Broward News

Forget It, Ana, It's Little Havana

Robert Birnbaum

Miami Herald Publisher Jesus Diaz Jr. wrote about the Marti Ten story in a column on Sunday. There are a couple of interesting passages, though there's nothing earth-shattering in it (if you want a breakdown on it from the hardcore exile point of view, check out Manuel A. Tellechea's line-by-line analysis here in the Pulp comments below). The best part is that, after writing ad infinitum about how he values a free and independent press, Diaz admits that his first impulse was to scrub columns by Carl Hiaasen and Ana Menendez that he thought

would piss off the Cuban community even more. To wit:

I am concerned about our readers' reaction to columnists Carl Hiaasen's and Ana Menendez's opinion columns in today's paper. My first reaction was to keep both columns, which represent Carl's and Ana's opinions, from running in the paper at this time because I believe they may inflame sentiments in the Cuban community.

However, many in our organization have told me that doing so would be the equivalent of suffocating the very freedom of the press I was trying to protect when we dismissed the El Nuevo Herald reporters. Therefore, the articles are published in today's paper.

He made the right decision in the end, but just the fact that he has that censorious, contractive instinct -- which only the dullest and most compromised newspaper managers have -- is a bit unsettling to those of us who truly value a free press. So, what was in those columns?

Start with Hiaasen's. It's a satirical take on the government's payments to the reporters; he calls it "compassionate conservatism." There's actually nothing in the column that would really incite the Cuban exile community -- it's too subtle and ironic to make anyone too angry. The most interesting part, in my mind, was when he quoted Diaz pontificating on "integrity and objectivity" and writes: "Since D�az is also my boss, I should be careful how I put this, but: Lighten up, bro!"

Chris Buck/Outside Magazine

Yeah, like Hiaasen has a boss. He could buy and sell half the Herald's editorial team with the success he's had from his novels. Why does he even do it anymore? Seriously, I'm not getting much from Hiaasen's column these days. He writes from the Keys, he hasn't reported anything in years. It's pretty much pure pontification and it hasn't exactly been firing up the page lately, either.

Frankly, the whole gig is tired. Here's what Hiaasen ought to do: Start a blog. Unchain the fury. I'm not talking a Dave Barry-type blog, I'm talking boots-in-the-mud raw writing, man. It's the obvious next step -- pure stream-of-conscious Carl on South Florida. Let 'em under the ol' skullcap for a peak. And it could be economically viable, too. Hiaasen would pull many thousands of visitors right off the bat, and once he established the readership of a small newspaper, he could hire a marketing guy and sell ads (publishing houses, bookstores, newspapers, TV shows, movies -- dude, they would jump on board).

Just another one of my brilliant ideas. But I digress. The column that will rile some in the Cuban community would be Ana's. She's been attacked by the hardliners already -- who've basically labeled her a self-hating Cuban -- and it's obviously gotten under her skin (start with this SotP post). And that's what I like about Menendez -- her column gets personal. She's not a hardened journalist, but a sensitive poet and fiction writer. She feels the pain people, and in this case, she's fighting back:

Three journalists were fired from El Nuevo Herald. It was sad. They were fired too quickly and their bosses were left unscathed. Fine. But no, here in Miami it becomes part of a worldwide communist conspiracy, complete with Castro agents, dark plots and wild accusations. Anyone who dares agree with the dismissals is not just wrong: he's a degenerate, communist puppet of the evil and malevolent prince of darkness.

When faced with a mildly complicated issue, the loudest segment of exiles too often passes reason and heads straight to histrionic conspiracy. On Spanish-language radio, attacks on some Herald reporters -- who are of Cuban background themselves -- has been unrelenting. What is wrong with us? ... Fidel Castro, now playing dominos in his pajamas, will go to hell cackling.

I agree with her and enjoyed the piece, but part of me wants to tell her to take it easy. You can't fight madness and it's quite useless to rail against insanity. It's one of the world's great conficts. Trying to solve it is imperative -- but swimming too deeply in its broiling sea is better left undone.

[More on this weekend's news from the Big Three papers coming later].

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman