Hidden deep in the Miami Herald web site is a column by Herald ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos published yesterday titled “Facts Should Be Foundation for Published Opinion”. In the piece, Schumacher-Matos responds to a letter from a reader of Spanish-language El Nuevo Herald who is upset at a recent column written by El Nuevo columnist Adolfo Rivero Caro titled “Suicidio Nacional” (National Suicide). The ombudsman shares the reader’s concerns about Rivero’s “smears” of Barack Obama and Democrats and wonders whether facts (as defined by the editors, of course) should trump a columnist’s job to be opinionated.
For background, here is Rivero’s column (in Spanish) which is consistent with the archived El Nuevo Herald version I dug up online.
Schumacher-Matos’ column follows below the fold, along with my reaction and comments.
Marián Prío, a reader from Key Biscayne, was upset. She had just read a column in El Nuevo Herald, the newspaper of record for the substantial segment of South Florida that is Spanish dominant.
”Are you aware of the dishonest article by regular columnist Adolfo Rivero Caro titled National Suicide?” she wrote. “It is chock-full of the very smears all serious newspapers have condemned.”
The Oct. 24 column was about candidate Barack Obama, and her complaint struck at the heart of an explosive issue since Cuban refugees began an exodus of Latin Americans to Miami 48 years ago. What is their civic culture, and how can The Miami Herald help integrate that with the culture of the United States?
El Nuevo Herald was founded as an answer. The Spanish and English papers share some content, but are so editorially independent that many English readers have little idea of what is being said on the other side.
El Nuevo Herald in fact has been successful as a bridge to help waves of Spanish-speaking immigrants adapt to their new country, while leaving their mark on it. The Rivero columns reflect how we still haven’t all arrived at common ground.
”Obama is the least American of all the candidates who have aspired for the presidency of this country,” Rivero wrote. “To begin with, even though he has converted to Christianity, he was raised as a Muslim.”
The 73-year old Cuban refugee, who said he came to this country 20 years ago, violates a national consensus about what being an American is, but he doesn’t see it. He writes that Obama is a ”radical leftist activist,” adding: “All of the U.S. radical left is housed in the Democratic Party.”
There is more: “It is a fact that his entire political career has been exceptionally linked to radical Muslims.”
”Obama insists he is a great unifier,” writes Rivero. “By the way, haven’t you noticed that the extreme left is always underscoring the importance of unity? I don’t think it’s coincidental. It seems to me the roots of that emphasis, apparently trivial, are found in the Marxist concept of class struggle.”
Meanwhile, the American press is ”mostly socialist.” And ”journalists, historians and teachers have received an essentially Marxist formation in which the United States is always at fault.” There is baseless conspiracy theory here, even though some anti-Obama readers in English would surely agree with Rivero. But he admits that his opinions are based on his Cuban experience. ”I lived all my life in Cuba and know what it means,” he told me of a slide toward communism that he so fears.
Rivero, who is an intellectually interesting libertarian writer, loves America, or his idea of it. Still, whatever his personal motives, to classify American liberals as ”socialists” and ”radical leftists” is inflammatory and patently wrong. As a result, he is not building his new country that we now share together; he is tearing it down.
As Prío, the reader from Key Biscayne, wrote: “Such columnists, who do not distinguish between opinions and facts, violate your newspaper’s integrity.”
How, then, do you draw the line between muzzling opinion and correcting facts?
”I do not accept racism or lies” said Andrés Hernández Alende, coordinator of El Nuevo Herald’s opinion pages. He said he checks facts he is not sure of. But a problem is that a segment of Cubans in Miami have shared Rivero’s life experience and mix liberals and socialists together, almost as a reality. ”If I don’t publish those columns, I am missing a way of thinking among my readers,” he said.
His is a tough issue. But I think that El Nuevo Herald needs to encourage ideological accuracy in our community, not just for the sake of accuracy, but to prevent misdirected passions and wild misadventures. For those Cuban readers who might think this means going soft on real communists and the Castro brothers, it does not. The English Herald grapples with similar issues. Joe Oglesby, editor of the editorial pages, noted that a recent column by Patrick Buchanan asserted that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which there weren’t.
Oglesby was concerned about propagating a myth among people who continue to believe that there were such weapons. In the end, he decided the phrase was ambiguous enough to let Buchanan’s wording stand.
Columnists are given “leeway to express their point of view even when they stretch the facts.T.T.T (sic) We let them have their say. But we also try to have balance by publishing comments from both sides.”
First of all, Schumacher-Matos decided to include a few quotes from some of Rivero’s other columns in addition to the one the upset reader is reacting to, with only a very subtle indication that he is doing so. This is, at best, confusing and at worst, purposely misleading.
As an occasional reader of Rivero’s columns, I acknowledge that he has a tendency to be over the top and provocative in his categorization of liberals and others whom he disagrees ideologically with, and has a less than favorable view of Obama, to say the least. The issue here isn’t whether you agree with him or not, or even about the “facts”, whatever they may be or however they’re defined. It’s about the ability of a columnist to express an opinion, even a strong one. Schumacher-Matos’ assertion that the Herald needs to “support ideological accuracy” tells me one thing: that he’s willing to condone the censoring of columns and columnists that don’t fit his definition of ideological accuracy.
OK, but then who’s looking over Alejandro Armengol’s facts when he viciously attacks the traditional Cuban exile community in the same El Nuevo Herald? How about the endless drivel we had to endure courtesy of Ana Menendez? Carl Hiaasen? Are their facts simply “ideologically accurate” according to Schumacher-Matos?
By no means am I suggesting that these columnists be censored, but this smells like a double standard to me.
Another disturbing aspect of Schumacher-Matos’ column is his opinion (repeated a few times) that views such as the ones held by Rivero are un-American and only serve to divide. Again, I refer you to columnists such as Armengol, Menendez and Hiaasen who appear to get paid for each divisive comment they make, or so it seems. Where’s the outcry of “common ground” and “national consensus” in response to their often-inflammatory opinions?
Ever heard of “freedom of speech”?
Then again, perhaps Rivero’s own words are closer to reality than what many would like to admit:
“By the way, haven’t you noticed that the extreme left is always underscoring the importance of unity? I don’t think it’s coincidental. It seems to me the roots of that emphasis, apparently trivial, are found in the Marxist concept of class struggle.”
The bottom line here is that the Miami Herald has ZERO ground to stand on when it comes to demanding accuracy of certain columnists which happen to be on the right, when so much of their Op Ed and reporting is either factually incomplete or just plain incorrect. Any way you look at it, Schumacher-Matos’ latest piece smacks of support for censorship for certain columnists and opinions that don’t fit a certain ideology.