Hillsborough Sheriff's Office suspends contact with WTSP-Ch. 10 over feud with reporter Mike Deeson
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office issued a media alert today announcing they have suspended contact with Tampa Bay area CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10, saying reporter Mike Deeson verbally berated a civilian employee in their office. Chief Deputy Jose Docobo said the office had never issued a similar action in his 29 years' experience, refusing to send press releases or alerts about press conference to one media outlet.
The action was the culmination of a long friction between the sheriff's office and WTSP over Deeson's tough reports on the agency, which one officer said began when the reporter was turned down for a job in 2004 just after Sheriff David Gee's election.
Deeson denies ever soliciting a job from Gee, calling the charge "A bald-faced lie." Former WTSP employee Bill McGinty -- who remains a close friend of Deeson's -- e-mailed from Spokane, Wash., where he serves as a 10 p.m. anchor at NBC affiliate KHQ, saying he called Gee for a job in 2004 and the sheriff may have confused the two men.
Deeson said the sheriff's office doesn't like his reports on controversial issues, including a story noting substantial outside income helped Gee earn $908,312 last year and a piece on the construction of a $675,000 wall around the sheriff's office operations center.
For Deeson, the action by the sheriff's office had serious First Amendment implications: "If I'm the one they're not going to contact about press conferences, then who is next? I think it's an attempt to have a chilling effect on any other organization that's going to do critical stories."
Later today, the sheriff's office released a media alert criticizing Deeson and announcing their new policy, saying in part: "For a period of time Mr. Deeson has embarked on an unethical, dishonest and personal campaign to discredit the work of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and Sheriff David Gee. Mr. Deeson has threatened employees at all levels of our agency and routinely berates our staff in the name of reporting. It is clear to the Sheriff's Office that Mr. Deeson has lost his journalistic objectivity."
"If he makes a public request for documents, we will comply . . . but we don't have any obligation to notify Channel 10 of any press conferences or press releases," said Chief Deputy Docobo. "What we expect is what the public expects from all journalists -- fair and unbiased reporting of incidents without a personal bias."
Managers at WTSP stressed they were standing behind Deeson's work, while hoping to rebuild communications with the sheriff's office, which also issued a media alert Sept. 18 critical of Deeson's reporting on an incident when a gun was discovered inside a briefcase at the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse in downtown Tampa.
"They have obviously decided to take this fight to another level," said WTSP news director Darren Richards. "What we're going to try to do is stand behind Mike, support him and also reach out to the sheriff's department and find out how we can both do our jobs."
See Deeson's latest report on the sheriff's office -- and a quote from the press conference that tstarted this dust-up -- below: