I don't want to seem to be picking on Beth Reinhard, but hey, I go where the material leads me -- and I don't have time to be too choosy.
The Miami Herald political writer covered an event for Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Gallagher over the weekend that's left the candidate's campaign team livid. Gallagher's "Broward Hispanic Leadership Coalition Team" held a fundraiser this Friday at Vila's restaurant in Sunrise that Reinhard covered. Here's her story, which was published Sunday.
Clearly, Reinhard went to the event looking for metaphors for Gallagher's seemingly doomed campaign and found them in a slow-moving photographer and some empty tables. And the folks who put on the event -- especially El Heraldo publisher Elaine Miceli-Vasquez, who manages Gallagher's campaign in Broward -- were none too pleased about the way their event was used help paint a picture of gloom and doom. Here's a give-and-take Vasquez had with the reporter:
Dear Beth, I am very personally saddened by the way you covered our Hispanic outreach event on Friday night in the Miami Herald this morning. I have respected you and watched your career for many years with the Herald, and as a fellow journalist, I would be remiss to say....for the first time, I might add...that you had a strong bias in your reporting, and it has disappointed me tremendously. There were untrue facts as well, and I will be happy to provide you with proof of those misrepresentations.
However, I am writing to you as a reporter myself...one who has written for many publications over the past 30 years, and of course in my own newspaper. Of course, I cannot eliminate the fact that I am Tom's campaign manager, however, I am hoping that you will look beyond that and see how distorted, and unfair, the reporting of our Hispanic outreach event was in the feature you wrote today.
The Miami Herald readers are entitled to better and less biased coverage of an important election for our State. Your reporting of the Democrats in this race do not reflect the tone of bias, or personal comments and adjectives to sway your readers. I save every piece you write. I even thanked you for Mary Ellen Klas reporting our our campaign office phone calls. She came there to see what is going on...we hide nothing when it's the truth. ...
With regard to Friday night. When you arrived at 5:30 to Vila's I advised you and the other reporters, that by tradition, Hispanic guests arrive late......"WHY ARE THERE EMPTY TABLES". You asked me that at 6:30 pm, while Tom was speaking. I advised you that the restaurant set up for 100....just in case others came in that didn't RSVP.
I also advised you we had 86 RSVPS. During the speech, two of those 4 empty tables at 6:30 were filling up....by newly arriving guests....even a Muslim leader. You were all sitting next to the tables that were filling up. I have a photo of them. The 2 empty tables...NOT FOUR....were for any later arriving guests, that by the way, did show up at 7:30pm.
Your comment in your piece today " Even the 4 empty tables......" was out of line, and an untruth, letting readers believe that 40 people didn't show up....as a perceived statement that there was a lack of support for Tom. That is unfair, and untrue, and my sign-in sheets can prove that you are misreporting what you saw, and I believe that should be a correction in your column. If you or your publisher would like a copy of those who signed in that night, I would be happy to provide it to you.
I also sent you the recap of the night's event....in an email on Friday night...just to be sure that there were no errors in your report. You also witnessed on Friday, the excited guests arriving..in two's, fours, etc...and taking photos with Tom. Your comment about "even the camera didn't click.." was totally unecessary and gave the appearance that the event lacked a professional touch. The photographer, was my newspaper's photographer, who is an award winning photo journalist.
This is not whining Beth...this is, in my opinion, was a personal political column and not a reporting of the facts of a grassroots support system for Tom in Broward. What you did fail to cover is that our event was prepared in advance, with invitations sent out, and a RSVP list that included 99% Hispanic voters representing 12 countries. I had each of our Hispanic team openly introduce themselves and where they were bon. We had Rep. David Rivera there to speak in Spanish and Al Cardenas did not arrive as he could not get a flight out of Washington DC early enough.
... Our event was presented by a true, Hispanic outreach team who worked hard on it for weeks. I just helped get the message out as a Campaign Manager. This is news in Broward.....that an emerging group of new voters in Broward are coming to the table. Why not cover the excellent questions they were asking...and how Tom answered them, and the applause he received?
All the positive aspects of Friday night were intentionally left out. After receiving so many emails this morning from our team, and my cell phone with messages, I had to document this to you in the hopes that your future reporting is positive when it should be...and not reflect sentences that leave an ambiguous air about Tom's support system by voters.
We all know who are grassroots people..that votes win...not donations. Ask Nick Navarro who lost a primary race...ask Janet Reno who lost a primary race...these are just 2 examples of how grassroots wins....and that is what matters.
Today, the Miami Herald let me down. As a journalist..and also has a hardworking volunteer for Tom, I am saddened by your coverage and expect far more from you than this. Had I not been there, and spoke with you, I would have simply ignored this. Please..the Miami Herald is our only hope for getting the news right.
I would appreciate a clarification of Friday's Hispanic outreach event in a future column.
Elaine Miceli- Vasquez
Okay. It's heartfelt at least. I suppose one could question a newspaper editor who manages a political candidate's campaign, but that would be for another day. What's Reinhard's resonse? Here goes:
Thanks for your feedback Elaine. I think the story was fair. Gallagher's campaign is struggling. And you have to consider the overall coverage of his campaign, for example a story I wrote a few weeks ago when he visited a Little Havana senior center and the Latin Builders Association, and the story I did with Mary Ellen, which depicted how hard supporters like yourself are working. Besides, the Sun Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, and St. Pete Times all wrote very similar stories on Friday.
