More than four decades ago, Carmel Cafiero became the first woman reporter at WSVN-Channel 7. Over the years, she has gone undercover, stalked people’s homes for quotes — and done stories that have changed policies that affect thousands of Floridians.
On Thursday, June 30, Cafiero retired after 43 years at the station, ending a storied career doing investigative journalism.
One of her first and most challenging stories, in the 1970s, was about abortion clinics in Miami-Dade falsely telling women they were pregnant to make money off the procedure. To investigate, she went undercover at several clinics with urine from her photographer; they told her she was pregnant.
In the ’80s, she followed Broward police and documented what goes on in the months leading to big drug busts. This was in the midst of the heightened War on Drugs, when practically every night there was a bust of some sort.
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“Before ‘Cops,’ before any in-depth shows about going along with cops on busts, we spent three months documenting the Broward County Sheriff’s Office undercover drug investigations. Nobody had seen the likes of what we caught on tape,” she said.
The story that struck her the most was her Pill Mills piece, run in 2010, which won an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, a prestigious broadcasting prize.
“These pill mills where handing out drugs like you wouldn’t believe. People were coming from Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, driving down here carloads at a time to get these prescription drugs, such as oxycodone.
“Nobody had done any stories on them. My partner Anthony Pineda and I spent months tracking what was going on at these clinics. We put together a story that showed these people shooting up at the parking lot, snorting and leaving kids in the car while they were in there getting their drugs,” she said.
A year after the piece aired, Florida toughened its laws on prescription drugs.
“There had been attempts in the past to get an effort at the state level to take control of who’s buying these pills and who’s handling these pills. Our stories were taken to Tallahassee and shown to lawmakers and that year after we exposed these things, the law was passed,” she said.
Belkys Nerey, a Channel 7 anchor, describes Cafiero as “solid,” “sharp,” “tenacious” and the “real deal.”
“She does a lot for the community,” Nerey said. “She sets a high bar for what this business is about, which is exposing bad people doing bad things, and she never gives up until she gets it done, no matter what it takes.”
Native to New Orleans, Cafiero studied at Louisiana State University, where she majored in art. She left school to get married in 1967 and had her first baby in 1968.
“I went to LSU and I studied football and fraternities,” she joked. “I got married, had a baby and went to Loyola University, where I studied communications.”
She landed her first job at a radio station, where she hosted a show called “Swap Shop” during which people called in to trade items. Show producers didn’t let Cafiero use her real name because, “it’s too much of a name.” Instead she went by the name Diane Lacour.
While working at another station, she noticed that WAFB-TV, a small station in Baton Rouge, offered two men at the station a job that both turned down.
“I was the low man on the totem pole, and I had the later shift. When they left work for the day, the first thing I did was call the television station and asked ‘Would you consider a woman for the job?’ So I got it, I got the job,” she said.
In 1973, an investigative reporter from Baton Rouge named John Camp recommended Cafiero for a job at Channel 7. She got it.
“There was agitation for women to be represented in the industry. The feeling was that [the station] needed a woman,” she said.
Coming in to Channel 7, Cafiero says, she remembers being welcomed.
“When I came to work there, the only other woman at the newsroom was the secretary,” she said.
She did encounter bouts of sexism at the station, such as comments like “can I expect that you won’t get pregnant?”
But Cafiero’s journalistic spirit was never deterred, and she says she was always treated fairly and given the opportunity to excel.
Throughout her career, Cafiero has brought multiple honors to Channel 7, but she says she doesn’t care much about trophies.
“I think the real reward comes from making the world a little bit better of a place when you’re finished. Offering a little perspective, a little warning, stopping something bad from happening — that’s what counts the most,” she said.
In her retirement, Cafiero plans to spend more time with her young grandchildren, relax and enjoy fishing in Louisiana.
“It’s been a tremendous ride. I’m kind of sad to leave that, but you reach a point in life where it’s time to sit back and smell the roses,” she said.