The other day, in the comments of a post about Herald coverage I became embroiled in a debate with a reader who uses a South Beach zip code as his user name. The debate was about the Martí Moonlighters. Mr. SoBe thought it was a clear cut case of conflict of interest. I stated that he was ignoring the facts of the case. I then listed all of the facts because I’ve been covering the story on Herald Watch since it first broke.
Well yesterday Editor & Publisher published a preview of Clark Hoyt’s review of the affair. Clark Hoyt was hired by the Herald in the wake of the scandal to work as sort of an ombudsman. In the review, which will be published in Sunday’s Herald, Hoyt echoes many of the same criticisms that I’ve been making. These include:
* Its placement [the Sept. 8th article] at the top of Page One, its hard and accusatory tone and the large and breathless headline suggested something more sinister than the story actually reported. The subjects of the story said they felt treated as though they were criminals. Some especially objected to a set of “rogues’ gallery” photographs that appeared on Page 2A with the continuation of the story. Those photos, several of them smiling, most flattering, were within a box under the headline, ”The Journalists’ Response.” The box contained quotes from most of the journalists named in the story and seemed an appropriate way to highlight their points of view.
* The story failed to note that The Miami Herald had already reported in 2002 that one of the journalists on the list of 10, a free-lance writer for El Nuevo Herald, was on the Radio Martí payroll. A similar story ran at the same time in El Nuevo Herald. And a column in 2002 in El Nuevo Herald alluded to another of the El Nuevo Herald journalists in a way that made it clear that he had an ongoing relationship with Radio Martí. These references raised an obvious question: If the Herald publishing company frowned on Radio Martí payments to its journalists, why didn’t management investigate and respond in some way in 2002? And what was so new in 2006?
* The story lacked cultural context. On Wednesday, October 4, a story by Christina Hoag on Page 8A of The Miami Herald said that Herald Executive Editor Fiedler believed it was never proper for his journalists to appear on Radio and TV Martí, even without pay, while El Nuevo Herald Executive Editor Humberto Castello Castelló believed it was fine if no pay was involved. The story then said their disagreement illustrated the “differing roles of journalism in Latin America and the United States. American journalism today, unlike decades ago, prizes objectivity, while Latin American journal-ism may advocate for change.” Had those words appeared in the original story, it would have been immeasurably fairer. It would have suggested the possibility of a motive other than personal gain on the part of journalists accepting payments from Radio and TV Martí.
* The story failed to distinguish between different types of journalists and to acknowledge the possibility that different types of media companies might adopt different ethical standards. Thus, a news reporter for El Nuevo Herald, a mainstream Spanish language newspaper, is lumped with a commentator for an AM radio station known for its consistently anti-Castro programming. The story also didn’t distinguish between journalists collecting substantial amounts and those receiving small payments. The radio commentator, who received $2,775 from Radio Martí over five years, an average of $462.50 a year, was listed with a journalist for El Nuevo Herald who received $174,753 over six years.
* The story said two ethics experts, who were not named, compared taking money from Radio and TV Martí to the 2005 Armstrong Williams case. The comparison is a stretch, and not identifying the ethics experts, whose names were inadvertently deleted in the editing process, is itself a breach of good journalistic ethics, in my view. Williams, a well-known conservative pundit, signed a contract with the Bush Administration to promote its education policy, No Child Left Behind, on his nationally syndicated television program. The Government Accountability Office, a non-partisan investigative arm of Congress, found that the Williams contract ran afoul of a federal ban on government “propaganda” within the United States. Williams was paid to promote administration policy in the mainstream U.S. news media. The journalists appearing on Radio and TV Marti, whose government-funded broadcasts aren’t beamed within this country, were commenting on a variety of subjects and, they say, sometimes criticized U.S. policy.
So I’ll leave it to the readers to determine who has more credibility, our cranky reader who comments on stories, the details of which he’s not familiar with (or perhaps is familar with but just conveniently omits in an effort to discredit Cuban-Americans) or me.
Read the entire Editor & Publisher piece here.
Hat tip to Enrique at Abajo Fidel.