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Dead Politician, Fired Columnist

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One old friend put a bullet in his head. His blood splashed the lobby of The Miami Herald, a newspaper I once regarded as holy. Another acquaintance, a guy who does the same sort of gig I do, is fired over the incident.

Last Thursday was a disquieting day, to say the least.

I met Arthur Teele in the early 1980s. He was an anomaly at the time, a black Republican, Ronald Reagan's chief of the Urban Mass Transit Administration. He helped me with one of my best-ever stories, exposing a $30 billion scam disguised as a plan to build a high-speed rail line in Florida.

We once went to a Rolling Stones concert together. We occasionally had lunch or dinner until I left Miami in 1990. He merited, until last week, a place in my short list of "golden sources."

Teele clearly had flaws. It was the "power corrupts" stuff. Earlier last Wednesday (July 27), the day he killed himself, the alternative Miami New Times ran a story detailing the politician's relations with drug lords, hookers and crooked businessmen. Teele faced state and federal corruption charges.

But Teele, who served on the Miami-Dade County Commission and later the Miami City Commission, had at least one skeptic about many of the allegations -- Jim DeFede, a long-time New Times columnist who has defected to the Herald. DeFede, a thorough reporter, had found flaws in many of the accusations. Teele pulled the trigger after asking a Herald security guard to get DeFede.

Teele, the last time I spoke with him, alluded to a conspiracy involving Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, the Herald, and state and federal prosecutors. He had blown the whistle on some city land give-aways, he told me, angering the insiders.

DeFede was fired late Wednesday for violating a state law against secretly taping phone conversations -- Teele's last calls. It's a bogus rap. If the Herald fired every reporter who had surreptitiously taped a call (allowed in most states, such as Georgia and North Carolina), the paper would have starved for stories. I confess to the offense while there.

The truth is that the Herald and its parent, Knight-Ridder (owner of the Charlotte Observer), have abandoned greatness and are now pants-wetting scared of controversy.

DeFede will become a media hero. The Herald will be scorned. Teele will be a morality lesson.

And John Sugg will be loved and adored. See his blog at www.johnsugg.com.

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