Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Miami is Such a Silly Place Chronicles: Firings, Resignations, & Tabloids, Oh, My!

The Miami Herald, the city's only daily newspaper, is undergoing a cultural and ethics war from within. It officially began some weeks ago when Publisher Jesus Diaz Jr fired a handful of sister publication El Nuevo Herald writers for a breach of ethics by accepting payment for speaking and writing for Radio Marti, a Fed sponsored "propagaganda" tool aimed at broadcasting news and entertainment to Cubans (in Cuba). This, of course, opened up the floodgates for the easily offended local Cuban radio stations to lambaste Diaz for his decision. Within days nearly 2,000 Herald subscriptions were canceled. Yikes! That hurts because the paper is continuing to lose readership and advertising revenue at a time when its new owner, the McClatchy Co., is trying to resuscitate it. This week, before Diaz quit, he reinstated the El Nuevo journalists when it was discovered that some bigwigs at the Herald were aware of their work with Radio Marti. New, "clearer" rules are being written up as you read this to prevent such misunderstandings in the future.

Regarding Diaz's resignation, officially, it's because he has high standards. Unofficially, it's probably because he 1) Offended the biggest ethnic population in Miami, 2) Butted heads with prized columnist Carl Hiaasen and lost (Diaz didn't want to run a Hiaasen column he thought might stir up the population even more and Hiaasen called McClatchy corporate in California threatening to quit) and, 3) Made the paper lose money.

Today the paper reveals that many in the "English-language newsroom" (The Miami Herald) are upset because they think the rules were bent to allow the El Nuevo Herald journalists to return. Many at El Nuevo Herald are unhappy because their colleagues were "fired in the first place and their reputations demeaned."

Oh, oh, we can hear the lawyers beating down the doors at McClatchy to sue them for just that: defamation of character. We're sure the new owners of the Herald didn't have a clue about what they were getting themselves into. Now, instead of hoping to make the paper a moneymaker, they will probably face a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

But wait, it gets worse. El Nuevo Herald reporter Rui Ferreira is quoted as telling Diaz's replacement, David Landsberg, that "We are at war between the two newsrooms."

And, in a Letter to the Editor in today's Herald, Ruben Soto "does not accept that a non-Hispanic is now heading both editions...Even though publisher David Landsberg grew up in Miami, this does not make him an expert on Cuban-American or Hispanic issues. You have to have the heart and feel what it's like to be a Hispanic in Miami in order to make the newspaper successful...This warrants another protest from the local Hispanic community. The Miami Herald's new owners don't understand our unique culture."

Soto is right about that. McClatchy didn't know what they were buying in to. We're sure the easily offended are lining up now and preparing to march up and down Calle Ocho in protest.

Regarding the new publisher David Landsberg. The guy was born in Baptist Hospital, went to Coral Gables High, and graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in business administration and started working for the paper immediately. He rose in the ranks and became chief financial officer from 1996-1999 and vice president of advertising. Then-publisher Alberto Ibarguen says, " That was a department in disarray. It had like five vice presidents in seven years. He brought it around by doing basic things. It just wasn't rocket science."

What we love is the follow-up sentence in the story: Landsberg learned why ads were valuable...

It's funnier than you think. Nearly twenty years ago before publishing "The Rodney Dangerfield of Blogs," Verticus Erectus ran an advertising agency that placed movie ads for major studios. At one time, the studios were running full page Friday opening day ads which easily cost more than $25,000.00 back then. And then the Herald took a poll. They asked their readers how they liked their Friday entertainment section. According to the paper, they learned that their loyal readers wanted a tabloid. So, somewhere in the late 80's or early 90's (Verticus can't remember what decade it happened since he has a hard enough time remembering where he put his keys), the paper switched to a Friday tabloid. In so doing, they basically shot themselves in the financial foot. Instead of getting full page ads that were as big as 125", they were now getting full page ads that were only 65" at best. But, and this is a big but, the studios placed ads based on a "percentage of a page" based on the size of its readership. So, instead of getting say, a half page ad which would have been around 65", they were now getting 31.5" ads. Advertising placement dropped drastically. Mr. Erectus went to the paper and complained that the policy was hurting his profit margins. They didn't care because he was told the paper "isn't advertising driven." Editorial and what its readers want is more important. Mr. Erectus estimates that since then, from just one major movie studio alone, the paper has lost millions of dollars in an effort to keep its dwindling readers happy. He has also always wondered, if a Friday entertainment tabloid kept its readers happy, why not extend that happiness throughout the week and make the whole paper a tabloid? Who knows, maybe McClatchy is working on just that.


