Fired or Not Fired?

The case of the disappearing St. Petersburg Times story

It was a good scoop by any standard, and especially in our very competitive media market.

On June 21, the St. Petersburg Times' Candace Rondeaux reported that controversial Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Del Fuoco had been shown the door.

"On Friday, Del Fuoco was fired," she wrote in a 1B story that also appeared on the Times' website. By that afternoon, however, the Times' story had disappeared from the website, with "Not Found" greeting anyone who followed the link that previously led to the story. (A copy of the piece, however, can be found in the Times' archive section by searching for the term "Del Fuoco.")

The U.S. Attorney's Office would not confirm, deny or discuss Del Fuoco's employment status. Neither the Times nor the Planet could reach Del Fuoco for comment. Rondeaux's story gave no attribution or source for the statement that Del Fuoco had been fired. The assertion stood alone as the story's third paragraph.

On Friday, June 24, Del Fuoco's Tampa attorney sent the Weekly Planet a written statement denying the Times' story and blasting the daily for running it without attribution.

"The allegations of his being 'fired' are deeply troubling from such a journalistic source as the St. Petersburg Times," wrote Craig Huffman. "This is a flat out falsity. Further, it is troubling that the Times cites to no sources identified for such a claim, and even with the standard response of the Office of the United States Attorney, through their spokesman Steve Cole, that they were declining to comment on Del Fuoco's employment status, still ran the allegation."

The real story is that the Times hasn't been totally forthcoming with readers about its source of information, regardless of the outcome of Del Fuoco's employment status. The Times has an internal policy against "publishing most unattributed information," according to a news column written in 1993. Tampa City Editor Sue Carlton initially stood by the story but called Monday to say a correction was being written because "I think we were technically wrong." She would not comment on the lack of attribution or the missing web version.

Del Fuoco was a top prosecutor of public corruption cases, including investigations of bad cops in Plant City and Manatee County before ending up afoul of his bosses and filing a whistleblower complaint. His veracity was recently at issue in the judicial investigation of plagiarism charges against Hillsborough Circuit Judge Greg Holder. It was Del Fuoco who reported that a copy of a military research paper written by Holder, a reservist, was anonymously slipped under Del Fuoco's door along with a copy of another paper from which Holder was alleged to have plagiarized his work. Holder maintained his innocence and said the purported copy of his paper was a forgery. A judicial panel two weeks ago cleared Holder.

Pam is Perturbed: Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio has led a charmed life as the chief executive in the Bay area, with especially strong and unquestioning support from the Tampa Tribune. She's never been portrayed as emotional or out of control, even though some who've worked with her over the years can attest to her occasional temper.That's why it was so interesting to see that one Tampa Bay journalist finally pushed the right buttons to get her to lose it - and on camera to boot.

Tampa Bay's 10 reporter Mike Deeson has been questioning the Iorio administration over a variety of issues, from top officials possibly violating the charter to improper city e-mails.

In the latest story, Deeson reported on an ethics complaint filed against Iorio, charging that she violated city rules by allowing firefighters to lobby the legislature using city computers and by going to Tallahassee in uniform. Iorio supported a change in pension benefits that has apparently set retired firefighters against those on active duty.

Deeson camped out in the lobby of City Hall and caught a clearly perturbed Iorio returning to her office. She pre-empted his questions with a terse, "I don't know anything about it, Mike. I don't have the time to learn about it right now, and I don't like to be ambushed on camera."

To see the piece on streaming video, go to www.tampabays10.com/news/news.aspx?storyid=14842.

Comings and Goings: Speaking of the city and its press relations, director of communications Susanna Martinez is leaving the Iorio administration for a public relations job at the University of South Florida's Health Sciences Center. Martinez came to City Hall from an on-air reporter position at Bay News 9 ... Also leaving for a job at USF is Kim Tucker Weise, who helped produce Rob Lorei's Tampa Bay Week show for WEDU public television in Tampa (where I have been a guest on occasion). Weise will pursue a master's degree and work in the Library and Information Sciences Department.[email protected]

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