You’ll remember that last week Ziva posted a response from Carlos Eire to the New York Times after their editors asked him for a Cuban exile bashing piece for publication in their editorial pages. Well, Carlos subsequently wrote the NYT editors and Gail Collins of the NYT responded and it just made their ethical hole much deeper.
The following is an email I received from Carlos, including the correspondence between the two. (His initial comments to me in italics with the rest in blockquotes.)
I thought you might want an update on my wrestling match with the NYT. Obviously, it’s an uneven match. They own the mat, the ring, and the stadium, to stretch the analogy to the breaking point. It is their game. But, sweet Mother of God, what nonsense! Gail Collins has tried to lob me the stinkiest smoke bomb imaginable. Doublespeak that would make George Orwell cringe.
Judge for yourself. I am not looking for a print platform any longer. You and all my friends on the internet have put the power of the electronic word to great use. I’ve been posted on more blogs than I can count. I just thought I would give you first dibs, since you broke the news in the first place. Below are the three parts to my most recent exchange with the Bible of the thinking class:
1. Letter to the editors of the NYT;
2. Response from Gail Collins;
3. My response to the response.
I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Patria y vida. Volveremos.
Carlos’ letter to the editors:
I am writing to you at the suggestion of one of your reporters, who has urged me to get in touch with you directly.
Today, the National Post of Canada will publish an essay I wrote about a recent experience I had with an editor of the Op-Ed section of the New York Times. It was not a very pleasant experience. In fact, I found it to be one of the most offensive, depressing, and demeaning exchanges I have had in my entire professional life – so offensive, in fact, that I could not bring myself to confront the editor in question. Bigotry is hard to deal with.
In brief, my complaint is that I was asked to write an Op-Ed essay with a definite bias in mind, and that the very idea that was pitched to me displayed a stunning degree of prejudice against Cuban exiles, as well as profound ignorance. Judge for yourself. Here is the pitch.
With Castro apparently on his deathbed, we are trying to round up people who could contribute something to the Op-Ed page in the event of his death. One aspect of all this that I find interesting is the crowds of people cheering on his demise in the streets of Miami, and I can’t help but wonder if this is appropriate since many of them were likely allowed to leave Cuba in the early 60’s with Castro’s blessing. Is there a piece you might be interested in sharing with us in light of your own evacuation from Cuba as a child?
Staff Editor, Op-Ed
The New York Times
Out of all of the things a Cuban exile might speak about, this is the topic of choice? And, why, may I ask, would anyone find it inappropriate for an enslaved people to celebrate the impending demise of the totalitarian regime that has ruled their homeland for five decades? And how could anyone imagine that all the exiles in Little Havana came to the U.S. in the 1960’s, or that they somehow owe something to Mr. Castro for “allowing” them to leave without a penny in their pockets?
I was also deeply offended by the fact that the Op-Ed editor insisted that I reveal my point of view on this matter a priori, and that I was pressed to come up with a very precise counter-pitch. I had always thought that great newspapers, such as the Times, were interested in publishing Op-Ed editorials in which opinions were openly voiced, not essays that were carefully cultivated to reflect the opinions of the editors. Unfortunately, my recent experience has taught me that the Times Op-Ed editors seem interested only in publishing opinions that match their own.
One would hope that at a time when the American press is under threat of censorship, the very newspaper that is bearing the brunt of the attack would be consistent in its defense of free expression, and in its willingness to expose tyrants for what they are.
With deep regret, and no small measure of discomfort, I felt it necessary to expose the bigotry with which I was baited.
Carlos M. N. Eire
T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies
Chair, Renaissance Studies Program
Winner, 2003 National Book Award, nonfiction
The “response” from Gail Collins:
Dear Professor Eire,
I am sorry that we did not have the opportunity to discuss your displeasure with our Op-Ed page earlier. There is a misunderstanding about the mission our editor was undertaking. Let me try to give you a little background so that you will at least understand where she was coming from.
The purpose of the Op-Ed page is to find and publish good writers who have expertise and thoughtful, provocative opinions about the issues of the day. A prime directive for the editors is to give readers a wide range of thinking, and to look for variety as well as quality. While we are very well aware that people generally prefer to read pieces that support their pre-existing beliefs, the paper has a responsibility to offer them more.
If our editor’s letter to you gave the impression that we were trying to push any one interpretation of the Castro era in Cuba, it was inadvertent. Her assignment, in fact, was to make sure that the page had pieces that offered a variety of different takes. If we hired five good writers to comment on the same topic and each wound up writing from a similar point of view, we would not only have a rather boring page, we would also be cheating our readers out of the chance to sample different thinking. The goal is the absolute opposite of censorship, but it does produce disappointment and irritation on the part of writers who get passed over.I hope you will accept my regrets if you felt that anyone from the Times was trying to convince you to write anything you did not believe. It was most definitely not our intention.
Carlos, of course, fired back:
Dear Ms. Collins:
Thanks for responding to my message. It pains me to write back, but I have to let you know that you misunderstood the nature of my complaint.
I am not at all miffed about being “passed over.” That was not the point at all. What distressed me was the bigotry and insensitivity manifest in your editor’s approach.
Perhaps two analogies will help you see what I mean. Imagine a newspaper in Alabama, in 1963, suggesting to an African American writer that he take issue with civil rights demonstrations. Imagine any editor, anywhere in the Western world, asking a survivor of Nazi death camps to criticize the proliferation of Holocaust memorials.
Yes, what your editor proposed to me is that blatantly wrong, and just as offensive, not just from my perspective, but from the vantage point of anyone who cares for human rights.
Your reply to my message describes admirable goals, but is not fully consistent. If the Times does indeed seek to cover the widest possible range of opinions, why is it that we never read essays that defend child pornography, genocide, apartheid, terrorism, or the use of torture? Why not? How about freedom of speech and freedom of the press? Why not seek out writers that will defend the suppression of these rights, or others who will describe the joys of rape and serial killing? That would certainly expose your readers to some ideas that may have never crossed their minds.
Could it be that the editors actually do draw a line between right and wrong?
I do not think that your editors are really all that open minded. No. As they see it, some issues are obviously black and white and only have one “correct” side. Your editors only search within a relatively narrow range of ideas and perspectives. And in this case, your editors thought it was perfectly alright to scorn Cuban exiles and to hold them up to ridicule.
Thinking is my business. I know bias when I see it, and can smell a smokescreen miles away. Your editor lifted the veil on the unsightly process for invalidating and demeaning any ethnic constituency or any social group that refuses to accept its subaltern status: getting one of “them” to attack his or her own group.
I hope this will help you understand my own discomfort more clearly.
There has been no response so far from the NYT, nor, I suspect, will there be any.
The MSM boasts of grandiose ethical standards and journalistic integrity, but as long as they pick and choose the news they provide us, along with the tone and manner and obvious slant with which said news is reported, those standards and that integrity are nil.
Gracias, Professor Eire, for shoving real ethics and real integrity down their throats like a well needed purgante.