Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

Think at your own risk.
Monday, August 08, 2005
The media panic defense
The question of whether the Miami Herald erred in firing columnist Jim DeFede for taping a phone call with a distraught politician (his "friend") shortly before that politician (former local pol and onetime Reagan administration appointee Art Teele) shot himself to death in the Herald lobby continues to burn up newspaper ink and TV time. (DeFede was interviewed on the local ABC affiliate's post-Stephanopoulos news hour on Sunday) and the St. Pete Times does its redux as well.

Right now the uncomfortable spotlight is being put on editor Tom Fiedler, whom DeFede charges was the man behind his ouster (supposedly DeFede was told, after getting assurances that the taping would not cost him his column, that "Fielder wants you gone.")
"To me, it has the smell of corporate panic about it," said Carl Hiaasen, a Herald columnist and novelist. "I think there's a lot of very serious resentment at the newspaper, and I think the scars are going to take a long time to heal." [SP Times]

Hiaasen's view has been echoed by a string of Herald columnists, right in the paper, and by some 500 journos who have signed a petition calling on the Herald to bring DeFede back. Other columnists have weighed in sympathizing with DeFede's actions and spanking the Herald in the process...

The problem for DeFede is that he has admitted to continuing to tape Teele after the distraught man refused to talk to him on the record. He says he hit the record button spontaneously, trying to preserve the final message of a man clearly losing his tether. That's a tough sell. But it's also unclear whether DeFede's actions were illegal -- and I would wager he won't be prosecuted in the end, since it's so murky a thing. As I've said before, on balance, I think DeFede should have been allowed to stay, and I know from personal experience that the Herald can be harsh. But in the present news environment, with blogs and critics of all sorts constantly besieging news organizations for every error, the Herald can be excused for pannicking.

But having pannicked, and reaped the whirlwind, here's hoping the paper now takes a step back, thinks about it, and then rehires Jim DeFede.

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posted by JReid @ 12:12 AM  
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