Paul Crespo said...

Human Events Online

The Miami Herald's Scandal That Wasn't

by Paul Crespo
Posted Oct 06, 2006

With the sudden resignation of Miami Herald Publisher Jesus Diaz on Tuesday, and the offer to reinstate the Herald’s three journalists unjustly fired on September 8, the newspaper’s "Castro-gate" scandal takes an added twist. What began as an alleged scandal involving Cuban American journalists who were "taking pay from the U.S." government, quickly has devolved into a real scandal involving an unethical, sensationalized smear job by the Miami Herald.

With Fidel Castro’s decrepit dictatorship on its deathbed and the communist island on the cusp of radical change, the Miami Herald chose a strangely strategic moment to discredit Castro’s democratic opponents in Miami. On September 8, the Herald published a front-page pseudo expose,’ "10 Miami journalists take U.S. pay," which listed me among those 10.

This hit piece tried to sully the reputation of any commentator who has ever been paid to appear on TV Marti (the U.S. government's TV news station aimed at Cuba), implying they are all U.S. government shills.

Predictably, Castro’s regime immediately began touting it as proof that all its Miami-based critics are "U.S. mercenaries." Suspiciously, in the weeks prior to this article's publication, Castro's spokesmen and "El Comandante" himself, had publicly taunted the Herald to write just such a story.

Far from the impression the Herald created, its reporters Oscar Corral, et al, are not Woodward and Bernstein, nor did they uncover Watergate. Look closely at their story, and there is little there, and the reporters look more like Keystone Cops. The real scandal is how this unprofessional smear was ever published.

Begin with the grotesquely misleading “take U.S. pay” headline that falsely implied a dirty or secret arrangement between my journalistic colleagues and the U.S. government. The headline insinuated that we all were "on the take" or being "paid off." This patently is false and borders on libel. Predictably though, left wing media quickly used the "on the take" spin in their follow-up stories. “Journalists on the take Defend Cuba Bashing,” screamed the September 15 headline in, a Marxist website.

A more accurate, less sensational headline correctly could have read: "10 Miami journalists also consult for TV Marti," but that wouldn’t have been front-page news. Many prominent journalists get paid to appear on government funded media such as the Voice of America, NPR and PBS. Are they all unethical, government shills?

For added effect, the Herald immediately fired three of its Cuban-American reporters for “conflict of interest.” Expressing his righteous indignation, Herald Publisher Jesus Diaz proclaimed that, ''Even the appearance that your objectivity or integrity might have been impaired is something we can't condone, not in our business.''

Yet, former U.S. attorney Kendall Coffee, among others, has stated that the punishment did not fit the crime. While emphasizing that there was nothing illegal about the Herald reporters moonlighting for TV Marti, Coffee added that even if there were a potential conflict of interest, their abrupt firing by the Herald was excessive—like executing someone for a misdemeanor.

The Herald also crammed print and TV reporters and opinion columnists in the same boat. Most media professionals understand there is a big difference. As a commentator and analyst, I get paid to give my opinion. The Miami Herald previously paid me to write editorials and a regular column.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, I was a paid on-air military analyst for TV Marti, just as I was for Miami’s Fox News affiliate, WSVN 7 TV News, giving the same perspective to both outlets. I recently began a weekly TV Marti world affairs program, which I have publicly disclosed on my radio show.

None of this is secret. All the Herald had to do was ask. The Herald claims this story was part of a two-year investigation, but all the information gained could have been collected in two days. Like the other 10 persons cited I was called for comment only the night before the article was published. The Herald printed only curt, one-liners in a response box from those it could reach.

Guillermo Martinez, a syndicated columnist and former member of the Miami Herald editorial board, says, “That’s called ambushing your target and generally considered unethical.” He adds, “Time permitting, as this case did, you are supposed to give the targets of your investigation adequate opportunity to defend themselves. Calling them after the story is basically written is wrong.”

The story quotes Iván Román, executive director of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), to argue that there was a conflict of interest for the 10 journalists in this case. Yet, this is the same group that hosted top Castro henchman, Ricardo Alarcon, to a controversial video interview for its annual conference in Fort Lauderdale in June. Mr. Roman is not exactly an impartial judge.

Coincidentally, during that interview, Alarcon cynically justified Castro’s brutal imprisonment of the few independent journalists in Cuba by charging they too were paid by the U.S.

