Tuesday October 3, 2006

Miami Herald publisher, Jesús Díaz Jr., resigns, and the firings of the reporters who wrote for Radio Martí are reversed. “While I still believe that the acceptance of such payments by the nine journalists was a breach of widely accepted principles of journalistic ethics that violated the trust of our readers, our policies prohibiting such behavior may have been ambiguously communicated, inconsistently applied and widely misunderstood over many years in the El Nuevo Herald newsroom. It has been determined that in fairness we should extend an amnesty to all involved and enforce our policies more forcefully and consistently in the future.” Update: More at SotP, babalu, Herald Watch, Pulp, and the Herald itself. I haven’t come to a positive conclusion; conversation in the comments is ongoing. Update: and still more at Miami Vision (“We’re sure the new owners of the Herald didn’t have a clue about what they were getting themselves into.” And by the way, making the whole paper a tabloid is an excellent idea.), Klotz, and babalu)

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  1. Biscayne Bystander    Tue Oct 3, 08:02 AM #  

    Who wouldn’t expect the Herald journalists to continue with their advertorial style of reporting? Epecially when you weigh the fact that the broadcasts included promoting more US propaganda… Would this have gone down under Knight Ridder? Absolutely, except for the re-hiring thing.



  2. conductor    Tue Oct 3, 02:35 PM #  

    Bystander,

    Do you listen to Radio Marti often or do you just make generalizations about what is said there based on your prejudice against Cuban-Americans?

    Just wondering?



  3. Franklin    Tue Oct 3, 04:26 PM #  

    Reporters were fired for taking money from the government, and then the Herald rehired them and fired their boss? I just don’t get this.



  4. mkh    Tue Oct 3, 07:42 PM #  

    It’s stranger than that, Franklin. On the English side Tom Fiedler is clarifying the policy to disallow Herald reporters from working for the government broadcasts, for pay or gratis. The editor in chief of El Herald (I’ve forgotten his name at the moment) said that he wouldn’t allow the reporters to take money, but he’d allow them to work for the government for free.



  5. Biscayne Bystander    Tue Oct 3, 07:50 PM #  

    Conductor,

    Seems I missed your train…of thought that is. Where in my comment do you see any insinuation that I am prejudice against “Cuban-Americans”?

    One thing I am certainly biased of is propaganda. The media is in a position where they can easily take advantage of the public’s trust. It is the responsibility of the media to protect this trust by reporting accurate, unbiased information, just as it is equally the responsibility of all Americans (even Cuban-Americans) to defend the 1st Amendment which protects the rights of our press.

    When the US government starts to shell out our tax dollars to journalists pushing their agenda, it undermines this balance. Just thinking about how they quietly paid these hacks, gets me nostalgic of “No Child Left Behind.” Wait…does that make me prejudice toward African-Americans???

    The conductor doth protest too much, methinks he should consider riding the short bus.



  6. alesh    Tue Oct 3, 11:05 PM #  

    I agree that this stinks but:

    To those who are positive that firing the reporters was the right thing for the newspaper to do, would you agree or disagree with the following statement:

    Anyone who is working or has worked for Radio Free Europe should be excluded from working for any “legitimate” news source.

    ?



  7. mkh    Tue Oct 3, 11:54 PM #  

    That’s a pretty loaded statement, Alesh.

    Legitimate is in the eyes of the beholder—I don’t consider Fox News legitimate, but others disagree. (For that matter, some people consider Matt Drudge a journalist, but I digress.)

    And what’s with “is working or has worked”? Would this be some sort of scarlet letter, a P for Propagandist we’d brand on their foreheads?

    The Heralds’ policies were poorly defined and communicated by management. Additionally, they based them on an ethical code that is rare among any professionals today, and probably outdated, to boot. The public no longer demands conscientious reporting, so why should media outlets care?



  8. Alex    Wed Oct 4, 12:06 AM #  

    Bystander, if those “hacks” would have been “quietly paid” this whole thing would not have happened. it’s clear by now they were paid in the open, with records accesible to anybody who bothered to request them and even published in the Herald in the case of O’Connor. No conspiracy theories please.

    Some of those “hacks” disseminated “propaganda” in the form of baseball scores and art critiques. Very dangerous stuff indeed.

