by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
Boca Raton, Fla.
July 31, 2005
DeFEDE'S FIRING DISGRACES THE MIAMI HERALD
BOCA RATON -- The Miami Herald has gone on the defensive over its firing of political reporter Jim DeFede, the reporter who allegedly taped a crazy last-hour call from a from Arthur Teele, a former Miami-Dade County commissioner who shot himself a few minutes later in the newspaper's lobby, and has gone to the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., for support.
It turns out that if the columnist was wrong in taping the call (and that's not certain, given the totality of the circumstances and the exceptions under the law) it is a misdemeanor, and one that is rarely prosecuted. Miami Public Radio and Florida Public Radio ("A radio news partner of the Miami Herald") basically ran the Herald's side of the story to justify the firing and ran actuality of some "expert" at Poynter Institute.
My WSG bona fides are showing, but although Poynter seems a ubiquitous authority on all things journalistic, in my day it was organized, funded, founded (and is still suppoerted?) as a training ground for scabs and potential scabs from around the country. Sales, classified, and distribution executives could go to St. Peterburg and train to run newsrooms, pressrooms, word processing programs and the like in case of a union strike at a "member" newspaper.
The Herald says other reporters have started a Website petition to try to get Jim DeFede's job back. DeFede told tv reporters that the Herald pnly found out about the tape because he told them of it.
Most of the states that have unauthorized telephone taping laws have a de facto or de jure loophole covering when a party believes someone might be in danger, or a life might be threatened, so prosecution seems very, very doubtful.
The picture of the Herald'spPublisher annoucing the staffer's firing show Herald Editor Tom Fieldler standing next to the publisher - looking almost ashamed to be standing there.
Most readers will never understand that this is part of the continuum and the legacy of a virulent anti-union newspaper chain, Knight-Ridder. When UPI guild members exercised their right to picket in front of their workplace (the Herald Building), the Herald went to court.
After unsuccessfully failing to remove the picketers, they went behind the Herald's truck and barge newsprint loading dock, cut a hole in a chain link fence, put a gate and security guard at the hole, and had the pressroom run a metal "Plate" which read: 'UPI EMPLOYEE ENTRANCE."
For the rest of the strike, we had to basically picket a gangplank on Biscayne Bay.
The whole Teele affair is sad and sordid. But the Herald's failure to provide even nominal support, neutrality, or due process for its reporter is a disgrace.
Editor & Publisher magazine has a balanced account of this issue in a story at http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000999806. Mark Scheinbaum is a former UPI reporter and editor.