Monday, August 13, 2007

El Nuevo Herald Buckles to The Miami Herald While Granma Comes to Oscar Corral's Defense


For a brief time last year Miami became a two newspaper town again. The two papers shared the same building and their respective staffs were paid by the same company, but their editorial content, in the period in question, differed markedly. One paper, time and time again, appeared to contradict the other, indeed, went so far as to challenge its veracity. Never before had the smaller newspaper, long considered a cut, paste and translate offshoot of the larger, asserted its independence to such a degree on such a controversial subject. The David challenging Goliath, of course, was El Nuevo Herald, sister publication (perhaps "stepsister" would be better) of The Miami Herald. Although its openly belligerant tone might suggest otherwise, it was El Nuevo Herald that was on the defensive. Its "sister" publication had challenged the Spanish paper's ethics in a story which resulted in the firing of three Cuban-American journalists on what later turned out to be fabricated charges of "dual-loyalty" worthy of the star chambre. The Herald article also impugned the reputations of Cuban exile journalists who did not work at The Herald and fomented discussion from many quarters on the "unprofessionalism" of Latin-American journalists in general, whom it was suggested did not play by American rules when it came to objective and balanced reporting.

The man responsible for creating this schism at One Herald Plaza was Oscar Corral, whose Sept. 8, 2006 front-page story charged that three journalists employed by El Nuevo Herald had violated a non-existent Herald ethics code that supposedly forbade those in its employ from freelancing for U.S. government broadcasting, as thousands of MSM reporters have done, including Edward R. Murrow, over its 60-year history. Corral's story began to unravel from day one. As it turned out, the Miami Moonlighters' work for Radio Martí, the Voice of America's Spanish service to Cuba, was not only known and approved by the then editor of El Nuevo Herald, since deceased, but had even been mentioned in a profile of one of the journalists published a year earlier in The Herald. Its shock at this "discovery" and reaction to it was then exposed as the coup de theatre which it had always been. In the end, the fired journalists were re-hired without prejudice (although without an apology, either) and publisher Jesús Díaz, a dilettante with no professional credentials, and executive editor Tom Fiedler, a race-baiter who called Corral's critics "chihuahuas" and accused them of committing a "blood libel" because they suggested that Corral was fed this story by Havana, which reported Corral's findings before they were published in The Herald, were both compelled by the fallout from the Corral story to resign (Diaz) from the paper or retire prematurely (Fiedler). Oscar Corral, whose factually-challenged and poorly-edited article gave rise to this imbroglio, was neither fired nor disciplined, though his conduct was excoriated in the harshest terms by the paper's ombudsman. Nevertheless, Corral took to portraying himself as a martyr for journalistic ethics who put his life on the line to tell a (mendacious) story. In a puff piece published in the Sun-Post he even claimed that he and his family were obliged to go into hiding for 3-weeks because he feared an attack from extremists in the community. There was no basis for such "fears" besides his native cowardice and an inward recognition of wrongdoing. The 3-weeks spent in a "secure location" were, in fact, little more than an unscheduled paid-vacation -- a bonus, if you will -- for a job poorly done.

Last week, when The Miami Herald broke the story, four days after the fact, of Corral's arrest for soliciting a teenage prostitute, El Nuevo Herald limited itself to translating and repeating The Miami Herald's inconspicuous treatment of the story, which consisted of 90 words buried on the bottom of page 3 in the Metro section that noted neither the reporter's name nor his affiliation in the headline.

The Miami Herald's coverage of Corral's arrest was understandable given its past "encircle the wagons around him" approach to protecting its ace [anti-]-Cuban-American reporter. There were no follow-up stories on Corral's arrest or the community's reaction to it although there was no bigger story in Miami last week. But The Herald simply chose to ignore it. Its editor when questioned about Corral's arrest offered his unconditional support but no explanation for Corral's conduct other than implying that he wasn't on assignment for The Herald (which Corral is likely to have first told the police). His comment, at least, put to rest any suggestion that Corral was working "undercover" for The Herald when he was arrested. The editor's loyalty to Corral was reflected by what wasn't published in the paper rather than by any active defense of him there. The Herald, which must have received many letters to the editor regarding Corral's arrest, chose to print only one from Miami Moonlighter Paul Crespo, but availed itself of its "editorial prerogative" to cut, rephrase and even add words to it, suppressing the most critical parts. Still, it was more than El Nuevo Herald has done, which has not touched the story since it reprinted The Herald's concealed story.