    Conductor asked a very relevant question – how many of the people who are so quick to say “propaganda” has actually listened to Radio Martí? Not many, because is not broadcast in the US. Have you? How do you know is not “accurate, unbiased information”. And if you are not prejudiced against Cuban Americans, I must say I don’t get your “even Cuban Americans have to defend the 1st Amendment” dig.

    So let’s be clear on one thing, the conflict of interest has nothing to do with the content they produced for Radio Marti, but with the fact that those journalists are putting their credibility at risk by accepting payment from a government they are supposed to monitor, i.e: Pablo Alfonso may refrain from criticizing TV Marti as a waste of taxpayer’s dollars (a very valid point) because he is paid by the station. Calling a spade a spade, the “propaganda” angle is just a smear from people who just don’t like Radio Marti, plain and simple.



  9. alesh    Wed Oct 4, 12:09 AM #  

    re “legitimate” and “or has worked”: fine, it’s a loaded statement. But unless I misread you, you’re unwilling to agree with it, even modified? What about this:

    I consider any news source that employs a reporter simultaneously working for Radio Free Europe to be unethical.

    Or substitute “untrustworthy,” “tainted,” “iligitimate,” or whatever word you think fits, for “unethical.” Agree/Disagree??



  10. NicFitKid    Wed Oct 4, 12:58 AM #  

    There needs to be a clear line on this, because the definition of an independent press has already decayed significantly in recent years, to the point that way too many folks mistake punditry and commentary for hard news. Some even argue that pundits provide “better” news than boring ol’ reporters.

    No independent journalist should be taking checks directly from a government agency. Period. Marti, Radio Free Europe, VoA, whatever. Once a journalist counts on that check, it becomes unlikely that journalist will write anything directly critical of their paymaster (TV Marti sucks as a broadcast model, VoA wastes money, etcetera, etcetera, insert your example here). In addition, direct payments render American-based journalists vulnerable to overseas government propagandists who seek to discredit their reporting. When Fidel starts shouting “Who is paying you?” it would be best if the honest answer can be “no one but my newspaper, asshole.”

    And please don’t yammer at me about Public Radio. I’ve heard way too much bullshitting and ignorance on that topic. They have a firewall, it’s called the CPB, no government agency has direct control over them or the ability to retaliate against their reporters.



  11. Alex    Wed Oct 4, 01:10 AM #  

    Nick, I agree with you 100%... in theory. But there’s also my 20 year old self in Havana, listening to Radio Marti and for the first time hearing real news cutting through the fog of propaganda. I remember hearing about the little plane that landed in Red Square while Granma claimed it was a hoax. I remember hearing about Tianammen Square. I remember hearing about perestroika and glasnost after the government removed all the Russian magazines from the newstands. I remember criticism of Bush I and the 92 elections and marvelling at the reality than a radio station could be critical of a sitting President. That 20 year old would like to have the best journalists, the best commentators and the best editors broadcasting to him, and I can’t really deny him that.



  12. Val Prieto    Wed Oct 4, 07:29 AM #  

    I think many of us are missing the point here with the Marti thing. First, who is Radio/TV Marti going to hire as their reporters and editorial columnists if not those that are familiar with the Cuba situation?

    Second, does anyone really think for one second that any of these reporters and editorial columnists had to be coerced to report any news critical of the castro regime?



  13. alesh    Wed Oct 4, 08:05 AM #  

    Val, I don’t think anyone is surprised that Marti would want to hire these guys. The surprise is that they’d accept. As Alex says: “the conflict of interest has nothing to do with the content they produced for Radio Marti, but with the fact that those journalists are putting their credibility at risk by accepting payment from a government they are supposed to monitor.”

    I also agree with Nick that: “When Fidel starts shouting ‘Who is paying you?’ it would be best if the honest answer can be ‘no one but my newspaper, asshole.’”

    Imagine if you were reading the newspaper and a byline included the disclaimer “this writer is on the payroll of the United States.” The very fact that such a disclaimer would look very very strange proves that it probably belonged on their articles. After that, if they’re writing opinion pieces and you agree with their opinion, no problem. But if you disagree, their credibility goes way down, no?



  14. Franklin    Wed Oct 4, 10:01 AM #  

    It made NPR Marketplace yesterday that while Herald subscriptions have been flat for a decade, el Nuevo is growing partly because of its consistently anti-Castro positions. Hence, it’s okay to rehire some compromised anti-Castro journalists, but not columnists who voice criticism of Miami hardliners, such as Jim Defede. It makes sense now. The customer is always right, after all.



