Bombshell Blowback

The Miami Herald's shamelessly extravagant promotion of a lousy book sets the newsroom aflame

But there were other issues as well, journalism ethics among them. "The ethical concerns have to do with the appearance, and perhaps something more substantial, that these people who are very closely identified with the Herald have reaped a windfall of free publicity for a for-profit enterprise," says the reporter who attended the meeting and asked not to be named. "If it hadn't been written by people associated with the Herald, I don't think there's much, if any, chance it would have gotten this sort of treatment."

The reporter points to the Bombshell hype as a difference between Fiedler's editorial stewardship and that of his predecessor, Marty Baron, now editor of the Boston Globe. "If Marty Baron were still here, this never would have happened," the reporter asserts. "Marty was a much more vigilant guardian of the firewall [between the paper's newsroom and business operations]." (Several other Herald reporters contacted by New Times agree with that assessment.)

At the meeting, Fiedler made no apologies, arguing the Bombshell project fit neatly into the paper's twin goals of serializing books and attracting female readers. And today he continues to insist he has no qualms of conscience: "Not only do I not see anything unethical about that, but the idea of newspapers using material written by their staffers that is also in a book is common." He points to the Washington Post publishing excerpts from Bob Woodward's books, or the Philadelphia Inquirer excerpting work by its former reporter Mark Bowden (Blackhawk Down, Killing Pablo). "The connection between the newspaper and the writer seems to me to be a perfectly natural one and mutually beneficial," says Fiedler, perhaps unaware none of the Bombshells ever worked in the Herald newsroom.

L. Sebastian

"We weren't going to benefit from what Pat San Pedro or Sara Rosenberg got out of this," he continues, "other than -- hey, we got to print a story that we kind of hoped would be kind of edgy and fun and so forth. It turned out that the book is pretty lousy."

So why publish excerpts from a lousy book, especially considering Fiedler's admission he reviewed and approved all seven excerpts? "This wasn't about literature," he replies, a touch of exasperation creeping into his voice. "The whole idea was to have a book that would be a beach read. I think Shelley [Acoca] described this as chick-lit. And this kind of seemed it would be appropriate for that.

"To some degree we were smitten by a concept," Fiedler concedes. "Were we perhaps seduced and manipulated and used? I don't know. I really think that's yet to be known for certain. I certainly haven't heard that people are throwing up all over the Miami Herald on Sundays."

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