After closely scrutinizing Oscar Corral’s “big” story about journalists taking money from TV/Radio Marti, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is mostly much ado about nothing.
The article alleges that the receipt of such payments is a violation of journalistic integrity, as if there is such a thing (sorry Marc I’m afraid many of your colleagues discredited that theory long ago). But let’s look at the people the Herald names:
Pablo Alfonso: Reporter/Columnist for El Nuevo Herald
Olga Connor: Freelance Reporter for El Nuevo Herald
Wilfredo Cancio Isla: Staff Reporter for El Nuevo Herald
Helen Aguirre Ferre: Opinion Page Editor for Diario Las Americas
Ariel Remos Reporter/Columnist for Diario Las Americas
Miguel Cossio: News Director for Miami’s Channel 41
Carlos Alberto Montaner: Syndicated Columnist
Juan Manuel Cao: Reporter for Miami’s Channel 41
Ninoska Perez-Castellón: Commentator for Miami’s Radio Mambi (710AM)
Paul Crespo: Commentator for Miami’s WQBA (1140AM) – His picture is shown but nothing is written about him in the article.
Omar Claro: Sports Anchor for Miami’s WLTV-TV – His picture is shown but nothing is written about him in the article.
Now for the big sin they are accused of having committed:
Journalism ethics experts called the payments a fundamental conflict of interest. Such violations undermine the credibility of reporters to objectively cover key issues affecting U.S. policy toward Cuba, they said.
But wait a minute. Of the eleven persons mentioned above, six of them (Alfonso, Ferre, Remos, Montaner, Perez-Castellón, and Crespo) are columnists or commentators not reporters. Maybe I’m wrong but I thought columnists are supposed to have an opinion. I mean it’s their job to be biased one way or another. That’s what distinguishes them from reporters. You can’t voice an opinion, be an advocate and try to be objective at the same time. That’s why the opinions page is clearly separated from the news and columns are clearly marked “opinion.”
Olga Connor is a freelancer. She could very well argue that she was also working freelance for Radio/TV Marti. After all, what they do at Radio and TV Marti is broadcast uncensored news and commentary to Cuba.
Quoting again from the Herald article:
Ethicists say that it’s common for journalists to be compensated by other media outlets but not by the government, built on principles that espouse an independent press.
Correct me if I’m wrong but don’t we have something called PBS that produces news shows that AIR IN OUR COUNTRY (something that Radio and TV Marti do not), which is at least partially funded by taxpayer dollars. Yet Jim Lehrer is “an award winning journalist”. How come he and his PBS colleagues do not have to answer to questions about their objectivity?
These people were compensated for their time, which is standard practice in their industry. Most (especially the commentators) are known for their anti-Castro views. They were not paid to formulate anti-Castro opinions, they were paid to voice their anti-castro opinions and there’s a big difference.
On Juan Manuel Cao, Corral writes the following:
Channel 41 reporter Juan Manuel Cao, who received $11,400 this year from TV Martí, made news in July when he confronted Castro during an appearance in Argentina by pressing the Cuban leader to explain why his government had not allowed a well-known doctor and dissident, Hilda Molina, to leave the island to visit her son in Argentina.
During the exchange, Castro openly questioned Cao if anyone was paying him to ask that question. The Cuban government has long contended that some South Florida Spanish-language journalists were on the federal payroll.
This is truly an indictment…
of The Herald and every other media outlet that was in Argentina covering the summit but didn’t have the BALLS to ask the most pertinent question of el coma andante, fidel castro. Does the fact that Cao has been paid to work for Radio/TV Marti, disqualify him from asking a pertinent and legitimate question? Does the fact that Radio/TV Marti pays Carlos Alberto Montaner to voice his opinions (as do so many media outlets worldwide) nullify his views and the clarity of his thoughts?
The Herald fired its two employees implicated in the “scandal” and terminated their arrangement with Connor, the freelancer. These are the only ones that will be affected by the story. I strongly doubt that Cossio, Cao or any of the others will even be reprimanded. That’s how much of a non-story this is.
If this is a violation of journalistic ethics, then The Herald continues to be knee-deep in them starting with Jim DeFede who they had to fire for illegally recording a conversation with the late Art Teele before he blew his brains out in their lobby and more recently the El Nuevo Herald photoshop scandal. Perhaps they are doing this as a public mea culpa for their past transgressions. The Herald has demonstrated a penchant for having vague ethical standards so that it can leave its employees out to dry when it suits them.
Looks like this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.