Horror at the Herald

I don’t know how widely this is being reported in the news, but we’re all pretty shook up by it down here in Miami.

Yesterday at around 6 p.m., longtime Miami politician Arthur Teele walked into the Miami Herald’s lobby, told a security guard to give a message to columnist Jim Defede (“Tell my wife I love her.”) and then, as Miami police arrived at the scene, fatally shot himself in the head. Teele, who was under 26 federal indictments for a variety of alleged misdeeds, including kickbacks from Miami International Airport contracts, was the subject of an especially nasty cover story in the Miami New Times that appeared on newstands yesterday.

The 14-page New Times story covered in minute detail the 15-year course of Teele’s political career, but the most devastating revelation was Teele’s alleged relationship with a transvestite prostitute.

Teele had spoken with Defede twice earlier in the day, and one of the conversations went on for nearlyt an hour and a half. As Teele became more unbalanced on the phone, Defede recorded one of the conversations without informing Teele, a felony in Florida. While they were still mopping up the lobby, Defede confessed to the illicit taping to his bosses, who summarily fired him and spiked the column based on his conversations with Teele.

In typical Defede pique, he told his co-workers that he had confessed, expecting to receive a suspension or other punishment, “but they decided to go for the death penalty.”

As of this morning, the Miami homicide detectives were still trying to locate Defede to question him about his conversations with Teele.

The whole sordid affair only raises questions: Why did Teele kill himself in the Herald lobby? Why did Defede decide to tape the conversation? Did Teele indicate he was in a self-destructive mental state? Should the Herald have punished Defede rather than fire him? Where does a 350-pound columnist whose photo is regularly published in the Herald hide? And who pays $450 a pop to a transvestite prostitute?

It’s all sad. Teele did some good things for the black Overtown community, and while he undeniably did some bad things, too, this still was an ignominious end to a checkered career. Defede was a popular columnist, but he did a bad thing, and now he’ll probably have to go back to the New Times from whence he came, where journalistic standards are looser.

The Poynter Institute is hosting an on-line discussion of Defede’s firing by the Miami Herald here. Issues of privacy, whether Defede actually broke the law or whether the Herald was simply looking for a reason to fire a gadfly who purloined local polittcians and businessmen are being discussed.


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