Thursday, July 28, 2005

Caught On Tape Means Miami Herald Columnist Can Be Caught On Unemployment Line

Jim DeFede Fesses Up To Pressing "Record" Without Permission; Candor = Guillotine

Updated 7/28--9 p.m.---Blog formed calling for DeFede's reinstatement:

Anyone who reads this space knows I'm more prone to flog a journalist who screws up rather than find a way to defend him. It's so much easier that way, especially with the public viewing our ilk in much the same way as a telemarketer or motor vehicle department clerk.
Nonetheless, I'm more than a bit surprised that the Miami Herald gave the heave-ho to columnist Jim DeFede, who came forth and admitted he taped a conversation with disgraced politician Arthur Teele, just hours before Teele ventured to the Herald lobby yesterday and blew his brains out.
Taping someone without their permission is a no-no in Florida. But as DeFede told the newsroom after his ouster: ''As Teele was becoming unglued [on the phone], I turned on a tape recorder because I could tell that he was distraught and bouncing off the walls..."
Not exactly the strongest rationale, but this was someone DeFede had known for a decade, who was facing dozens of felony charges and had been fodder for many a Herald story.
DeFede came clean after Teele pulled the trigger. He may have escaped with only a suspension. But he admitted to keep on rolling even after Teele said he was speaking off the record. That may have been what pushed the Herald brass over the edge, although their official position is DeFede sealed his own fate by merely taping the conversation, which may have been a felony, not to mention unethical.
Of course, being unethical has rarely been grounds for dismissal in the news business. Otherwise, there'd be a lot of empty desks in many a newsroom at any given moment. A felony? Perhaps. But who's pressing charges? Highly doubtful prosecutors would be proactive for a case like this, especially when the prospective star witness is in no position to talk anymore.

''The public's trust is at stake as a result of Jim's actions,'' said publisher Jesus Díaz Jr. ``We have to make sure that the public understands that trust is the most important value that the community bestows upon us.''

Maybe, maybe not. Some of them just get the Herald for the coupons. But I digress. That the Herald would toss aside one of its stronger, more popular voices for such a transgression is surprising and distressing at the same time.
DeFede was trying to get it right, to capture a moment in time. Yes, he should have tried in a more sanctioned fashion, but to cast him aside without first suspending him or flogging him in public is harsh.

At least DeFede attempted to be accurate, unlike other columnists and reporters who've been nailed for not even bothering to do that (see Mitch Albom, Patricia Smith, etc.) Herald management determined he's no better than them. A shame.

Meantime, the Herald's Web site still has DeFede's recent columns posted, along with the article about his firing. Read them while you can.

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