Where’s the beef? It’s not in the Corral!

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.

21 thoughts on “Where’s the beef? It’s not in the Corral!”

  1. BTW, do you think Oscar is trying to take Defeedme’s place at the herald? Sure looks like it.

    The one thing he doesnt understand is that he shouldnt shit where he eats.

  2. I believe Mr. Oscar Corral and the Herald are taking their cues directly from La Habana. Juan Manuel Cao from America TV showed a short clip on his 5p newscast of Cuba’s “Mesa Redonda” last week. It will air again tonite at 10P. I hope YouTube puts it on the web.

  3. Henry:

    Granma Internation (I don’t thing they dare put in the Cuban edition) has already picked it up


  4. Henry –

    Good analysis of the Herald story, but I disagree with one key point.

    Just because columnists, editorial writers, etc. are paid to have opinions, that does not give them a license to go around taking checks from people who might want to influence what they write. Their independence from the people they cover or on whom they opine is just as vital as it is for a reporter assigned to tell an “objective” story. As I wrote on my site, it’s about credibility. How can you trust a columnist if you suspect he is writing to satisfy someone with whom he has a personal financial relationship?

    I don’t question the sincerity of your anger with the Herald, but let’s turn it the other way: What would you think if Leonard Pitts wrote a column critical of U.S. policy towards Cuba, and then it was revealed he had taken Cuban government money to appear on that roundtable show with the dictator himself? Would you see a conflict there?

    The point is, opinion writers — well, the good ones with reputations as fair and honest commentators — worry as much about their credibility as any other journalist.

    Was anything that these guys wrote for El Nuevo Herald influenced by the government money they received for their appearance on Radio and TV Marti? Maybe not, but as commenter noted on an earlier post here, journalists have to worry about the appearance of conflict, as much as an actual conflict.

    Montaner and the others may believe everything they write or say about Cuba but by taking the money, they have placed a cloud of doubt over all their work. That is unfortunate, considering everything happening recently in Cuba.

  5. Unless the Herald specifically prohibited these writers from accepting monies from other agencies for their work, which I would not sign unless I was getting a huge paycheck, then I find nothing wrong with their actions. The Herald hates us and will do anything in its power to discredit us in any way, shape or form.

  6. In true Herald tradition, Oscar Corral has never investigated or criticized any pro-Castro activists. He is friends with “dialogue” leader and accused Castro agent Bernardo Benes Baikowitz, whom he has quoted three times in his articles this year.

    Here is an e-mail I sent Corral on Feb. 11, 2006, which he did not respond to.

    When I first told you months ago that FIU Professor Marifeli Perez-Stable had been denounced by a DGI defector as being “controlled by the DGI,” you asked me if I had any documentation to prove it. I told you that I had read it in an FBI defector debriefing that had been provided to the Police of Puerto Rico. You indicated that you could not quote such a source.
    To prove my point, here is solid evidence. In 1993, I wrote a piece for the Institute of U.S. Cuba Relations of the Sealous Foundation in Washington, D.C., entitled “Academic Espionage: U.S. Taxpayer Funding of a Pro-Castro Study.” The article was translated into Spanish and published in the Diario las Americas.
    I recently added this document to my website, along with a response letter from FIU Professor Lisandro Perez, who then headed the Cuban Research Institute, saying he consulted his colleages and had referred the matter to the FIU attorney “for legal action given the slanderous content of the document.”
    Time has shown that I was right. Today, FIU Professor Carlos Alvarez, a member of FIU’s Cuban Research Institute, is in jail accused of being a Castro agent.
    In spite of the threat of taking legal action against me and the Sealous Foundation, FIU failed to act. My article became contentious by default. The serious accusation that Professor Marifeli Perez-Stable was a DGI agent went unchallenged by her and the FIU attorney. FIU President Modesto Maidique did not make an investigation into these allegations. Had he taken sworn statements from all the members of the Cuban Research Institute regarding their contacts with Cuban officials and given them to the FBI for comparison with statements made by Cuban intelligence agents, he could have quietly
    dismissed the suspected Castro agents at FIU. Instead, he chose not to do anything, just like he is doing now, when he is thinking more about retirement than carrying out an in depth nquiry.
    Since Perez-Stable is a contributor to the Herald, I know that the Herald will not make any reference to this documentation and the fact that she and FIU failed to take legal action after threatening to do so thirteen years ago.
    As I have stated previously, the Herald has a reputation in the Cuban exile community for its selective journalism.
    My only purpose in sending this to you is to prove that I was right thirteen years ago and when I gave you this information months ago. Someday, when Cuba is free and the regime’s archives become public documents, Perez-Stable and some of her FIU colleages will not be able to dodge the truth.

