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"Sounds like Jimenez wants to be an assignment editor," quips Sharon Rosenhause, managing editor of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "It strikes me as extremely bad public policy. If an official at any governmental level has a problem with coverage, there's an appropriate way to deal with it, and this doesn't seem like the appropriate way. You don't keep people from exercising their First Amendment rights." Had Jimenez attempted to bar a Sun-Sentinel reporter, Rosenhause assures that the paper's editors would send that reporter "and probably our lawyer as well."
Miami Herald managing editor Judy Miller echoes Rosenhause's comments. "I can tell you that the Herald does not allow story subjects to reporter-shop," she says. "If a reporter has written a tough story and all they did was write a story the subject is unhappy with, then it's not fair play for that reporter to be denied access to press conferences. If we think a reporter can't be fair, we will deal with that. But we deal with it."
The U.S. Attorney is sure to have a fight on his hands if he persists in trying to bar Ike Seamans from reporting on his office. Seamans says he was "stung" by the charges he is unfair and dishonest. "Two times in my 37-year career, government officials have successfully barred me from covering news events because they were unhappy with one of my stories. That happened in Cuba and the Soviet Union," he writes via e-mail from Israel. "It's certainly unusual that a high-ranking U.S. Justice Department official would attempt to do the same."
For her part, Yvette Miley, WTVJ's news director, looks forward to having an "open discussion" with Jimenez about the Seamans flap in order to, among other things, give him a chance to deliver the blackball threat to her face. "I'd like to hear him say it so I can be clear and direct in my response," she says.
No matter what Jimenez has to say, one thing is not negotiable. "Obviously the suggestion that we can't send a reporter to cover a story is one that we will certainly not follow under any circumstance," Miley vows.
Below is the script of the May 13 news segment that prompted U.S. Attorney Marcos Jimenez to blackball NBC-6 reporter Ike Seamans. It begins with a Jimenez sound bite.
Jimenez: We´ve heard some noise recently about our office statistics.
Seamans: Last week U.S. Attorney Marcos Jimenez confused reporters expecting news of a drug bust. He began by defending his office´s caseload.
Unidentified female reporter: You lost me. What cases are you talking about?
Jimenez: Oh, it was an inside joke.
Seamans: Maybe not so funny. Critics charge his office has gone downhill since he took over. In court, federal Judge Michael Moore accused Jimenez of being ¨weak-kneed¨ and lacking ¨prosecutorial zeal,¨ resulting in a sharp decline in criminal prosecutions.
(To Jimenez): Are you saying he´s wrong?
Jimenez: A hundred percent wrong.
Seamans: Jimenez gave me a laundry list of his successes.
Jimenez: Our office is outstanding. It is one of the most productive offices, if not the most productive office in the nation.
Seamans: However, Justice Department figures show nearly a 50 percent decrease in suspects charged under antiterrorist laws and a 61 percent drop in public-corruption prosecutions, unlike other districts.
Jimenez: They haven´t dropped. That´s again false.
Seamans:: But then he said --
Jimenez: You can´t look at those drops in those areas. What really counts is quality, not quantity. What really counts is success, your conviction rate.
Seamans (to Jimenez): So there could be a drop, but the quality is better?
Jimenez: The quality is better.
Carlos Alvarez: I just found him to be very reticent to follow through on cases.
Seamans: Former Miami-Dade Police Director Carlos Alvarez, who had a nasty and public split with Jimenez last fall, says previous U.S. Attorneys were better.
Alvarez: He´s not in the same ballpark. There´s a huge difference in regards to how proactive and aggressive he pursues cases.
Jimenez: He [Alvarez] did a reprehensible thing. He pulled detectives off an important public-corruption case and he was running for mayor at the same time. I don´t think you should rely on people running for public office.
Alvarez: It was either his way or the highway, and it doesn´t work like that. You need the cooperation of everybody.
Seamans: Jimenez also angered some federal agencies, warning he might not prosecute cases if they arranged photo opportunities even though it´s been done for years.
Jimenez: I don´t care what other U.S. Attorneys have done. If they didn´t follow Department of Justice policy, it´s irrelevant to me.
Seamans (to Jimenez): You say your critics are totally wrong?
Seamans: Totally wrong?
Jimenez: Totally. Some people like to focus on negativity and things that are not true.