Saturday, September 16, 2006

Courant's Lightman no longer to appear on VOA

As a result of the flap over Oscar Corral's September 8th article about Cuban-American journalists that accepted pay and appearance fees from government-funded Radio/TV Martí the Washington Bureau Chief of the Hartford Courant, David Lightman, will no longer appear on the Voice of America according to an article in today's Courant.

You'll remember that Lightman was named in a follow-up story by Josh Gerstein in the New York Sun . In that story Lightman tried to claim that VOA is completely different than Radio/TV Martí despite the fact that they are sister stations, are governed by the same body, and adhere to the same code of journalistic ethics. Apparently his bosses didn't agree with Lightman about the distinction and are now requiring him to drop his moonlighting gig. A reasonable outcome, one that perhaps The Herald should have considered.


Manuel A. Tellechea said...

Lightman. Never did a name better fit a man. This unctuous little hypocrite, who found himself in the same or worse "ethical" dilemma than the three fired Cuban-American journalists, did not come to their defense, but, rather, fabricated nebulous distinctions between their conduct and his, which, ultimately, amounted to "I am a member of the media elite and they are not." Guess what? He was right. He is above fray. Not only did his newspaper not fire or discipline him, but in the article announcing his withdrawal from the Voice of America praised him effusively and attested to his absolute fairness and comportment beyond reproach. I guess they must have listened to the hundreds of programs in which he appeared to verify that fact, or, else, they just assumed that he would not "sell out" for $100. That would be an insult, indeed. East Coast reporters (let alone Washington bureau chiefs) sell at a much higher price.

But Lightman has been appearing weekly on the VOA "for years" and little benjamins do add up pretty fast. If they had calculated the total, I should not be surprised if it surpassed the amount received by some or all the Cuban-American journalists. But the Courant was interested in protecting their employee not hanging him out to dry.

Another interesting aspect of the Hartford Courant article is the introduction of a term with which I was not familiar (and certainly the Herald's editors weren't, either): "Kelly McBride, the ethics group leader for the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank, called Lightman's situation an 'approved conflict' because his bosses knew of the payments." (Lightman had supposedly informed them three years ago).

Of course, The Miami Herald editors knew about the 3 Cuban-Americans connections to Radio and TV Marti at least four years ago. We have to take the Courant's word for their having known about Lightman's involvement with VOA three years ago. In the case of The Miami Herald, however, it is a matter of public record. That is, it was published in the Herald four years ago.

I do not know if The Hartford Courant is fairer than The Miami Herald or simply learned by the Herald's mistakes. In any case, they went out of their way to shield Lightman whereas The Miami Herald acted with upmost malice towards its own reporters.

Manuel A. Tellechea said...

September 17, 2006

"A free press can require painful choices"
By Jesus Diaz Jr.

In order to have democracy, a country must enjoy freedom of the press. [In order to have freedom of the press, the millionaires who own the presses and their lacqueys must convince us that a corporation's interests also represent the interests of their community or the nation at large.] The past week has been painful for many in the Cuban community and for employees at The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. [It has been principally painful, however, for the 3 journalists you arbitrarily fired and their families. You and your employees, who did not have the basic decency to protest their firings in a formal petition, are the cause of their pain]. Many have questioned the motives behind the dismissal of two El Nuevo Herald reporters and a freelance writer who did a significant amount of work for us while simultaneously working for and being paid by Radio and TV Martí. [By "significant work" what you really mean is fair, impartial and objective work that was beyond reproach. Since you could not impugn their work for The Herald (and didn't even try), you chose instead to assassinate their character].

I approved the dismissals because, as the publisher of these newspapers, I am deeply committed to the separation between government and a free press. [The only thing that you were "deeply committed" to was beating out the Chicago Tribune on this story]. Further, our employees violated our conflict-of-interest rules. [You have thus far refused to make public these "conflict of interests rules." When were they adopted? By whom? How specifically do they apply to these three journalist? Where, in short, does it say in your "Rules" that reporters or freelancers are forbidden from working for government-sponsored foreign broadcasting? It is certainly not in the contracts that these journalists signed]. All of our journalists acknowledge and agree to adhere to our policies, which include this statement: [Which is it, "rules" or "policies." Rules are not the same thing as policies. Rules are immutable whereas policies are whatever tickles the publisher's fancy at any time].

We demonstrate our principles by operating with fairness, accuracy and independence, and by avoiding conflicts of interest, as well as the appearance of conflicts of interest. [Like Caesar's wife?] Our news operations will be diligent in their pursuit of the truth, without regard to special interests. [Then you have certainly violated The Herald's principles (which is it now? Rules? Policies? Principles?) by acting yourself without "fairness, accuracy or independence" in this matter. You have already admitted, after initially lying about it, that The Herald knew about the journalists' involvement with Radio Marti as early as 2002, when The Herald actually published a story which presented as a laudable activity what you would later characterize as a conflict of interests and assault on freedom of the press. What were the "rules, policies and principles" in 2002? When did they change? And did you ever apprise anyone that they had changed? I don't mean the way you "apprised" the 3 journalist 30 minutes before you fired them].

Our decisions, painful as they were, reaffirm our commitment that reporters and editors at our newspapers are free of even the hint of a conflict of interest. [Well, that's the second time that you mention how "painful" your decision was. Perhaps it might not have been a "painful" decision if it had been a reasoned and thoughtful decision. But you made it "painful" by your own premature and unmeasured acts. Doesn't it seem odd to you that no other newspaper in the country has fired or disciplined reporters involved with Radio Marti, VOA or Radio Liberty (not to mention PBS or NPR)? Perhaps they don't have the same high ethical standards that you do. Or, more likely, they are not as draconian, unfair and undemocratic as you are].

It is by sustaining this transparency [What "transparency?" Due process for these journalists would have been transparency. Kicking them out the back door isn't transparency]. that we can assure that our reporters will continue to function as impartial and independent watchdogs in our community [Has anyone ever suggested let alone proved that the fired journalists' reportage was ever anything else?] and tackle investigations leading to stories such as the House of Lies series, which disclosed corruption in the Miami-Dade Housing Authority, and Fire Watch, which uncovered abuses in Miami-Dade's fire-watch program. [That's right, pat yourselves on the back; nobody else is going to. Whatever your past scoops may have been, they do not excuse this miscarriage of justice].

As a child in Cuba, I lived under a totalitarian government where freedom of speech did not exist. I remember my parents telling my sister and me, over and over, ''Do not say anything bad about the government'' for fear of reprisal. I do not want my daughter to ever have to say that to her children or to her grandchildren. [You do not live now in a totalitarian regime, although you yourself act with the same star-chamber arbitrariness characteristic of all such regimes, including Fidel Castro's].

I am committed to fair and independent journalism because I firmly believe that a totalitarian government cannot survive under the spotlight of a free press. [If you are "committed to fair and independent journalism" then you should practice it for a change. What little free press there is in Cuba must struggle across the skies of the Florida Straits to reach Cuba. You would stifle and silence that lonely voice by denying it the support of some of the best U.S. journalists who bring to Radio and TV Marti the fairness and objectivity which, again, none has ever suggested that their reportage lacked]. Throughout this past week, I have been reminded that a dictator such as Fidel Castro would not be in power if Cuba had a free press. [Fidel Castro came to power precisely because the U.S. had a free press. Ever heard of Herbert Matthews? A free press is only as good as the commitment to freedom of individual journalists. The three fired reporters have shown their commitment to freedom in word and deed time and time again. Have you?]

A SHORT JOURNEY [Too short].

History has proved that the journey from an open society to a totalitarian regime can be a short one. [Full of profundities, aren't you? How exactly did you get your job? I've heard of all ten journalists that Corral's story smeared, but I've never heard of you. How did you get to be The Herald's publisher? By flying under the radar? Well, you did a very good job there]. When journalists receive regular payments for government-sponsored reporting while working for free-press outlets, we take a step down this dangerous path. [Professional journalists, hundreds if not thousands of them, have worked for government-sponsored radio since the Voice of America was founded in 1942. On exactly what "dangerous path" has this taken us? The end of the Cold War and the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe? Why did you specifically target Cuban-American journalists for your censure? Didn't non-Cuban Latin Americans and Spanish-speaking Anglo experts also appear on Radio and TV Marti? Why weren't they named? For that matter, why weren't paid-contributors to the Voice of America and Radio Liberty named? They work for the same government and the checks they receive are also identical].

Let me be clear: [Now you are going to start?].

• The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald are committed to fair and independent reporting. [However many times you repeat it won't make it true].

• The institutional position of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, as expressed on our editorial pages, has been to support the work and goals of Radio and TV Martí. [Except when you try to sabotage their work by denying them the services of those who allow them to fulfill their mission with professionalism and fairness. Your now often-repeated "support" for Radio Marti includes portraying it as a "propaganda machine" with which no reputable ethical journalist would be connected, and with which The Miami Herald, in particular, is loathe to associate even indirectly. With "friends" like you, Radio and TV Marti better watch their backs].

I also wish to clarify our position on a number of questions and rumors, which we have heard over the past week:

• The Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald and our parent company, McClatchy, have no plans to open a bureau inside Cuba. [Really, hasn't that been your expressed objective for many years? Did that objective change at the same time you changed your "rules, objectives, policies?].

• Cuba rejects or does not respond to our requests for visas for our reporters. [So you are trying?]. As such, any reporting by Miami Herald staff members from Cuba comes from those who have made their way into the country as tourists, requiring us to run their stories without bylines in order to protect their identities. [Wasn't Oscar Corral recently in Cuba? Is that where he "researched" his Sept. 8 story?].

• We do not know why the Cuban TV program Mesa Redonda commented on the essence of our story before it ran. [So you admit that this "rumor" at least is true]. We are confident this information did not come from anyone at The Miami Herald, and we believe that Mesa Redonda may have gained this information from a review of our public-records requests, since these requests are available to the public. On what grounds are you "confident" that no one at the Miami Herald informed the Castro regime on your story prior to publication? Or, for that matter, how "confident" are you that the flow of information wasn't the other way? There are no coincidences in this world. As a journalist, you should be a little more inquisitive. That's "inquisitive," inquisitorial].

I am concerned about our readers' reaction to columnists Carl Hiaasen's and Ana Menendez's opinion columns in today's paper. [Yes, you should be concerned about columns that are inflammatory and unfair. And you shouldn't write unfair and inflammatory columns yourself like the present one]. 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. [So you considered practicing censorship because you and you alone know what's best for the community. Have you ever considered that truth may be what is best?].


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. [In this case, you listened to your subalterns' opinions. You, obviously, were not as openminded about the 3 fired journalists, because several editors, including the executive editor of El Nuevo Herald, objected to your unilateral decision].

I am saddened by the pain [The pain never stops for you, does it?] these events have caused in our community during the past week. [Not that "these events caused," but that your own actions caused; and you shouldn't be "saddened," but sorry]. We are not perfect, [Really? You had us all fooled] but rest assured that we will continue to work diligently for the betterment of our community. [Is that a threat?].

Jesús Diaz Jr. is the publisher of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald.

Firefly said...

Mr. Jesus Diaz, Jr.

After reading your poor excuse of a column this past Sunday (I want to point out I read it on this blog) the following words from Abraham Lincoln came to mind:

“You may fool all the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time.”

Manuel, that was a great post