  7. WPBT – Channel 2 (funded by U.S. Gov.)
    Issues with Helen Ferrer
    Friday, September 8, at 7:30p
    Guests: Anthony Man, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Trevor Aaronson, Miami New Times (among others)

    Were the above TWO journalists PAID for their appearance on Channel 2? Conflict of interest?

    Ms. Sarah Chayes “Reporter, activist, entrepreneur” former overseas reporter for NPR, author of “The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban.” She is presently an activist living in Afghanistan.

    She has written for the following magazine:

    Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist: the magazine of global security news and analysis
    Afghanistan: The night fairies
    By Sarah Chayes
    March/April 2006 pp. 17-19 (vol. 62, no. 02)

    She was a guest speaker on ON POINT Boston’s Public Radio source
    Aired Wednesday August 23, 2006 11-12p ET

    She was a guest speaker on New York Public Radio
    The Leonard Lopate Show
    “Experts in their Fields” Tuesday, September 5, 2006

    “Former NPR correspondent Sarah Chayes gives her eyewitness account of Afghanistan after the Taliban. She discusses why Afghanistan’s post-Taliban transition has been so troubled in The Punishment of Virtue. “ (Promoting her book).

    In addition to all the above…Afghan Independent Radio is about to go on the air, with a projected launch date of September 11th. Sarah Chayes, shepherding the project, is a longtime international reporter for NPR, now taking a break “to make a direct contribution to reconstructing a post-conflict society.”

    Conflict of interest?

  8. Marc,

    Let me get this straight. If I work for the government and get paid by the government I can be the source of a story that a newspaper can write about the government. I’d be a hero, a whistle-blower. But I can’t write an editorial for the same paper? Even if everything I say is factually correct or if my opinions are based on sound arguments, the mere fact that I am occasionally employed by the government disqualfies my arguments?

    That can’t be right.

    These people were doing the same exact job for Radio/TV Marti that they were doing for private companies. Can anyone out there allege that Radio/TV Marti has spread any false information?

    Doesn’t George Stephanopolous comment on Network TV about the Clinton Administration he worked for? Are his opinions declared null?

    And you didn’t address the issue of NPR or CPB or PBS. Aren’t these “government propaganda vehicles” too?

    And George reiterates my point about the ethics code being in writing. Marc did were you explicitly told by your current or previous employers that you couldn’t work for a governement agency like Radio/TV Marti?

    If Radio Marti had come to you and said “Marc, we love the stuff you write in Uncommon Sense and we’d like you to host a 1 hour radio show for Radio Marti that will be transmitted to Cuba. We’ll set up an ISDN phone line in your house and we’ll pay you $500 a week.” would your antenna have immediately come up that it’s an ethics violation or would you have looked at Radio Marti as a legit news gathering and information disseminating organization and taken the job?

    So it would have been off limits for Carl Bernstein to work for the voice of America during the cold war while he was at the WaPo?


  9. Henry,

    If Carl Bernstein worked for Voice of America, essentially making him a government employee, no newspaper would allow him to concurrently work as a reporter covering the government. That would not reflect the legitmacy of his work for VOA. But of that as a reporter for the Washington Post.

