By: E&P Staff
The Miami Herald Executive Editor Tom Fiedler sent out the following memo to staffers regarding the state attorney’s decision to not prosecute former Herald Columnist Jim DeFede.
Many of you may already have learned that the state attorney has declined to prosecute Jim on the charge of taping Art Teele. I am personally pleased by that decision because it relieves Jim of having to endure a prosecution on top of everything else.
But I need to be clear in also saying that there is nothing in the state attorney’s findings that changes the situation as I knew it to be that night. Jim personally believed, and admitted, that he violated our ethical standards and that he likely had broken Florida law. I acted on those facts.
The close-out memo notes that, “The law is clear that a tape recording made by a newspaper reporter of a telephone conversation with a second person, without the knowledge or consent of the second person, is an illegal intercept.” Yet it recommends that there be no prosecution primarily because of the personal circumstances involved, that is, that Jim and Arthur claimed a personal friendship and thus their conversation was between friends rather than between journalist and a member of the public.
From a legal standpoint, that makes perfect sense. But, for better or worse, we are journalists first and always when we are dealing with people about whom we report. As journalists, we are expected to abide by ethical and legal principles in all such dealings. We cannot be friends with someone one minute and a journalist covering them the next.
The memo concludes, “However, it would be incorrect for anyone to assume from this result that Mr. DeFede’s actions, in tape recording a conversation without consent, were appropriate or justified.”
If any of you want to talk with me further about this – or anything related to it – please don’t hesitate to drop into my office or to send me an e-mail. I’ll do my best to respond to every question.