The Last Iconoclast

Edward Wasserman, departing editor in chief of the Daily Business Review, ruminates on public corruption, ethnic politics, and the Miami Herald

Ed Wasserman arrived in Miami nineteen years ago with a young wife and family in tow to take a job as an editor at the Miami Herald. For the previous two years, Wasserman had been an editor at the daily Star-Tribune in Casper, Wyoming, a city of about 50,000 on the Platte River near the center of the state. “You couldn't have imagined a place farther from Casper than Miami,” the 52-year-old Wasserman recalls. But he was no hick. Wyoming had rounded off a life that at times threatened to become too genteel: Yale class of 1970; a stint in Africa with his brother during the sibling's Fulbright scholarship; a year studying philosophy at the University of Paris, where he met his wife, Eva, a French literature student at the time; a two-year return to the United States to write for a weekly newspaper near his hometown in Maryland before heading off to the London School of Economics for a five-year graduate program resulting in a degree in political economy.

Those diverse travels primed Wasserman for studying Miami, with its cosmopolitan aspirations and parochial habits. And he has been an unusually astute observer of life here. During his five years at the Herald, he was steadily promoted. After being named executive business editor, he was recruited by media entrepreneur Steven Brill (founding chairman of Brill's Content magazine) to run the weekday newspaper that is now known as the Miami Daily Business Review, which also has editions in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Wasserman molded the paper into a sophisticated organ that resonates in the business and legal communities and has become influential far beyond its 12,000 circulation.

Brill sold the paper (including its Broward and Palm Beach editions) to Time Warner in 1997, part of a package deal including Brill's Court TV, American Lawyer magazine, and other properties. Time Warner subsequently sold the family of Review papers to a partnership managed by the New York investment banking firm Wasserstein Perella. To his new masters, Wasserman was apparently more a journalist than a marketing maven appropriately obsessed with revenue. They wanted the latter. Late last month he announced his resignation. His final day is Friday, September 29.

Journalist at rest: The domestic Wasserman with daughters Claire (left) and Julia and wife Eva
Journalist at rest: The domestic Wasserman with daughters Claire (left) and Julia and wife Eva
Journalist at rest: The domestic Wasserman with daughters Claire (left) and Julia and wife Eva
Steve Satterwhite
Journalist at rest: The domestic Wasserman with daughters Claire (left) and Julia and wife Eva

“Sorry to say, but I'll be leaving you at the end of September,” he wrote to his staff. “American Lawyer Media wants a change in Florida, and after fourteen years I'm ready for something new. I can only hope that I'll end up doing something as amazing as working here has been. I also hope I'll be among people who are as smart, compassionate, honorable, and dedicated as those with whom I've worked here and throughout AmLaw. You're building something of value, and for that you deserve to be very proud.”

With the end of Wasserman's tenure at the Review, and his possible departure from South Florida (he hasn't settled on his next endeavor), Miami stands to lose one of its more original thinkers, and in a community not known for nurturing intellectual discourse, that is a serious loss indeed. Through his gracefully written and often counterintuitive editorials, Wasserman has provoked lively discussion on a wide variety of topics.

In April 1997, for example, he pointed out that the settlement of the national tobacco-industry lawsuit was modeled on a pyramid scheme. By going for the biggest settlement figure possible, a fund of $250 to $300 billion “to compensate individuals and states for harm done by cigarettes,” the plaintiffs were actually abetting the spread of smoking. “So the wondrous thing about the proposal is that it gives antismoking forces a material stake in the continued proliferation of smoking, and, no less wondrous, it makes the compensation of today's diseased smokers absolutely dependent on the production of tomorrow's diseased smokers.”

This past July 10 he noted that the relationship between Taiwan's exiled Chinese and their tyrannical homeland parallels that of Miami's exiled Cubans and their homeland, with one major exception: “The Taiwan Chinese have none of the reluctance to doing business with the mainland that Florida's Cubans have long shown toward Cuba.”

He wrote passionately about the case of Richard Brown, a 72-year-old black man shot dead in his Overtown apartment by a Miami Police Department SWAT team that fired more than 100 rounds during the incident. The police officers' case -- they claimed to have seen cocaine in the apartment earlier (none was found), and that Brown fired his gun at them (the weapon he allegedly used did not have fingerprints on it) -- was so shoddy that the City Attorney's Office settled for $2.5 million after it “deemed the case a loser.” The Review broke that story. Wasserman wrote with a fervor not typical of a business journal: “We have state laws against negligent homicide, and Miami-Dade has a State Attorney whose job it is to enforce those laws. We have federal civil-rights statutes that have long been used against rogue cops when local authorities don't have the stomach to do their jobs. And we have a brand-new U.S. Attorney whose job it is to enforce those laws. Richard Brown should never have died like that. His killers must be brought to justice.”

New Times recently asked Wasserman to join in an open-ended discussion about Miami, the profiteering that occurs in the public sector, the state of print journalism, and what lies ahead. The first interview took place Labor Day at Wasserman's home in Pinecrest, a spacious abode with cathedral ceilings and tile floors. Dressed in a T-shirt, chinos, and socks, Wasserman was less the starchy business editor than suburban dad, a role he embraces on weekends. He is fit, with gray hair and searching blue eyes. He and his wife are parents to four children, three daughters and one son. The two teenage girls still living at home traipsed in and out, talking on the phone and greeting friends at the door. Wasserman had just returned from helping his eldest daughter move in at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

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