Marti Madness

It's hard not to laugh. On the same weekend that the Miami Herald publishes a corporate-induced appeasement to readers and newsroom staffers still angry at the firing (and of company's reporters who took payments from the TV and Radio Marti propaganda stations, a senior executive at Marti was indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly taking $100,000 in kickbacks.

Somebody wipe up that irony, it's dripping all over the place.

For some hare-brained reason, I had high hopes for Clark Hoyt's review of the Miami Herald's coverage of the reporters who moonlighted for Marti. It's running in tomorrow's edition, but Editor & Publisher got an advance copy that can be read here.

The Herald hired Hoyt to help heal the newsroom after three reporters were fired from its Spanish-language sister El Nuevo Herald after it was revealed they took money from Marti, a U.S. government-run anti-Castro station beamed onto the Cuban island. Think of Hoyt as a journo-analyst, a man hired to find the root psychological problems in the newsroom and make them all better.

In his report, Hoyt writes that reporter Oscar Corral's stories "raised a serious and legitimate issue," an observation that should elicit a resounding and collective "duh" from the world. Then he starts with the appeasement. When Clark lists the "flaws" of the story, his No. 1 is as follows:

"Its placement 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."

Guess what? They are criminals -- well, journalistic criminals, anyway. Any reporter who takes money from a propaganda station should expect to be fired and drummed

out of the business forever (hey, they'd find suitable work, they're already obvious experts at P.R.). So how does Clark, who obviously knows the truth of the previous sentence, rationalize the reporters' actions?

With the worst kind of cultural relativism, that's how. Clark writes that while what they did was horrible in America, it wasn't so bad by Latin American standards. To wit:

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 Mart�, even without pay, while El Nuevo Herald Executive Editor Humberto Castello Castell� 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 journalism 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 Mart�.

Oh please. So if they believe what they're pimping for, we should give them a pass? And the very best American journalism advocates for change -- it's just that the reporters don't get paid by the government to do it. Without even getting into Clark's tortured Armstrong Williams passage, this is all utter nonsense.

But you understand that Clark's stated mission isn't finding the truth here -- it's to help the newsroom find "common ground" and help the newspaper "move ahead in our shared missions of bringing first-class journalism to South Florida," as Editor Tom Fiedler put it after last month's hiring. No wonder you get this kind of gobbledy-gook. This is babble-counseling for the newsrooms, not journalism. It shouldn't be in the newspaper at all (What's with all the whining, anyway? You'd think the Herald's cowardly rehiring of the Marti offenders would have been enough to shut up the whole lot).

Granted, the second half of the piece isn't nearly so bad. It's filled with interesting information and explains how some of the true errors and misrepresentations in the story occurred. It's worth reading (and I might delve into this aspect in a later post). Clark obviously still retains the ability to do good work, so the piece isn't a total abortion.

But you have to wonder if the Marti executive who allegedly took those kickbacks, Jose M. Miranda, will fall back on the same justifications listed in Clark's report. You can almost hear him now:

"Your honor, I am of the Latin American culture, where kickbacks are business as usual. It's a way of life, sir, so why should I be judged by your harsh U.S. standards? Also, I believe in the Marti mission -- propaganda is in my soul, sir. I've lost all ability to think for myself, so, really, what do you expect ..."


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