    Newspapers work to avoid potential conflicts all the time. We don’t let reporters run for public office. We don’t reporters write about land-use issues involving the neighborhood where they live or property they might own. And we don’t let reporters get paid by their sources, even if it’s not directly related to their work for the newspaper. Whether there actually is a conflict, depends on the situation and the reporter. I am sure there are plenty of journalists — like yours truly — who would be able to keep my different roles separate. But what’s really at issue, and what newspapers really worry about, is the APPEARANCE of conflict. Questions about how things look call into quesion the credibility of the organization.

    On a couple other points you raise:

    — Newspapers all the time publish columns, letters to the editors, etc. written by government officials in which they represent their own views and/or those of the government. It’s usually clearly identified who they are and for whom they work.

    — Again, what the El Nuevo Herald writers did, by accepting government payments, was raise questions about the independence of their viewpoints. Again, it’s about appearances. Do they take the positions they do because they really believe them? Or are they fulfilling some sort of assignment from their government paymaster? That they may be writing what they would write even if they were not getting paid does not assuage concerns about the appearance.

    — As for the Stephanopolous question, the facts are different. Everyone — well, I may be overly generous there — knows he worked for the Clinton administration, and can use that to determine for themselves his credibility on the things he reports and comments on. It’s all out in the open — which may not have been the case with the El Nuevo Herald situation. What is certain, however, is that if he were still working for the government, he would not be hosting a program on ABC. Similarly, even if he had wanted to, no newspaper or broadcaster would have allowed Tony Snow to continue working as a journalist while also the White House press secretary.

    — NPR and PBS are not directly controlled by the government the way the Martis are. As someone else explained earlier, there are several buffers between the government funders and the journalists doing the reporting and the commenting. If the current government did have more control, do you think they would be as critical of current policies as they are?

    — As for my employer’s ethics code, when I was hired I read it and I signed it. And among its provisions is a section about freelancing. There are a couple of reasons why approval is neccessary. One, since they are the primary provider of a paycheck, they want to make sure you aren’t doing work for someone else that you should be doing for the newspaper. And secondly, to avoid any possible conflicts with your responsibilites at the newspaper. As a practical matter, the restrictions are not as onerous as they seem, but I do think it is legitmate for newspapers to set certain limits. A lot of trouble might have been avoided if the El Nuevo Herald journalists had told their bosses they were getting government checks for their work on the Martis. Of course, the paper probably would have said, “No,” and rightfully so.

    So if Radio Marti made an offer like you described, I would be flattered and I might even accept it. But I probably could no longer continue working for my newspaper.


    P.S. Full disclosue – The newspaper I work for is owned by the same company that owns the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald.

  10. Marc, one question. Has an investigation ever been made by the press of possible conflicts of interests reporters have during a Democratic administration? Whales would be driving in the Indy 500 before that happened. Your comments on NPR and PBS are laughable. Buffers notwithstanding, they are government-owned and operated. Let’s try a thought experiment: if you told your employer that you would be writing free-lance for NPR and Radio Marti, which do you think they wouldn’t have a problem with? Let’s face it: everything is agenda-driven. There is no such think as “objectivity” any more. Anyone who believes that is a fool.

  11. Marc,

    first of all you’re fixated on the two Herald employees which frankly I could give a shit about. And of those two only one was a staff reporter. The other was a reporter/columnist and I think the discussion for columnists is completely different. Olga Connor was a freelancer and this doesn’t really affect her status as such. Nothing is going to happen to any of the 8 others. Why? Because only the Herald would go to ridiculous measures to expose and embarrass its own staff in order to discredit Cuban-Americans.

    To quote a very wise person “Oscar Corral is a tool”.

    And lastly from the Godfather II:

    “Buffers…Yeah there were buffers!”

  12. It’s true that columnists are paid to have opinions. But one of the first elements of a free press is its separation from the government. If these columnists/reporters are going to be paid by the government to espouse their opinions in other publications, then that should be disclosed.

    In this case, it was not.

    We denounce the Cuban press for it’s connection to the government everyday – and while that might seem like an extreme next to this, it does seem a bit of a double standard to me if you are going to support these reporters doubling for the U.S. government.

