FORT LAUDERDALE — The suspension of a Broward County Sheriff’s deputy for his alleged role in leaking to TMZ a copy of a dramatic surveillance tape of last week’s Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport shooting is somewhat refreshing.
Now if only authorities would follow through and investigate with as much gusto the TMZ employee who brought home the tape, we’d feel better about the justice system.
Those who know Gossip Extra might be shocked that we, a gossipy outfit, would advocate police interference in another news gathering operation.
As a matter of fact, this is the first time.
But this is a special case that comes after years of South Florida exclusives on TMZ that could only be obtained through check-book journalism.
When it comes to the news business, the Time Warner-owned TMZ is a scourge that gives all organizations a bad name.
I’ve always known (I’ve been in the gossip biz for a long time) that cops in Miami Beach, Miami and Fort Lauderdale as well as sheriff’s deputies in Broward must be selling news and public records and videos to the L.A.-based TMZ.
When you’re working on a breaking story and TMZ’s consistently the outfit coming up first when scores of reporters are working on the same thing, you know that journalistic grit’s not the only reason they win the race.
Trust me, no TMZ reporter is that good. Actually, most TMZers are grossly underpaid and too inexperienced to be parachuted far from home and score an exclusive.
What sets them apart, however, is how far they’re willing to go to be first.
I see nothing wrong with paying a passenger who videotaped the shooting for her efforts. Hey, that’s capitalism.
But never, ever did I, or any reporter I know, offer law enforcement officials, elected politicians or bureaucrats money for news.
That’s just a line no one in the news business should ever cross — especially in a state where, thanks to the greatest laws in the country, public records are easily obtainable for anyone who wants to spend the time to collect them.
Until now, South Florida law enforcement bosses have not thought it worthwhile to find out how and why news, and videos they’re keeping out of the public realm end up on TMZ in just a matter of hours.
My unpaid BSO source says the suspended airport deputy, Michael Dingman, didn’t receive money for allegedly making it possible for TMZ to get the footage with a nice bow on it.
But I’m not stupid enough to believe Dingman risked his career and pension just to be nice to TMZ.
But what I’m worried about is that Dingman’s the sacrificial lamb who’ll pay for Sheriff Scott Israel‘s embarrassing inability to control his troops.
Florida’s commercial bribery statutes are clear, and allow prosecutors to go after a person who offers a benefit to anyone who, in exchange, would violate his/her duty to his/her employer — both in the public and private sectors. Actually, commercial bribery is a third-degree felony.
Then there’s also the matter of receiving stolen property.
Ultimately, the airport’s surveillance tapes are owned by we, the people of Florida, not TMZ.
I called the Broward County State Attorney’s office to figure out if they’re investigating Dingman’s contact at TMZ.
They haven’t received the case from BSO yet, and haven’t made any decision on how to handle it.
But I bet they didn’t even think about it.