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.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Longing For The Days Of A Ho-Hum Shuttle Launch

Back in my days at CBS News Radio, we dutifully covered every shuttle launch. Between the disasters of Challenger and Columbia, the media and the public settled into a langour about the space program, regarding launches and landings as little more than routine.
A typical launch broadcast on radio would begin about a minute before launch, and quickly sign off three minutes or so later after solid rocket booster separation. Breathe a sigh of relief and now back to our regularly scheduled programming.
As Discovery took off this morning, the press trailers at Cape Canaveral are again fully staffed. It was nice for the media to be on hand for a launch that could not have been better. "This was as trouble free as I can remember and I've covered a lot of shuttle flights," said CBS News space analyst Bill Harwood.
I was first at Cape Canaveral for a launch in 1998 when John Glenn went up for his encore space visit. Hundreds of reporters, including all the network anchors, made the trip down. Three years later, I came back with CBS News Correspondent Peter King, who anchors the radio coverage, for another launch that was scrubbed because of weather. Those press trailers that were occupied were only minimally staffed, with the regulars who are there because you're supposed to have someone there, you know, just in case.
In a way, I preferred the latter visit. It meant that something so incredibly dangerous and daring had once again become routine. What could possibly go wrong. And so it was for dozens of missions until Columbia.
Here's hoping for a return to the days when my friend Peter, as able a broadcaster as he is, returns to his three-minute broadcasts real soon.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Not Dressing The Part: Correspondent Neglects To Beat The Heat

Baby, it's hot outside! But one reporter doesn't get the memo
Give NBC News Correspondent Mark Mullen credit for having a remarkable metabolism. Or maybe the guy's out to lunch.
Either way, it was a bit unsettling tonight to see him doing a standup in Phoenix during a report on the heat wave out west in front of a sign that said the temperature was 106 degrees, while wearing what appeared to be a black sports jacket. Get this guy a Dasani, quick!
As a bonus, Mullen didn't appear to be breaking a sweat either. Guess it really is a dry heat.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Scab-O-Rama: Columnist Waxes Nostalgic About Crossing Lines In Detroit

UPDATED 7/28: S.F. Chronicle reporters blink as they approve a "terrible" contract.

Leave it to the Detroit Free Press to employ one feckless columnist after another. First, it's the inimitable fiction-writing Mitch Albom about whom much has been written about here. Now, we turn to Exhibit B, one Susan Ager, who writes today about the bad old days 10 years ago when Detroit newspaper workers walked out in a bruising strike that ultimately crushed the union in a once-proud labor town.

When the temperature hit 90 in Paris last week, I put on a flimsy old linen tank top that I realized I'd also worn exactly 10 years earlier on a Detroit picket line.

OK, so we know she doesn't change her wardrobe that often. Thanks for sharing, Sue, who admits to being clueless about why she was on strike.

My head was full of questions. I'd never been on strike before, and that it happened took me by surprise. For a few days, until I learned the language, I couldn't have told you what it was about.

How about job cuts, wage freezes, a merit-pay system and cuts in health insurance, for starters. This, at a time when the once-struggling papers had recently made a $56 million profit. Yet, all that still doesn't jog Ager's memory about a bitter strike in which the papers hired thousands of scabs to ice out the strikers once and for all (For a view from both sides of the fence, check out this frank and fair analysis of the strike when it ended from Detroit's Metro Times --

Some of my coworkers stayed on the picket lines for many months, through the winter and into the next summer. But I could not, and I was among the first 20 or so to go back to work, as most of us from the newsroom eventually did, out of desperation or -- in my case -- disillusionment.

Disillusionment? True, the unions were outflanked and didn't martial enough support to win the P.R. war or any other war, for that matter. There's even evidence they spurned the help of other unions (see this interesting analysis from But the unions faced an all-out assault from management intent on breaking them once and for all.

That Ager, like Albom, blithely crossed the picket line didn't have its intended effect beyond putting another warm body in the newsroom. The strike, in one form or another, went on 5 1/2 years. The unions were bowed, bent and bruised, but the two papers were estimated to have lost as much as $300 million, along with one-third of their circulation.

A decade later, I remember the heat of it all. I am aware that even remembering it in print will reignite both anger and grief.
Mostly I'm astonished that there are finally weeks when I don't think about the strike or my lost friends. .. It didn't heal all wounds. But for most of us, I have to hope, they no longer throb day and night.

Dunno. Sounds like Ager stopped throbbing a long time ago. It could be argued the same thing could be said about the Free Press.

Meanwhile, taking a page from the playbook in Detroit, looks like the San Francisco Chronicle is spoiling for a fight. Here are some of the proposals in a take-it-or-else offer to the Newspaper Guild:

Slashing pay from 1 percent to 24.4 percent for about 400 Guild employees. Journalists and outside sales representatives are excluded from pay cuts but virtually every other employee would see their paychecks shrink.
> Eliminating one week of vacation -- lowering the maximum to four weeks per year.
> Eliminating five days of sick leave -- cutting the current allotment of 10 days, which is common or even low in the newspaper industry, in half.
> Killing the popular program that allows parents of infants and toddlers to work part time until their children are in kindergarten.
> Reducing pension benefits, including freezing the lump sum (severance pay) component.
> Forcing all assigning editors into management positions, where they would lose job protections and overtime pay.
> Eliminating the birthday and anniversary holidays.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Not Your Father's New York Times--Big and Bold In the A Section

London Bombing Inspires Once-Gray Lady To Go Large With The Art
The Times hasn't been shy about large photo spreads in the feature sections. But outsize art in the news pages is rare. The London bombings changed all that, and maybe could serve as a primer for how to do it right for less tragic events.
If you haven't already, check out yesterday's double-truck layout on pages A12-13, with three shots of the wounded, including the one everybody used of the women with the towel over her face. On A-13 the entire above-the-fold space is of two badly injured people being attended to by passers-by. It was gripping journalism, and few other newspapers than the Times would have had the whereiwithal or the guts to pull it off like they did.
With the recent promotion of a photo editor to assistant managing editor status, Bill Keller has demonstrated the status of art in the Times.
It's an important and visible way to keep newspapers relevant in the years ahead, finding different and compelling ways to tell a story that needs to be told.

Chef On A Shoestring Gets Even Tighter

Miss A Few Weeks At The Saturday Early Show and You Miss a Lot
The wife and I usually turned on the Saturday Early Show on CBS to catch the Chef On A Shoestring segment, where a chef of some repute would cook a three-course meal using ingredients that cost no more than $40.
It's nice to watch for us wannabe foodies, if for nothing else to see portly weatherman Ira Joe Fisher practically storming the set at the end to chow down on the finished product.
In the past, the appetizer and entree was cooked in the first part, while they came back to do dessert after a break. But watching today's show, Laurent Tourendel, one of N.Y.'s star chef from BLT Steak, Prime and Fish, had to whip up all three courses in one segment. Not that this was meant to be a morning cooking school, but the more langorous pace suited the hour the show was on.
Since by that time of the show all of the latest news has been disposed of, there shouldn't be any need to cram more stuff in when you already have a feature popular enough to have spawned a book by the same name.
For those who missed it, here's what Tourondel was cooking up.
As baby recently made three in our house, we haven't been as regular viewers of the Saturday Early Show. Which meant we were thrown for a loop last Saturday afternoon while channel surfing and none other than Gretchen Carlson, who had been co-anchor of "SES" when she wasn't on maternity leave, was doing headlines on Fox News Channel.
Maybe the hours are a little better, even if the network is not. So far, no word on a replacement for Carlson to keep Russ Mitchell company.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

British Press Tells Chirac To Piss Off After He Disses UK Food

How do you say "I know you are, but what am I" in French?
When a Paris daily overheard French President Jacques Chirac making jokes about mad-cow disease and telling fellow leaders the British have some of the worst food in Europe, well, you can just imagine how that was viewed by the British media. Actually, you don't have to.
Never mind that British restaurants are now regarded as some of the best in Europe, and that some of its star chefs, like Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay are foodie superstars on this side of the pond. Or that some French chefs have been losing their Michelin stars faster than you can say croque monseiur.
Suffice to say, The Sun, whose editors are foaming at the mouth on a good day, were not amused, bannering the front page with "Don't Talk Crepe" and calling Chirac a "plonker," a uniquely British way to call someone a fool or an idiot. Actually, The Sun may be on to something here.
It harped on Chirac's quote in reference to the Brits that “You can’t trust people who cook as badly as that. After Finland, it’s the country with the worst food.”,,2-2005300769,00.html?sectionID=2
Which would be unremarkable were it not for the fact that, as The Sun noted, Finland has two votes on which city, including London and Paris, gets the 2012 Olympics. We'll see if the Finns have a sense of humor, although that's not one of their better-known attributes.
Sister paper The Times was a bit more restrained, at least by British standards with this lead:
President Jacques Chirac's ill-timed jokes about British cooking came back to bite him on the derriere today as he arrived in Singapore to press Paris's case to host the 2012 Olympics.,,4662-1681137,00.html
The Times did attempt some perspective in a sidebar, noting that the Finns may have already been leaning toward London in the Olympic voting, even though it relished the possibility that Chirac's food faux pas could cost Paris its status as favorite.,,4662-1681162,00.html
But who needs perspective, when you could instead have The Mirror, which helpfully offered "Ten Things You Need To Know About Jacques Chirac."
My favorite is number two, which noted that Chirac imbibed in a popular French pastime, cheating on his wife. "His nickname among female staff when he was Paris mayor was 'three minutes, shower included."
In contrasts, The Guardian weaseled out of the controversy, relegating it to five paragraphs to the bottom of its main Olympics story that instead featured a last-minute campaign by David Beckham to woo the IOC.,14174,1521783,00.html
Somewhere in the middle stood The Independent, which took time from its usual Bush-bashing in advance of the G8 summit to attempt a little kindness toward Chirac, but reported Chirac should not have been caught by surprise as he knew microphones were nearby while he kibitzed with Vladimir Putin and Gerhard Schroeder during a weekend meeting in Kalingrad.
President Putin objected to M. Chirac's suggestion that British cuisine was the lowest of the low. "What about hamburgers?" he asked. "No, no," M. Chirac replied. "Hamburgers are nothing [by comparison]."
Now he's dissing hamburgers, too? Sacre bleu! Get me some Freedom Fries pronto!

The View Not Viewed By Meredith Vieira's Kids?

Mom's on opposite one of their favorite shows. TiVo to the rescue?
Taking off a few days around a holiday gives you a chance to catch a breather along with some daytime TV. Which is how I've once again stumbled upon "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire," now hosted by Meredith Vieira.
A delicious bit of irony emerged on the show that aired yesterday, where the correct answer was "Bob Barker." The contestant remarked how "The Price Is Right" was one of her favorite shows. Later, Vieira said her kids loved the show too.
Which is all the more interesting given that Vieira's other job is co-hosting "The View," which airs opposite Barker and his correct prices.
So, does that mean Mom TiVos "The View" so they can watch her yenta-fest at their leisure? Or do they get their Meredith quota watching "Millionaire?" Or maybe they see enough of her at home and actually do something else besides watch TV.
Now, that would be something worthy of discussion on "The View." Too bad the kids wouldn't see it.