Friday, September 15, 2006

Conclusions on coverage of the Martí Moonlighters

These are my opinions on what went wrong with the Herald's reporting in the case of the Martí Moonlighters. Note that this was originally part of a longer, previously published post, but I have edited it and think it merits being a stand-alone post.

First we should examine the circumstances that caused the Herald to break this story in the first place. Another newspaper (The Chicago Tribune) was apparently working on the story of the Martí Moonlighters and it seems that when the Herald found out they rushed to get ahead of the story. Read more about the Tribune and the "hectic" conditions under which the September 8th Corral article was written and edited at The Daily Pulp.

The Corral story needlessly focused only on Cuban-American journalists and Radio/TV Marti. If the intent was to write about violations of journalistic ethics then the reporting should have expanded to include the practice of taking appearance fees or payment for work by all journalists working for all government-funded broadcasters. After all, three of the journalists worked for the Herald publishing company, and thus their alleged ethical violations are a reflection of the paper. One would think that the paper would investigate the matter fully and grant the presumption of innocence (of violating journalistic ethics) until all the facts were in.

But as Bob Norman points out they chose to break the story themselves and fire the reporters in a P.R. move that he describes as "good, if painful." I disagree, it's actually been pretty disastrous and has revealed a schism between MHPC's two newspapers. Then other media did pick up on the bigger story regarding Radio/TV Marti's sister-broadcaster, the Voice of America, and respected American journalists that are paid by them to contribute their expertise just like the Martí Moonlighters. An opportunity to do a bigger story was missed and one would think that for a prestigious newspaper like The Miami Herald, the bigger a story, the better.

And simply saying that "the subject of the article was Radio and TV Martí, not VOA" as Miami Herald executive editor Tom Fiedler was quoted in this El Nuevo Herald article is not a good enough explanation. That's like saying "we did what we wanted to do" instead of "we followed the story to its logical conclusion".

The Herald's decision to focus only these journalists working for this particular government broadcaster has, in fact, disproportionately damaged the credibility of all Cuban-American journalists and, in fact, given the Cuban government a bat with which to beat its critics over the head, something the editors at The Miami Herald claim they did not intend to do. But those editors had to have known this outcome was certain.

A larger story about the practice of journalists taking government pay in general, would have not only been more honest but would have been less damaging to Herald's self-admitted goal: "To promote a free and democratic Cuba," not mention it's own reputation.

This is a classic example of trying to get to press before a rival and making many mistakes as a result. If the Herald hadn't been in such a hurry to throw its three journalists overboard (and lump in others like Montaner, Perez Castellón, and Crespo who have a legitimate beef, namely, that they are not reporters and should be held to a different standard) they could have put together a story that would have seriously examined the isssue of whether moonlighting for government news and information agencies is unethical or not.

Even if the outcome had been the same, with the three journalists in question being fired, the Herald would have appeared to be (because they would have been) more methodical and professional in its investigation, reporting and treatment of its personnel.

I don't think there's a Pulitzer Prize waiting for Oscar Corral and his editors for this work.


Manuel A. Tellechea said...

Brilliant, Henry. You should send this piece to the Herald's Op-Ed page.

I would only add that if it was the professed intention of the editors to limit the scope of Oscar Corral's article to just Radio and TV Marti, why then did they just focus on Cuban-American journalists who contribute to those entities? Why not also include among the Marti moonlighters the many non-Cuban Latin American journalists and Spanish-speaking Anglo cubanologists who have also contributed to Radio and TV Marti and been compensated pro forma for it? I could myself name such a non-Cuban who happens to currently work for the Herald. But I am not a snitch, nor am I into naming names or wrecking lives and careers.

The only right thing to do now, given all the lies, dissimulations and contradictions of which the Miami Herald is guilty by its own belated admission, is to reinstate the fired journalists and accord them what they should have been given in the first place — a fair hearing. Or is the McClatchy corporation just a bunch of self-justifyng hypocrites like Castro?

Firefly said...

Great article on Journalism and ethics by Miami Today news.

Henry "Conductor" Gomez said...

I don't think they'd print my piece. They already printed a highly edited version of a letter I wrote them earlier this month on an unrelated subject. Well it was related in the sense that it was about Herald distortions.

Manuel A. Tellechea said...

Nevertheless, Henry, you should send them this article, which is the clearest and most forthright summation of the events as they have transpired (adding, of course, the latest developments). Let them reject it if they want. I understand that letters to the editor and Op-Ed pieces can now be submitted via computer. In the old days of the FAX and before the FAX, I used to go in person to the newspaper and hand deliver the article to the Op-Ed editor. And, yes, it usually did the trick.