Miami Herald columnist Jim DeFede was fired last night for taping his telephone conversation with former Miami Commissioner Art Teele without Teele’s knowledge. The phone conversation took place moments before Teele shot himself to death in the lobby of the newspaper.
Both Publisher Jesús Díaz Jr. and Executive Editor Tom Fiedler said they fired the popular Metro writer because it is illegal for anyone to tape a conversation with another person without that individual’s consent in Florida.
DeFede told them that during his interview with Teele, he turned on a tape machine to record his conversation as the politician confided in him about his public corruption charges, financial problems and other sensitive issues, according to Díaz.
At one point, Teele told the columnist that he was not speaking on the record — but DeFede continued to record him anyway without his knowledge, Díaz said.
Díaz said that The Herald had no choice but to dismiss DeFede because his conduct was potentially a felony crime and unethical.
DeFede, a Herald columnist since June 2002 who had previously worked at the Miami New Times, stunned colleagues with the news of his firing as editors were editing the final Teele stories for Thursday’s paper.
“As Teele was becoming unglued [on the phone], I turned on a tape recorder because I could tell that he was distraught and bouncing off the walls,” DeFede told more than a dozen staffers in the newsroom. “I made an illegal tape and the company decided to fire me.”
DeFede, who did not want to comment further, issued a prepared statement:
“In a tense situation I made a mistake,” he said. “The Miami Herald executives only learned about it because I came to them and admitted it.
“I told them I was willing to accept a suspension and apologize both to the newsroom and our readers. Unfortunately, The Herald decided on the death penalty instead.”
DeFede had covered Teele for more than a decade. When Teele was arrested for allegedly threatening undercover police officers who were tailing him and his wife, DeFede wrote a column saying the charges should never have been filed.
I’ve been a big fan of DeFede for a long time. You’ve seen his columns cited here. It’s too bad in all ways.