Monday, August 20, 2007

From the Tellechea Digital Archives: Oscar Corral's "Martí Moonlighters" Story Revisited

[We are approaching the first year anniversary of Oscar Corral's now infamous hatchet-job on anti-Castro Cuban journalists at The Miami Herald and elsewhere, whom he accused in a Sept. 8, 2006 front-page article of being in the pay of the U.S. government (and hence co-opted by it) because they received pro-forma honoraria for appearing on the anti-Castro Radio and TV Martí, which they had done with the knowledge and assent of The Herald itself and following in the footsteps of Edward R. Morrow and thousands of other MSN journalists who had worked for government broadcasting since 1942, when the Voice of America radio service was founded. Corral's "underground investigation," as he called it, led to the arbitrary firing of the journalists and created a schism at 1 Herald Plaza involving the staffs of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, for which the fired journalists had worked. The subsequent revelation that there had been no internal Herald policy prohibiting them from freelancing at Radio Martí, that they had indeed requested and obtained the permission of their editor to do so, and, finally, that The Herald itself had published an article 4 years earlier which reported one of the journalist's association with Radio Martí and even boasted of it, led to the rehiring without prejudice (but without an apology) of the fired Cuban journalists and precipitated the departure of The Herald's publisher Jesús Díaz and its executive editor Tom Fiedler, who resigned and retired, respectively, in the wake of the fallout from the story.

We are reproducing here our response to Jesús Díaz's justification for the firing of the journalists, published in
The Herald, on Sept. 17, 2006. In future days we will be publishing other significant documents in the Martí Moonlighters' Affaire, leading up to the Sept. 8th anniversary of Oscar Corral's libellous and discredited story. — MAT]:

September 17, 2006
A Free Press Can Require Painful Choices
By Jesus Diaz Jr.

In order to have democracy, a country must enjoy freedom of the press. [In order to have freedom of the press, the millionaires who own the presses and their lacqueys must convince us that a corporation’s interests also represent the interests of their community or the nation at large.] The past week has been painful for many in the Cuban community and for employees at The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. [It has been principally painful, however, for the 3 journalists you arbitrarily fired and their families. You and your employees, who did not have the basic decency to protest their firings in a formal petition, are the cause of their pain]. Many have questioned the motives behind the dismissal of two El Nuevo Herald reporters and a freelance writer who did a significant amount of work for us while simultaneously working for and being paid by Radio and TV Martí. [By “significant work” what you really mean is fair, impartial and objective work that was beyond reproach. Since you could not impugn their work for The Herald (and didn’t even try), you chose instead to assassinate their character].

I approved the dismissals because, as the publisher of these newspapers, I am deeply committed to the separation between government and a free press. [The only thing that you were “deeply committed” to was beating out the Chicago Tribune on this story. As for yourself, you have yet to explain why it is not a conflict of interests for you to chair the official U.S-government Cuba Transition committee while serving as Herald publisher]. Further, our employees violated our conflict-of-interest rules. [You have thus far refused to make public these “conflict of interests rules.” When were they adopted? By whom? How specifically do they apply to these three journalist? Where, in short, does it say in your “Rules” that reporters or freelancers are forbidden from working for government-sponsored foreign broadcasting? It is certainly not in the contracts that these journalists signed]. All of our journalists acknowledge and agree to adhere to our policies, which include this statement [Which is it, “rules” or “policies?" Rules are not the same thing as policies. Rules are immutable whereas policies are whatever tickles the publisher’s fancy at any time]. 

We demonstrate our principles by operating with fairness, accuracy and independence, and by avoiding conflicts of interest, as well as the appearance of conflicts of interest [Like Caesar’s wife?]. Our news operations will be diligent in their pursuit of the truth, without regard to special interests." [Then you have certainly violated The Herald’s principles (which is it now? Rules? Policies? Principles?) by acting yourself without “fairness, accuracy or independence” in this matter. You have already admitted, after initially lying about it, that The Herald knew about the journalists’ involvement with Radio Marti as early as 2002, when The Herald actually published a story which presented as a laudable activity what you would later characterize as a conflict of interests and assault on freedom of the press. What were the “rules, policies and principles” in 2002? When did they change? And did you ever apprise anyone that they had changed? I don’t mean the way you “apprised” the 3 journalists 30 minutes before you fired them. The victims of Stalin’s purges were accorded more due process than the 3 reporters you fired].

Our decisions, painful as they were, reaffirm our commitment that reporters and editors at our newspapers are free of even the hint of a conflict of interest. [Well, that’s the second time that you mention how “painful” your decision was. Perhaps it might not have been a “painful” decision if it had been a reasoned and thoughtful decision. But you made it “painful” by your own premature and unmeasured acts. Doesn’t it seem odd to you that no other newspaper in the country has fired or disciplined reporters involved with Radio Marti, VOA or Radio Liberty (not to mention PBS or NPR)? Perhaps they don’t have the same high ethical standards that you do. Or, more likely, they are not as draconian, unfair and undemocratic as you are].It is by sustaining this transparency [What “transparency?” Due process for these journalists would have been transparency. Kicking them out the back door isn’t transparency] that we can assure that our reporters will continue to function as impartial and independent watchdogs in our community [Has anyone ever suggested let alone proved that the fired journalists’ reportage was ever anything else?] and tackle investigations leading to stories such as the House of Lies series, which disclosed corruption in the Miami-Dade Housing Authority, and Fire Watch, which uncovered abuses in Miami-Dade’s fire-watch program. [That’s right, pat yourselves on the back; nobody else is going to. Whatever your past scoops may have been, they do not excuse this miscarriage of justice]. 

As a child in Cuba, I lived under a totalitarian government where freedom of speech did not exist. I remember my parents telling my sister and me, over and over, ‘’Do not say anything bad about the government'’ for fear of reprisal. I do not want my daughter to ever have to say that to her children or to her grandchildren. [You do not live now in a totalitarian regime, although you yourself act with the same star-chamber arbitrariness characteristic of all such regimes, including Fidel Castro’s].I am committed to fair and independent journalism because I firmly believe that a totalitarian government cannot survive under the spotlight of a free press. [If you are “committed to fair and independent journalism” then you should practice it for a change. What little free press there is in Cuba must struggle across the skies over the Florida Straits to reach Cuba. You would stifle and silence that lonely voice by denying it the support of some of the best U.S. journalists who bring to Radio and TV Marti the fairness and objectivity which, again, none has ever suggested that their reportage lacked]. Throughout this past week, I have been reminded that a dictator such as Fidel Castro would not be in power if Cuba had a free press. [Fidel Castro came to power precisely because the U.S. had a free press. Ever heard of Herbert Matthews? A free press is only as good as the commitment to freedom of individual journalists. The three fired reporters have shown their commitment to freedom in word and deed time and time again. Have you?]

A SHORT JOURNEY [Too short].

History has proved that the journey from an open society to a totalitarian regime can be a short one. [Full of profundities, aren’t you? How exactly did you get your job? I’ve heard of all ten journalists that Corral’s story smeared, but I’ve never heard of you. How did you get to be The Herald’s publisher? By flying under the radar? Well, you did a very good job there]. When journalists receive regular payments for government-sponsored reporting while working for free-press outlets, we take a step down this dangerous path. [Professional journalists, hundreds if not thousands of them, have worked for government-sponsored radio since the Voice of America was founded in 1942. On exactly what “dangerous path” has this taken us? The end of the Cold War and the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe? Why did you specifically target Cuban-American journalists for your censure? Didn’t non-Cuban Latin Americans and Spanish-speaking Anglo experts also appear on Radio and TV Marti? Why weren’t they named? For that matter, why weren’t paid-contributors to the Voice of America and Radio Liberty named? They work for the same government and the checks they receive are also identical].

Let me be clear: [Now you are going to start?].

• The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald are committed to fair and independent reporting. [However many times you repeat it won’t make it true].

• The institutional position of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, as expressed on our editorial pages, has been to support the work and goals of Radio and TV Martí. [Except when you try to sabotage their work by denying them the services of those who allow them to fulfill their mission with professionalism and fairness. Your now often-repeated “support” for Radio Marti includes portraying it as a “propaganda machine” with which no reputable ethical journalist would be connected, and with which The Miami Herald, in particular, is loathe to associate even indirectly. With “friends” like you, Radio and TV Marti better watch their backs].