Regarding my coverage of the other candidates, I can assure you they all complain! We aim to be tough and fair with everyone. An example: we did a story the other day looking at how Crist is using the crime issue. I got an email complaining that we let him off the hook, and someone else said the headline was unfair to him. Yet I know Gallagher supporters emailed the story around, suggesting they thought it was tough on him.
Nowhere did I suggest the Crist Hispanic event was the same, in fact I described it as a "smaller crowd.'' We have also written many stories pointing out their policy differences, as they have emerged at forums in and the like. And I assure you we will be writing more.
Again, you have to consider the totality of the coverage. Thank you.
Okay, so Reinhard basically says she's fair and balanced, but it wasn't over. Vasquez e-mailed again, reiterting her main points, and then Nuvia L. Abigantus, the chairwoman of the Broward Hispanic Leadership Coalition Team for Tom Gallagher, got into the act. She sent this e-mail to Reinhard:
It was great to see you Friday night at the Tom Gallagher event at Vila's. I appreciate your coverage and know how valuable your words are to Broward readers because of your long-standing status in political coverage. With that status comes great responsibility in providing factual and complete journalism to the community. I read the back-and-forth post-event e-mails between you and Elaine Vasquez, Broward campaign manager for Mr. Gallagher, and I wanted to address some points to set the record straight.
Mrs. Vasquez viewed your coverage as negative and biased. Having worked in journalism myself — for ABC as an interm and later at Reader's Digest — and having watched my husband work in the business for 25 years, I know you weren't being bias in technical terms, although it is often perceived that way by the general public. But I am concerned with some misleading reporting and inaccuracies in the coverage.
From reading your story, I gathered that you had this pre-conceived notion of a beaten-up Tom Gallagher stressing over the poor poll numbers, and frustrated with the direction his campaign is going. I understand the thing with the camera that Mrs. Vasquez objected to. You were trying to paint a picture of frustration. I agree with Mrs. Vasquez, though — he was acting like any other person standing, waiting for a camera to go off — not frustrated. The picture you painted was not necessarily biased because it was your observation and you have the right to it.
Your reporting, however, was misleading and not factual in regards to two items: four empty tables (misleading and not factual); and about 50 supporters (not factual).
I noticed that you were taking a head count during Gallagher's presentation and came over to you to discuss it. At the time you took the head count, there were 67 people in attendance and only two tables were empty (both tables were set up for potential stragglers). In fact, you were sitting near the two empty tables. We even offered to call you with a final number (74) after reviewing the sign-in sheet. The restaurant can attest to the amount of drinks and food that were served.
Your reporting of the "four empty tables" gave readers the impression that the place was empty because you never told them how many tables were set up. You could have avoided it by saying there were 10 tables and two were empty. It might not seem as important to you, but readers will take your glass half-empty approach and translate it into a lack of support for the candidate.
I am the last person to complain about coverage. You and I know people are never happy with how you present the story because they want you to present the story their way. I agree that Gallagher's campaign has work to do, but I must back up Mrs. Vasquez's disappointment when it comes to the facts. You looked frustrated that day yourself, like if it was a bad hair day, so let us now move forward.
I am glad we were able to recruit so many new Hispanic faces to a political event — not the same faces you see all the time. These weren't the leaders who go to Chamber mixers and galas. These were true grass-roots voters who are truly interested in getting involved in their government and their future.
Nuvia L. Abigantus
Broward Hispanic Leadership Coalition Team for Tom Gallagher
It's a very reasoned letter. Beth replies:
From: [email protected] (Reinhard, Beth) To: [email protected]
Thank you for your feedback. I promise you I did not come to the event with a pre-conceived notion. Tom was very defensive when asked about his fundraising and it is clear that his campaign is struggling. I saw four empty tables - they may have filled up later - but I had to get back to my office. And what was important to me was that the tables were empty when I talked to Gallagher about the campaign and when he addressed the group.
Okay, now Reinhard is getting into B.S. Of course she pointed out those details to support the thesis of her story, which was that Gallagher is in trouble. And Gallagher is, indeed, in huge trouble (it's reported today that he's thinking of dropping out of the race altogether). And I think both Vasquez and Abigantus might be acting out a little frustration of their own.
I don't think Reinhard committed a crime here, but I do think there were two minor problems: The metaphor of Gallagher waiting for the camera's click was strained, no doubt. And Reinhard should have gotten the attendance dead right rather than put in a low estimate.
Not mortal sins, by any means, but it was enough to set a camp of hardworking volunteers into a tizzy and embroil a reporter into a conflict that can only lead to more bad hair days.
Amazonian Tactics While I got you here, I thought I would clue you in on a dishonest tactic used by Amazon.com when it's selling books. On the homepage for my little book, Florida Pulp Nonfiction, there's a note in red that reads:
"Only 1 left in stock--order soon (more on the way)."
Well, I happen to know Amazon doesn't have any in stock -- they order the book directly from the publisher after people order it on Amazon.com. In other words, it's bunk -- a little prod to potential buyers to create an unnecessary sense of urgency. While I concede that I hope buyers will listen, I think it's worth knowing that Amazon isn't above such dubious methods to gin up sales.