The Herald initially claimed it knew its reporters had been collaborating with TV and Radio Marti for years, but didn’t know they were being paid. As we now learn, they just didn’t look closely enough. The Herald wrote a story in 2002 showing that one of the columnists mentioned, Olga Connor, was paid by TV Marti, even noting her salary.

Maybe the Herald should require its reporters to also read their own paper. It now has surfaced that the former editor of the Nuevo Herald, the late Carlos Castaneda, had approved their paid participation on TV Marti shows.

The Herald story’s kicker was the un-quoted closing comment of two un-named "ethics experts” equating this issue to the scandal involving the Bush administration paying pundit Armstrong Williams to promote its education program. According to the Herald’s two "ethics experts" we may have been paid to spread propaganda in the U.S.

That was outrageous.

Unlike the Williams case, everything here is in the public record. TV Marti is required to pay regular analysts a nominal fee per program for shows beamed into Cuba. Like Radio Free Europe beamed into the Communist bloc during the Cold War, nothing on TV Marti is intended for domestic U.S. consumption, nor directed at U.S. citizens. So how is this comparable?

It is not, which is why the Herald’s ethically challenged “ethics experts” remained anonymous. Or was that simply the reporter’s disguised agenda showing? As expected though, the September 9, New York Times headline falsely read: “U.S. paid 10 journalists for anti-Castro reports,” and reiterated the fallacious Williams comparison. For the record, most of my TV Marti commentary does not involve Cuba.

The background to this Herald article is even more interesting and deserving of investigation. In July, local TV reporter Juan Manuel Cao, also mentioned in the Herald article, cornered Castro in Argentina with a tough, pointed question. The enraged tyrant shot back, calling him a Bush mercenary and asking “Who pays you?”

Later, before falling ill in August, Castro publicly hinted that the answer to his "Who pays you" question soon would be revealed. A week before the Herald published its article, another Castro mouthpiece on Cuban state TV, Reinaldo Taladrid (who, like many other in the Cuban state media, is believed to be employed by Cuban intelligence) presciently asked: what if the Herald investigated the anti-Castro Cuban-American journalists in Miami?

How did Castro’s goons know of the story before the Herald published it? That has become the big question. It appears the Herald should be more concerned about Cuban government influence and penetration of the Herald.

Take Janet Comellas, currently a copy editor at the Nuevo Herald, who until November 2005 was a senior propaganda writer for Castro’s official state-run newspaper, “Granma.”

And there’s Marifeli Perez-Stable, a regular The Herald editorial contributor who in the 1970s and 80s was an open and ardent Castro defender and Sandinista sympathizer. While she has moderated her writing since then, Perez-Stable never has recanted her old views.

According to Indiana University Professor Antonio de la Cova, Perez-Stable was “outed” by Captain Jesús Pérez Méndez, a Cuban intelligence defector in 1983 as being “controlled” by Cuban intelligence.

While we don't know all the answers yet, unnamed sources say some at the Herald are "taking pay" from Castro—just don't quote me on that.

Mr. Crespo hosts a political talk show on Univision Radio's WQBA 1140 AM in Miami and teaches politics at the University of Miami. He is a former member of The Miami Herald editorial board.

Copyright © 2006 HUMAN EVENTS. All Rights Reserved.

Verticus S. Erectus said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Verticus Erectus said...

Mr. Crespo,

Thanks for your comments. We read this posting originally last week on the Human Events website because, believe it or not, we lean in that direction. Please understand, we have no problem with anybody working for Radio Marti. As far as we are concerened, Radio Marti is doing a good thing and the last time we checked saying something good and truthful about the U.S. to an oppressed people was O.K.

What we have a problem with is the one-sided hypersensitivity of the Hispanic community when it gets bent out of shape over just about everything about Cuba if it isn't the way they see things. The irony of the situation with Jesus Diaz is that his knee-jerk reactions with Jim Defede and the Radio Marti journalists have come back to haunt him. This behavior on his part is reflective of the world-wide perception of the vocal Cuban community and does none of you any good.

And you are right in disassociating yourself from them and explaining your side of the story. We believe the Herald is being disingenuous with what they knew and didn't know. No matter how they play it out, it makes them look incompetent.

Still, most non-Hispanic folks in the U.S. have very little tolerance for a group of people who left their collective cojones back on the island instead of taking a stand and fighting back. "Fighting back" by shouting and marching from the safety and comfort of Little Havana doesn't get much sympathy from most Americans-- especially when that same group never made an effort to assimilate and never appears happy about living here but rather always longs for returning to their homeland while taking what they can from this land-- which gave them a lifestyle people in Cuba can only dream about.