  13. I posted at 26th a letter that Montaner wrote to El Nuevo about how Corral overlooked a small but inconvenient fact against his story…Montaner isn’t even an employee of either Herald or Nuevo.

  14. The Herald is not telling the truth when it says that it just found out that the three journalists who were fired on Thursday were getting paid by Radio Marti.
    On March 31, 2002 an article written by a Herald reporter, Elaine del Valle, and published by the Miami Herald clearly stated that Olga Connor was working for El Nuevo Herald and was also working for Radio Marti and getting paid $440 per show.
    If the Herald doesn’t even know what their own journalists are writing, how the hell can they expect anyone to trust their “investigative reports”?
    It is very suspicious that they didn’t say anything for four years and now mount this show just three weeks after Cuban TV said that there should be an investigation about local journalists working for Radio Marti. Are the new Herald owners looking to open a news bureau in Cuba and are trying to be nice to the dicatorship?
    If what Ms. Connor was doing was violating Herald policy, they should have told her four years ago and also they should have sent an internal warning to all other employees.
    I have posted the links to the Herald 2002 article at:

  15. IMO, one of the most disturbing aspects of this controversy is that it leads to the inevitable moral equivalence games that the other side always plays to great advantage. Anyone who, purposely or not, draws a parallel between what these reporters did (or appear to have done) and what a reporter for Granma does has simply lost (or misplaced) his/her moral compass. You simply cannot equate the standards and rules of ethics that apply in a free society to the game that plays out in what Natan Sharansky refers to a fear societies in his excellent book: The Case for Democracy.

  16. There is no double standard because our countries are diametrically opposed. TV and Radio Marti are tools for freedom. This salient fact alone sticks in the craw of every scumbag fidel-loving apologist. And that is why this has happened. The Herald doesn’t know ethics from a lemon meringue pie. It is smoke and mirrors to achieve a goal. Silence anti-castro journalists and paint them in a bad light.

  17. El Nuevo Herald today published an article regarding the backlash created by Corralito’s piece.
    It states in part

    “Es un asunto muy serio. Primero, porque los periodistas despedidos son muy respetados. Segundo, porque alegar que hay falta de profesionalismo y objetividad en Radio y TV Martí es incierto e injusto. Y tercero, porque existe la duda sobre si esto fue una petición del régimen cubano a la nueva empresa matriz del Herald”, dijo a El Nuevo Herald el congresista republicano Lincoln Díaz-Balart.

    Diaz-Balart sees the possibility of the Herald abiding by the interests of the Castro regime.

    The article goes on to say that El Nuevo Herald has been flooded with telephone calls from Cubans protesting and cancelling subscriptions.

    Interesting how the Miami Herald in English has not reported on the backlash created by their article.

  18. It’s unbelievable how shameless the Miami Herald and it’s mainstream media cohorts are. They create a mountain out of a mole hill, a deck of cards, a strawman, a lame story without any substance. And the horrible thing about this is that the New York Times like a hungry vulture on the lookout for carrion INSTANTLY publishes this BS story. Yes, the same NYT’s [that beckon of journalistic integrity] that wanted Cuban exile Prof. Carlos Eire of Yale to attack his own people for celebrating Castro’s illness!

    Look at LA BAJESA [the lowness] of the NYTs. I’m printing the last paragaraph in an article that they published today on this “scandal”

    September 9, 2006
    Journalists Fired for Taking Gov’t Money

    “But he added that newspapers are responsible for ensuring that everyone in the newsroom understands their ethical standards.

    The Cuban government has long accused the United States of paying South Florida journalists to promote anti-government propaganda.

    In an interview broadcast at a Hispanic media convention in June, the head of Cuba’s parliament denied that more than two dozen journalists had been imprisoned in his own country for speaking out against the Communist government, saying they were not independent journalists but U.S. agents.”

    In other words, question the integrity of these Cuban American journalists in order to cast a doubt over the authenticity of Cuba’s imprisoned independent journalists!

    There are no words to describe the MSM other than evil.

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