Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Agony of DeFede, Part III

I've been thinking about the Jim DeFede firing and still believe the Herald was hypocritical in his firing. Four times a year Nielsen, which measures TV viewership, conducts their sweeps. Ratings during these special time periods are what help determine advertising rates moving forward so sweeps is the time when we get a lot of specials on network TV and a lot of sensationalism in TV news.

The local stations will broadcast stories that the have spent weeks if not months working on so that they'll air during this critical time. What does this have to do with Jim DeFede, you might ask. Well invariably during sweeps TV stations will broadcast hidden camera exposes of crooked businesses, government agencies, whatever. At the heart of these stories is the video which is taken without the consent of the subject being photographed. This is the same violation for which Jim DeFede was fired albeit he used audiotape. And in the case of the TV stations, they air the video. We don't even know what DeFede was going to do with his tapes.

Again, the Herald has the right to fire anyone they want to. In Florida, you don't need a reason to fire an employee. But to say it was because it violated journalistic ethics is laughable. The journalism establishment condones DeFede's bahavior, or the very least, they don't denounce it when the story is juicy enough.

UPDATE: I thought I'd post some examples of this very violation...

Local 10 Hidden-Camera Investigation Reveals Airport Security Problems

POSTED: 10:19 am EDT July 14, 2005
UPDATED: 7:27 am EDT July 15, 2005

MIAMI -- There is alarming evidence of security lapses at major South Florida's airports after a Local 10 Problem Solvers investigation.

Using hidden cameras, investigative reporter Jilda Unruh put security screeners to the test at Miami International Airport and Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport. Local 10 News wanted to see if screeners made passengers show the required form of picture identification.


Robert said...


Why do you think the Herald fired him? Surely, the Herald hasn't gained many friends from the firing. DeFede's columns were very popular. Why then would they be willing to lose subsribers unless they felt strongly about the ethics violations.

Maybe there were internal problems brewing between DeFede and his bosses, who knows. I do know this, however: anyone who suggests that he was fired because the Herald didn't like his style of reporting is just plain ignorant. DeFede's reputation as a muckracker was already well-established when the Herald hired him from that last bastion of yellow journalism - The Miami New Times.

Henry "Conductor" Gomez said...

That's the proverbial $64,000 question. I can only think that something was said on those tapes that the Herald didn't want to get out there. Or perhaps they just wanted to distance themselves from the whole thing because Teele decided to blow himself away in their lobby. I don't know. But do you disagree that journalists often break the law in order to get a story.

I think I gave a very true example of that same exact law is broken by almost every TV station? I can remember specifically during the last sweeps, one station went with hidden camera's to different schools to show how lax the security is. They filmed people (though they blurred their faces when they boradcast it) without their knowledge or consent. It's the same exact violation, but I didn't see prosecuters talking with those reporters.

Robert said...

I totally understand that journalists break the law all the time. I also understand the double standard that exists in the media, including your TV example.

I still support the Herald's decision because it is based on what's ethically (sorry, there's that word again) right. For once, they were right.

If we find out later that the Herald had other reasons for firing DeFede, then I'd be the first to publically admit I was wrong.

Val Prieto said...

Today;s editorial by Tom Fielder pretty much ails the coffin on this story. It is all about integrity.

Juan Paxety said...

While it makes no logical sense, secret video recording is not illegal under Florida law - only secret audio recording. Under this state's law, one is not the same violation as the other. Maybe it should be, but it's not.

What the reporter did is not illegal. Since she is checking up on government employees in their official capacity, she is not acting unethically, either. That's what journalists think they are supposed to be doing.

Henry "Conductor" Gomez said...


I believe you're wrong. First of all, all vdeo tapes have audio tracks. Remember the act of recording alone is a violation, not just the publishing of recorded materials.

The following is quoted from a guide for reporters published by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press at

"Fla. Stat. ch. 934.03: All parties must consent to the recording or the disclosure of the contents of any wire, oral or electronic communication in Florida. Recording or disclosing without the consent of all parties is a felony, unless the interception is a first offense committed without any illegal purpose, and not for commercial gain, or the communication is the radio portion of a cellular conversation. Such first offenses and the interception of cellular communications are misdemeanors. State v. News-Press Pub. Co., 338 So. 2d 1313 (1976), State v. Tsavaris, 394 So. 2d 418 (1981).

Under the statute, consent is not required for the taping of a non-electronic communication uttered by a person who does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in that communication. See definition of "oral communication," Fla. Stat. ch. 934.02."

So it says consent is required even of Oral Communications. One could argue that TSA agents don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy but one could argue that they do if they were talking among themselves. Just as one could argue that Art Teele had a reasonable expectation of privacy or that he did not based on his knowledge of DeFede's job as a reporter.

Plus I could give you hundreds of cases where the people being recorded were not Federal employees. This is just the first one I found. In the story I remember about the lax security at elementary schools they recorded inside the restrooms showing that they could penetrate the school so as to even gain access to the bathrooms. They recorded in there and I'd say those kids have a reasonable expectation of privacy in there!

Juan Paxety said...

No, I'm not wrong. Video recording does not come under this statute - it comes under the ones covering photography. Basically, for editorial purposes (advertising is different), you can photograph anything you can see if you are in a place that you have a right to be.

Yes, it's true that video cameras have audio tracks, and it is illegal to secretly record the audio track. That's one reason reporters' mics have the big mic flags with the station's logo - so no one can say they are being secretly recorded.

I didn't see the report, so I don't know if they aired the audio from the hidden camera or not. If they did, they were probably acting illegally.

Again, with the restrooms story, I didn't see it, so it's hard to comment. But if they recorded audio secretly, they were wrong. If they interviewed someone in the restroom, that person is considered to have given consent - talking into a microphone in plain view.