushed Panama City Beach closer to spring break regulations.” When asked about Hannity’s impact, Oberst told the Erik Wemple Blog, “To be honest with you, the majority of people we received calls and e-mails from did not live in Panama City Beach,” said the mayor.
Though the new ordinances may curtail beach drinking, they won’t prohibit it altogether. “The businessmen and many of the people who lived here felt like that would stop spring break,” says Oberst. “It would slow it down tremendously — the number of kids that came for spring break.” So there’ll be plenty of activity for “Hannity” to inveigh against next year.