  15. mkh    Wed Oct 4, 10:44 AM #  

    Alesh, I don’t think a journalist should take government money while also working for an unaffiliated agency. Before or after is fine—hell, I have no issue with journalistic serial monogamy, as long as it’s transparent to the public.

    If I ran the zoo there would be term limits on the White House press corps, too, even if it meant losing people like Helen Thomas (not that there are reporters like Helen any longer).



  16. Val Prieto    Wed Oct 4, 02:14 PM #  

    Alesh,

    I find that “accepting payment from government” thing a bit questionable. The governmet sets and editorial policy just like every other media entity does.

    If accepting money from thegovernment is the evil here, then every single journalist or reporter that accepted a government student loan to get through college would have their credibility in question, no? They are or were, after all, beholden to the government.



  17. Franklin    Wed Oct 4, 06:26 PM #  

    ...every single journalist or reporter that accepted a government student loan to get through college would have their credibility in question, no?

    No.



  18. alesh    Thu Oct 5, 07:41 AM #  

    Franklin~ You haven’t really expressed a view on the Radio Free Europe, so I’m going to assume you’d take the same hard line there that you’re taking here.

    So to mkh, nick, and you I propose: what if someone set up an independent non-profit org, say the ‘Marti Broadcasting Corporation’, and proceeded to purchase the government’s equipment (such as it is), and began their own program of broadcasting news and information to Cuba. Assume that this new organization gets up to 75% of its funding from the Federal government, with maybe 25% coming from private donations.

    Does that change anything for you?



  19. alesh    Thu Oct 5, 08:51 AM #  

    BTW, I hung out with Henry and Alex last night at Tap Tap. One of the things we agreed with, which actually was pointed out in the Times essay I linked Monday, is that most newspapers around the world, including and especially in Great Britain, put more emphasis on advocacy, and less on strict objectivity, and that maybe moving in that direction is in the future for successful US newspapers. The AP report in the NYT puts it like this:

    The region also has a strong tradition of advocacy journalism, where the appearance of objectivity is less paramount, although these days it is equally frowned upon for journalists at independent newspapers in Latin America to accept money from the government.



  20. J-J    Thu Oct 5, 09:57 AM #  

    Those GB papers are terrible. You never know who’s agenda they are serving. alesh: have you read the GB papers? Its all preaching to the converted with little room for any midle ground.There is a reason why the NYT and the US press is regarded so highly among Europeans. The NYT, with all its faults is still a lot more objective that any newspaper in Europe.

    I frankly believe that this whole discussion is really an issue only in Mimami, were the exile community rules with an iron fist and dissent is not trully welcome. Anywere else those jurnos would have been fired for not dissclosing their agenda.

    Only in Miami…



  21. alesh    Thu Oct 5, 10:24 AM #  

    Oh yeah, now that you mention it, I remember a Brit journo being interviewed and saying that the press in America is much better then theirs. I guess I was thinking in terms of the Economist, which is a much better weekly glossy then Newsweek or Time.

    The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are both great newspapers, but most would agree that each has a bias in one direction. I suspect that Republicans perceive the WSJ as being neutral and the NYT as being left-leaning, and Democrats perceive the NYT as neutral and the WSJ right-leaning (talking here about the news section, not the editorial). Henry said that the WSJ news section is center or slightly left-leaning. hmm…

    The NYT article I linked above has some interesting discussion of el Nuevo Herald—most of the journalists there were trained in South America, where the aforementioned advocacy vs. objectivity balance understandably works out differently.



  22. NicFitKid    Thu Oct 5, 10:41 AM #  

    It’s all a question of where the funds come from, who controls the funds, and how the funds are distributed. Non-profit doesn’t guarantee squat (RFE is currently non-profit) if the Feds provide the lion’s share of the grants and have oversight over the news organization. RFE, RadioTV Marti, VoA, Alhurra, Radio Sawa, Radio Farda, they’re all in the stable of programs run by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). The BBG boardmembers are appointed by the president, approved by the Senate, and, according their own description:

    The bipartisan Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) oversees all U.S. government and government-sponsored, non-military, international broadcasting services.

    Fairly direct control over programming, in my opinion.

