The admission is buried deep inside a long Miami Herald business column: The newspaper hired a "public relations executive" to handle "media strategy" for the newspaper after it fired columnist Jim DeFede.
Herald writer Douglas Hanks III drops the little bombshell as an aside in his Business Monday column yesterday, which was largely guest-written by P.R. man Bruce Rubin. Rubin, Hanks lets us know, was hired by the newspaper to help quell the controversy -- both inside the newsroom and out -- caused by the hasty termination.
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Suddenly that horrid Tom Fiedler July 31 column in which he tried to explain DeFede's firing makes sense. Perhaps it was at least partially dictated by Rubin. In hindsight, it seems obvious that a P.R. man was operating behind the scenes, even though the newspaper's own stories about the DeFede firing never revealed it. And there's no doubt that Fiedler et al felt the pressure -- hundreds of journalists came out publicly against the firing, including a handful of the Herald's own columnists. The closest Fiedler ever came to coming clean about the firing was in a July 31 column. In the rambling and contradictive missive, Fiedler admitted that his decision was "perplexing" and acknowledged that the tape-recording incident was a "seemingly minor offense." Then he did an about-face and wrote that DeFede had "violated one of the most fundamental tenets of journalism," one that "holds that in all our dealings, we act without hidden motives or practices."
DeFede's offense, of course, was surreptitiously tape-recording Art Teele's final phone call, just before the Miami politico killed himself in the Herald's lobby. The tape recording was the wrong thing to do, but it came from a purely journalistic motive: To get and preserve the truth. Why would Fiedler intimate otherwise? Well, maybe a hired gun had something to do with it.
Then Fiedler wrote, "When it comes to maintaining our integrity, we must be absolutists." Yeah, that's the ticket. Absolutists. Appeal to the fascist impulse in all of us. Nice work, Rubin, uh, I mean Fiedler.
Do newspapers, which would seem to be experts in the media, often hire P.R. firms to help deal with other media? Am I alone in thinking this is an unseemly violation of the trust newspapers have with their readers? The press, after all, is charged with the task of getting past the cover stories of P.R. firms to get to the truth about government, business, etc. If readers can't get the unvarnished truth from the newspaper -- free from the influence of hired obfuscators -- then where can they ever expect to get it?