Support Mike Kirsch

Remember when WFOR investigative reporter Mike Kirsch was arrested by police a while back If not here's a nice rundown of stories from FLTV to get you caught up. Anyway, I somehow missed that his contract wasn't renewed and think it's a shame, from what I know, that CBS-4 caved like that.

Here's a letter from a supporter of Kirsch's that I just got in my e-mail basket.

Award-winning CBS Investigative Journalist Mike Kirsch was recently arrested by police in South Florida, in a blatant example of retaliation for Kirsch’s vigorous I-Team coverage, aired on Miami’s WFOR-TV, of misconduct by local police and politicians. Kirsch’s path-breaking work in vividly exposing the huge terrorism risks of transporting poison chlorine gas railcars through Miami had previously resulted in significant risk reduction for Miami-Dade County residents. But who will keep such valuable reporters safe from retaliation by the embarrassed police and their own timid media corporation management?

The angry Broward County police union organization had for months mounted an ongoing harassment campaign against Kirsch, including the posting of a “Be On the Lookout” poster with his picture and address, and distribution of flyers with his personal information to other police departments. On February 14th, 2007 police stopped Kirsch’s car in a traffic stop set-up down the street from his home. They threatened and arrested him, cuffed and cursed and

slapped him in front of his 3-year old daughter and his wife. A policewoman notorious for over-aggressiveness huddled with her colleagues and charged him with resisting arrest. Gleeful police put a mug shot of Kirsch in their Media Relations office with the label: “Captured!” Kirsch's bosses at WFOR and at CBS lacked the courage to back him up and cravenly terminated his contract.

All original charges, including two felony charges, were dropped after police arrested Kirsch. Management at CBS did not even wait for that outcome. CBS terminated his contract a week before his arraignment and reportedly leaked it to the media. WFOR-TV shut down his email site and blocked access to his files. He is waiting to go to trial on a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest without violence, and is looking for work.

Friends of the Earth worked with Mike Kirsch in 2006 on his effective WFOR series on “Terror Trains” traveling through Miami and found him a talented, serious and public service-minded journalist. That series had seminal importance and is nationally well-known:

It was one of the earliest pieces on the subject and certainly the best in introducing innovative ways to cover the story. It got immediate results of importance in significantly reducing homeland security risks. The Miami City Council successfully pressured Miami-Dade County to spend $40 million to begin switching its Orr sewage plant to safer chemicals immediately after Kirsch vividly portrayed, with the help of the widely respected City of Miami Police Chief John Timoney and other first responder agencies, the risk to Miamians of shipping chlorine gas railcars through the city. Mike’s exemplary series was shared broadly with legislators, civic groups, and media reporters and editors nation-wide. Therefore it was immensely powerful in stimulating investigative journalists in other target cities (at least 25 by now) to do similar stories on this previously under-reported terrorism risk. Such grave risks can only continue as long as citizens are kept in the dark about them.

Mike Kirsch’s work is squarely in the tradition of a public-spirited free press. It is also an example of the persistent media oversight needed to implement the two major, hard-won chemical risk Community Right to Know laws that workers and environmentalists have successfully fought to see enacted by Congress.

Friends of the Earth urges all interested parties jointly to protest and work to reverse these disgraceful retaliatory outcomes for Mike Kirsch, so that their intended chill on vigorous investigative journalism in America will be thwarted.

Brent Blackwelder, President Friends of the Earth Washington DC

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Bob Norman
Contact: Bob Norman