On Wednesday night, Art Teele, an important local political figure, shot himself in the lobby of the Miami Herald building, moments after asking a security guard to tell Miami Herald columnist Jim DeFede to relay a message to Teele’s wife: ”I love you.”
The shooting followed weeks (indeed months, or years) of mounting legal troubles for Teele, capped by the publication in the New Times, a local alternative weekly, of the most damning and the most salacious bits of police surveillance reports and interviews concerning Teele. (The documents were public records, not leaks, but somehow the Miami Herald hadn’t gotten around to doing much with them.) The reports detail a very convincing pattern of corruption and payoffs–all too believable given that Teele was involved with a local community redevelopment agency known for taking public money and producing little of value (except inflated land valuations for useless properties it purchased).
The New Times story also quoted from the police’s interview with an incarcerated male prostitute who made utterly uncorroborated and somewhat implausible allegations that Teele had been a repeat customer. The allegations struck me as implausible because the source seemed unable to provide a single corroborating detail, not even his own telephone number, and could list no identifying marks of his supposed bed partner, nor indeed relate anything about Teele that you wouldn’t have seen on TV. Nevertheless, coming on top of a sea of increasingly credible allegations of graft, they may have been the last straw.
In his last hours, Teele had several telephone conversations with Miami Herald columnist Jim DeFede, who incidentally is one of the very few regular Herald columnists always worth reading. DeFede and Teele went way back, ironically to when DeFede worked for the New Times. In one of those last talks, concerned that Teele was sounding unusually weird, DeFede turned on a tape recorder and recorded the call.
That recording was a serious no-no: Florida is a two-party consent state and (at least as general rule, see below) telephone calls may not be taped without the consent of both parties. After the shooting, DeFede, aware he’d broken the Miami Herald’s rules, confessed the taping to his bosses. The Miami Herald then fired DeFede immediately.
Enter the Southern District of Florida blog, with news and views:
Southern District of Florida: Journalists for DeFede: Peter Wallsten and Charlie Savage have started a blog called Journalists for DeFede. It’s an open letter now signed by a number of Herald employees and others journalists asking for the Herald to reinstate DeFede. The letter argues that the taping may not have even been a violation of law, citing to this post. Any thoughts? I’ve written a little about DeFede’s firing here.
Yes, I have a few thoughts.