Last mission to repair the Hubble telescope Hubble space telescope discoveries have enriched our understanding of the cosmos. In this special report, you will see facts about the Hubble space telescope, discoveries it has made and what the last mission's goals are.
For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
Radio host rails against politics in boot camp case
He says local medical examiner got a raw deal because of the governor.
By ABBIE VANSICKLE, Times Staff Writer
Published October 3, 2007
Burnie Thompson, 40, is a radio talk show host in Panama City. He's new to the area -- he's only lived there since January 2007 -- but he's made quite a name for himself through the boot camp case.
[Courtesy of Burnie Thompson]
PANAMA CITY, Fla. -- Burnie Thompson remembers his outrage the first time he saw the boot camp videotape.
Living in Pennsylvania, he saw it on the national news. Horrified, he watched as guards struck Martin Lee Anderson.
Oh my God, they beat that boy to death, he thought.
This past January, Thompson changed his life -- and his mind. He left an Air Force career and moved to Panama City for a job with Talk Radio 101.1 FM, WYOO, a station that airs Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity and lists the current Homeland Security threat level on its Web site.
At jury selection for the trial of the seven guards and the camp nurse accused of manslaughter, prosecutors asked: Do you listen to talk radio? Which station? Usually, the answer was 101.1.
"What the prosecutors were really asking was, 'Do you listen to The Burnie Thompson Show?' because I have talked about this a lot," Thompson said.
Weekdays, as the people of Bay County begin their morning commute, Thompson gives them his view: The local medical examiner got a raw deal, thanks to a governor who played politics and reporters who misrepresented facts. Thompson says roughly 20,000 people a week listen to his show.
As the trial begins today, Thompson will be talking, as usual, this time to student protesters.
"I think what's coming to Panama City is going to make the Jena Six story look small," he said. "I'm frustrated, I'm angry, and I'm sad about it. I'm sad that the character and dignity of good Bay Countians are going to be impugned by people who don't know us."
One of his fans is Waylon Graham, a defense attorney who represents accused former drill instructor Charles Helms Jr.
"Everybody in Panama City's heard of (Thompson)," Graham said. "Burnie was one of the first people in the media to give the guards a fair shake."
A 40-year-old native of California, Thompson received a master's degree in journalism from the University of Southern California in 2002.
A registered Republican, he calls himself a Libertarian.
The recommended reading list on his Web site includes White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era;Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got It Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First; and The Bias Against Guns: Why Almost Everything You've Heard About Gun Control Is Wrong.
His show mostly focuses on local issues, such as trash pickup and whether to close school campuses during lunchtime.
His two most high-profile guests?
"Rudy Guiliani and Dog the Bounty Hunter."
In an interview, his voice is calm, his manner mild.
Interested in the boot camp case, he invited medical examiners to speak and was stunned that they agreed with Dr. Charles Siebert, the Bay County medical examiner widely criticized after he attributed Anderson's death to sickle cell trait.
Thompson watched, frustrated, as Gov. Charlie Crist helped to gain momentum for a claims bill for the family, part of a $7.2-million settlement. Such action, before a trial, was wrong, Thompson said.
"Nobody denies the tragedy of losing a member of our community," Thompson said. "But what upsets me is we have a governor using the power of the state to defame a medical examiner who throughout the country is heralded as not only qualified and competent but is known as a good medical examiner."
He started writing about it.
"Put down the hatchet, Governor," Thompson wrote in the Tallahassee Democrat. "Halt the attack on a man whose scientific opinion you either disagree with or don't understand."
A spokeswoman for Crist declined to discuss specific accusations.
Thompson also attacked the state's journalists, accusing them of "media malpractice" for letting a social agenda get in the way of the facts.
Graham, the defense attorney, said Thompson provided an important perspective. "For the first time people got to hear that there was actually another side to this," he said.
Thompson hasn't won friends among those who believe the guards' actions led to the teen's death, said Vanessa Macomsen, chair of the Greater Bay chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"I know I would never listen to that," she said of his show. "I've seen the (Burnie Thompson Show) stickers on the cars. They kind of match with those cars with hunting stickers, 'W' stickers."
As far apart as they are politically, Macomsen and Thompson agreed on two things: The guards will be found not guilty of aggravated manslaughter, and it will cause an uproar.
"Look, this area, it's already been on the radar screen, but it's going to consume Panama City," Thompson said. "Do you know what's going to come here? It's going to be the likes we've never seen before."
He knows for certain what his role will be as the trial takes its toll on his adopted community.
He'll do what he always does -- give people something to talk about.
"I'm trying to ensure that we can keep talking to each other," he said, "even as people try to divide us."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at (813) 226-3373.