Now, this could be a case of taking the higher ground on the part of El Nuevo Herald's editors, who may perhaps not wish to be seen as revelling in Corral's fall; the fall itself being sufficient in itself for them. This would be good and well if they were not also journalists bound to report a story which was of great interest to their community, as they must know. Why, then, have they remained silent? Given what we already know of the revulsion for Corral in the Nuevo Herald newsroom, inspired by his attempt to defame the Moonlighters and call into question the journalistic intregrity of all Cuban-American journalists, the only plausible explanation for their silence is that they have been prohibited from covering or commenting upon Corral's arrest.

It would appear that at some point during the last year El Nuevo Herald lost whatever autonomy it formerly gained from its "sister" publication. In effect, the "sister" publication has become the parent publication. No doubt this development was precipitated, if not ordered, by the The Herald's new owners, the McClatchy Corporation, who were greatly embarrassed and befuddled by this whole mess, and, predictably, put the blame for it not on the perpetrator of this scandal but on its victim. Whether this demonstrates bigotry on its part for the only Spanish-language newspaper in the McClatchy chain or a preference for dealing with its English counterpart because, perhaps, it assumes that The Nuevo Herald is the foreign entity which The Herald and even the reporter's union suggested last year it was, the result remains the same: the silencing of the paper that was created to serve the needs of Miami's Hispanic community. In effect, The Herald is saying that those needs are indistinct from those of its Anglo readers, which itself calls into question the necessity of having an independent Spanish-language counterpart to The Herald. This cannot bode well for the future of El Nuevo Herald.

Granma has not been as reluctant to defend Corral as The Nuevo Herald has been reticent to criticize him. As it did when the Moonlighters' story was published last year, the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party has come out in defense of Oscar Corral, who is identified as the greatest scourge and principal target of the Miami "Mafia." In fact, Granma suggests that Corral was a victim of entrapment by this so-called "Mafia" which is apparently as much in control of the city as Castro is of the island. The article itself sounds suspiciously like Corral's own writing in parts even through the filter of translation and was no doubt fashioned with his imput. Being a translator myself I can spot that easily; the fact flew over the head of the editor of Herald Watch, who reprints and links the Granma article (surely a first).

If Havana had the goods on Corral before his arrest, as has been suggested here, and was using that information to blackmail him into becoming the conduit for its propaganda at The Herald, his arrest must have loosened that particular stranglehold on him, but a greater one still remains: his alleged collaboration with the regime, which, whether voluntary or coerced, would destroy what remains of his reputation as a journalist and make him fit to work only for People's World, or, indeed, Granma. It would, therefore, still be in the interest of both to conceal that fact. If it remained silent in the face of Corral's disgrace, Granma's silence might be interpreted as suspicious since it was not silent before, while defending him would dispel the same suspicions; for surely, some would conclude, the regime could not be that obvious if Corral was an asset. Distance, then, ironically, is not the best option. By going against expectations Granma shields itself while reinforcing its support for Corral. I don't know how welcome such public support is by Corral, but he really has no choice in the matter. The last thing he can do at this juncture is question Havana's strategy, even if its ultimate strategy is eventually to dump him or feed him to his enemies. No, it is not easy being Oscar Corral, whatever accomodations The Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald and Granma make on his behalf.

3 comments:

mueja said...

-.-

Albert Quiroga said...

Boy, the good stuff I've missed while away in Hemingway-Land and taking cheesy touristy pics at the Southernmost Point!

So Corral has been...corralled. Well, I'd say he's been exposed as the Herald's very own closet Tricky Dick, but that allusion in the end could be seen as an insult...to the late RMN for which I must apologize, if so it is seen. Just couldn't contain myself.

If Hillary makes it to the What Hows in '08, maybe she can name Oscar her Solicitor General...

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

Alberto:

I should think "Solicitor Private," since Oscar can't even successfully arrange a "date" with a hooker without being arrested.