By: Joe Strupp
The Miami New Times reporter who wrote the lengthy story about former city commissioner Arthur Teele’s alleged illegal activities — which ran the same day Teele killed himself — says he does not feel responsible for the man’s death because the most scathing elements of the story had already been reported.
“I don’t feel like the story played a role,” says Francisco Alvarado, a writer at the alternative weekly for the past three years. “I don’t know if he even read the story. He may have been aware that a story was in the works. I did not talk to him for the story.”
Teele shot himself to death last Wednesday in the lobby of The Miami Herald, shortly after speaking by phone to Herald columnist Jim DeFede. Herald editors fired DeFede several hours later after he admitted that he had taped portions of his phone interview, a potential violation of Florida law.
Herald Editor Tom Fiedler told E&P Monday that he supported New Times’ right to publish the story and agreed that it likely did not spark Teele’s suicide. “I would be hesitant to draw a connection,” he said. “I would be extremely hesitant to believe that article led to this.”
Fiedler also said he had no regrets about his decision to fire DeFede, although he has received both praise and criticism from the public. “As many arguments as I’ve heard from people, I find myself with the same essential set of arguments that I had before,” he said. “I would have come out in the same place.” Fiedler did say however that the incident had prompted editors to review the paper’s ethics policy and make sure it is reviewed by all employees.
Alvarado’s story was actually a compilation of numerous police reports and other documents related to an ongoing investigation of Teele. It ran in the New Times edition dated last Thursday, which hits newsstands and the paper’s Web site on Wednesday. The story compiled many documents that had first been released by law enforcement in May, Alvarado said, detailing allegations of bribery solicitation and payments made to a male prostitute by Teele.
Alvarado contends that most of the information in the story had already been reported by other local media outlets, including one TV station that conducted a jail house interview with the alleged prostitute who accused Teele of being a regular customer.
“We just compiled them,” Alvarado told E&P. “Not everyone covered it the way we did, but the Herald had done a summary and TV media focused on other aspects of it.” When asked why New Times would run the story that had already been out there, Alvarado said, “it was to let the people decide for themselves. To say, ‘here it is’.”
The compilation includes little narration and basically presents various transcripts of law enforcement interviews and descriptions of surveillance of Teele. When asked why the paper took such a bare-bones approach, Alvarado said, “you have to talk to my boss; he decided how we would lay it out.”
New Times Miami Editor Jim Mullins did not return calls seeking comment. His office said he would have no further remarks on the Teele suicide and story. Alvarado declined to say why he did not call Teele for comment on the story before it ran, saying only that he had not responded to the paper in the past and he did not believe Teele would respond this time.
“I never imagined he would commit suicide, but I knew there would be backlash,” Alvarado said about the story’s impact. “There has been a lot of outrage from the general public. About 80% of the e-mails are outraged. They say we have blood on our hands and we should be ashamed of ourselves.
“As a human being, I feel sad,” he added. “But at the end of the day I know what I have done. I don’t see it any differently than any other story I have written.”
Alvarado, however, disagreed with Fiedler’s decision to fire DeFede, saying the fired columnist should be rehired. “He is the strongest voice in this community, Alvarado said, “The strongest journalistic voice in this town.”