I also wish to clarify our position on a number of questions and rumors, which we have heard over the past week:

• The Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald and our parent company, McClatchy, have no plans to open a bureau inside Cuba. [Really, hasn’t that been your expressed objective for many years? Did that objective change at the same time you changed your “rules, objectives, policies”?].

• Cuba rejects or does not respond to our requests for visas for our reporters. [So you are trying?]. As such, any reporting by Miami Herald staff members from Cuba comes from those who have made their way into the country as tourists, requiring us to run their stories without bylines in order to protect their identities. [Wasn’t Oscar Corral recently in Cuba? Is that where he “researched” his Sept. 8 story?].

• We do not know why the Cuban TV program Mesa Redonda commented on the essence of our story before it ran. [So you admit that this “rumor” at least is true].We are confident this information did not come from anyone at The Miami Herald, and we believe that Mesa Redonda may have gained this information from a review of our public-records requests, since these requests are available to the public. [On what grounds are you “confident” that no one at the Miami Herald informed the Castro regime on your story prior to publication? Or, for that matter, how “confident” are you that the flow of information wasn’t the other way? There are no coincidences in this world. As a journalist, you should be a little more inquisitive. That’s “inquisitive,” not inquisitorial].

I am concerned about our readers’ reaction to columnists Carl Hiaasen’s and Ana Menendez’s opinion columns in today’s paper. [Yes, you should be concerned about columns that are inflammatory and unfair. And you shouldn’t write unfair and inflammatory columns yourself like the present one]. My first reaction was to keep both columns, which represent Carl’s and Ana’s opinions, from running in the paper at this time because I believe they may inflame sentiments in the Cuban community. [So you considered practicing censorship because you and you alone know what’s best for the community. Have you ever considered that truth may be what is best?].


However, many in our organization have told me that doing so would be the equivalent of suffocating the very freedom of the press I was trying to protect when we dismissed the El Nuevo Herald reporters. Therefore, the articles are published in today’s paper. [In this case, you listened to your subalterns’ opinions. You, obviously, were not as open-minded about the 3 fired journalists, because several editors, including the executive editor of El Nuevo Herald, objected to your unilateral decision].

I am saddened by the pain [The pain never stops for you, does it?] these events have caused in our community during the past week. [Not that “these events caused,” but that your own actions caused; and you shouldn’t be “saddened,” but sorry]. We are not perfect, [Really? You had us all fooled] but rest assured that we will continue to work diligently for the betterment of our community. [Is that a threat?].

Jesús Diaz Jr. is [was] the publisher of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald.

[Footnote: I had originally posted this article last year on both the Orlando Sentinel Forum and New York School of Journalism's PressEthic blog. Upon checking today, I discovered that the article had been deleted from both. So much for "PressEthic" (is there only one?). Fortunately, I always keep backup copies of everything I write.]


Vana said...

Since I dont live in Florida, I'm not very connected to what goes on there, so let me understand this a little better, the men were fired for something that wasn't against the papers policy, then why were they fired? only to be rehired again?
is Oscar that powerful at the paper that he can get people fired for nothing? also when Oscar said he was going underground, don't you think maybe he meant to go spend time with teenage prostitutes, than had no choice but to pull this story out of his a thought

Manuel A.Tellechea said...


All very good questions, and all, as yet, unanswered. Yes, Oscar is a power unto himself at The Herald. Not only were the three Cuban-American journalists fired because of his story but the publisher and the executive editor of The Miami Herald lost their jobs because of him. Both, literally, fell over themselves praising him and then fell on a sword to protect him.

As for his time in the "underground," it was supposedly spent researching the article, which turned out to be wrong in practically every particular. The Herald editors were afraid that their colleagues at The Herald and especially El Nuevo Herald would get wind of what they were hatching — literally, the betrayal and arbitrary dismissal of their own reporters under a cloud that they themselves had fabricated. The best word for it would be a conspiracy. Loathesome.

Vana said...

Thank you I understand the situation better now, BTW your report is as always fabulous