I used to have a great deal of respect for Jim DeFede.
For those who missed the “investigative” report he filed on Miami CBS affiliate WFOR, a story about our local alleged murder-for-hire incident became a hatchet job on our entire community. DeFede’s report became nothing but a vehicle for rumor, innuendo, and sleaze peddling, and ended up having little to do with actual news.
From 2002 to 2005, Jim DeFede was a respected reporter for the Miami Herald. His employment with the Herald ended when he admitted that he had secretly – and illegally – recorded a telephone conversation with former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Art Teele. (It is illegal for anyone to tape a conversation with another person without that individual’s consent in Florida.) Teele was very upset about a story published in the Miami New Times, and called DeFede hours before he walked into the Miami Herald building and shot himself in the head. (Incidentally, Teele was posthumously cleared of all charges.) At one point in their conversation, Teele was insistent that he and DeFede were speaking off the record, yet DeFede continued recording.
Miami Herald Publisher Jesús Díaz Jr. and Executive Editor Tom Fiedler said that the Herald had no choice but to dismiss DeFede because his conduct was potentially a felony crime and unethical.
DeFede joined WFOR-CBS 4’s news team in January of 2006. Over the past several months, he seems to have been taking a larger role in their investigative reporting. My curiosity was piqued when the promos for the Dennis Zecca story started running on CBS 4. The curiosity turned into disgust as I watched DeFede portray my hometown as a corrupt collection of dilapidated empty storefronts and t-shirt shops. DeFede reported unfounded rumors and conspiracy theories as actual news. He edited visuals to make Marathon look like an abandoned ghost town, and portrayed our Middle Keys community as a corrupt city with a depressed economy and no hope for the future. He couldn’t have made Marathon look any worse.
And this coming from someone who lives in Miami?!
The fact that Jim DeFede’s Marathon and the real Marathon are drastically different matters. It matters because we hold the people who report our news to a high standard of honesty, integrity, and ethics. We count on them to get it right. Because of Jim DeFede’s out and out hatchet job on the community of Marathon, I will now take anything coming from him – and the rest of CBS 4 – with a huge grain of salt. Their credibility is damaged, and I will have a hard time believing anything that comes from their news department and their investigative reporting team. Jim DeFede and WFOR have a duty to get it right. They failed. They certainly failed the real town of Marathon (that bears so little resemblance to the one in the story), and they failed the public at large.
When a news organization decides to sensationalize their reporting, it might mean a few more ratings points in the short term. It also means a downward slide into eventual irrelevance and loss of standing as a legitimate news outlet. And that’s a damn shame.
On the bright side, Jim DeFede is now qualified to report news for Channel 7.