    Who currently heads the BBG? Kenneth Tomlinson . In case you don’t really follow the recent battles over media control, Tomlinson resigned from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) after its IG ruled he had broken the CPB’s own rules and misallocated funds during his crusade against “liberal bias” in public broadcasting. He’s a good buddy of Karl Rove and exchanged emails with the White House while on the CPB. Thankfully, the CPB’s inherent structure prevented him from causing any widespread damage during his tenure to public radio and TV as a whole.

    In contrast to the direct rule of the BBG over its programs, the CPB offers a completely different model . Most of its money goes to funding the infrastructure costs of local, independent public radio and TV broadcasters. However, these broadcasters, such as Miami’s own WLRN, are not wholly dependent on CPB funding and pick up a hefty chunk of operating funds from donations during the infamous pledge drives that drive so many public radio listeners up the wall.

    And all of that only addresses infrastructure. The actual content of a public radio station is entirely under local control. A station purchases news and talk programs (as well as its own choice of music and locally produced content) from independent providers like National Public Radio , American Public Media , and Public Radio International . Neither the CPB nor the government have any control over these outfits or their journalism. That’s why when anti-public broadcasting types try to shut it down every now and then (like after the Congressional takeover in ‘94), they find themselves in the unpopular position of trying to cut enough CPB funding to starve off local stations, but it does nothing to modify the actual news produced. Some of the larger stations with better fundraising could probably even survive, in diminished form, after the gutting of the CPB (not that it’s ever gone that far). The point here is that the government, no matter how hostile, has a very hard time influencing or shutting down public radio or television, and that’s thanks to its structure.

    If you want to imagine international public broadcasts that rise to the level of completely independent journalism, free of government oversight, the BBG and its broadcasters would have to undergo one hell of a transformation, and I don’t think you’ll be seeing Kenneth Tomlinson leading the charge on that one.



  23. Steve    Thu Oct 5, 09:19 PM #  

    The answer: Pirate radio! An independent investment group (CANF?) buys an old steamer with radio broadcast capability, and anchors off the green coast of Cuba, in indernational waters. All day long it beams commentary from these very same journalists (who, we are assured by Val) would eagerly broadcast their thoughts and opinions without payment from the US gubmint. No strings, no hidden agenda, no accusation of government propoganda. Maybe even a dollop of truth.

    And great costumes. Pirates are so in this year.



  24. alesh    Thu Oct 5, 10:46 PM #  

    Look: if Franklin has one thing in the whole universe, it’s the strength of his convictions. To some extent, the same seems true of MKH, and while I suspect that NicFitKid could argue equally well as the devil’s advocate, and research the SHIT out of a topic equally well (which, BTW, amazing fucking job up there in #22), it’s clear that many very reasonable people just can’t get with the idea of an ‘ethical’ reporter taking bread from the other side.

    Fair enough.

    I guess I have the weakness of empathy. When I think of those guys, faced with the decision between doing something against the Castro regime at the possible risk of harming their reputation, I’m right there with them, willing to put my own reputation on the line. I don’t mean to be dramatic: I said before that this whole thing stinks. It looks bad. But if you’re talking about a cause you really care about, you answer to your own conscience, and you disregard how it’ll look in the court of public opinion.

    With that, I allow the possibility (contingent on the actual content of the Marti broadcasts) that all the el Nuevo Herald guys are completely honorable—reality is stronger then the public’s perception.

    More later.



  25. Suicide Bomber    Fri Oct 6, 09:17 AM #  

    Yeah, I agree with Alesh. You believe strongly in something, you’re committed to an outcome to which you deeply, ultimately devote yourself, you do what you must. You gotta break some eggs to make an omelette, y’know, and while there’s always minor collateral damage, in the great scheme of things it’s forgotten. I’m with the journalists, too.



  26. Franklin    Fri Oct 6, 11:40 AM #  

    It works against el Nuevo’s credibility to have journalists on the Fed’s payroll. Radio Marti is a propoganda tool. El Nuevo is a newspaper that, in theory, has the freedom to criticize the government. The missions contradict each other. I know what journalists are paid and I sympathize with their taking side work. Personally, I can dismiss Radio Marti as propoganda. But I can also dismiss el Nuevo as propoganda. Diaz understood this, that the credibility of the newspaper was at stake, and took a stand for principled journalism.

    Those fools going around with the “I don’t believe the Miami Herald” stickers several years ago turned out to be correct, but not in the way they thought.