Saturday, November 18, 2006

Verdict on Martí Moonlighters

Yesterday, Editor & Publisher published a preview of Clark Hoyt's review of the coverage of the Martí Moonlighters affair. Hoyt, a former Knight Ridder editor was hired by MHMC to "find a common ground" between the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald newsrooms in the aftermath of the scandal.

Hoyt's review includes many of the same criticisms of the September 8th article which were enumerated on this blog.

An excerpt:

* 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. Some especially objected to a set of "rogues' gallery'' photographs that appeared on Page 2A with the continuation of the story. Those photos, several of them smiling, most flattering, were within a box under the headline, ''The Journalists' Response." The box contained quotes from most of the journalists named in the story and seemed an appropriate way to highlight their points of view.

* The story failed to note that The Miami Herald had already reported in 2002 that one of the journalists on the list of 10, a free-lance writer for El Nuevo Herald, was on the Radio Martí payroll. A similar story ran at the same time in El Nuevo Herald. And a column in 2002 in El Nuevo Herald alluded to another of the El Nuevo Herald journalists in a way that made it clear that he had an ongoing relationship with Radio Martí. These references raised an obvious question: If the Herald publishing company frowned on Radio Martí payments to its journalists, why didn't management investigate and respond in some way in 2002? And what was so new in 2006?

* The story lacked cultural context. 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 Martí, even without pay, while El Nuevo Herald Executive Editor Humberto Castello Castelló 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 journal-ism 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 Martí.

* The story failed to distinguish between different types of journalists and to acknowledge the possibility that different types of media companies might adopt different ethical standards. Thus, a news reporter for El Nuevo Herald, a mainstream Spanish language newspaper, is lumped with a commentator for an AM radio station known for its consistently anti-Castro programming. The story also didn't distinguish between journalists collecting substantial amounts and those receiving small payments. The radio commentator, who received $2,775 from Radio Martí over five years, an average of $462.50 a year, was listed with a journalist for El Nuevo Herald who received $174,753 over six years.

* The story said two ethics experts, who were not named, compared taking money from Radio and TV Martí to the 2005 Armstrong Williams case. The comparison is a stretch, and not identifying the ethics experts, whose names were inadvertently deleted in the editing process, is itself a breach of good journalistic ethics, in my view. Williams, a well-known conservative pundit, signed a contract with the Bush Administration to promote its education policy, No Child Left Behind, on his nationally syndicated television program. The Government Accountability Office, a non-partisan investigative arm of Congress, found that the Williams contract ran afoul of a federal ban on government "propaganda'' within the United States. Williams was paid to promote administration policy in the mainstream U.S. news media. The journalists appearing on Radio and TV Marti, whose government-funded broadcasts aren't beamed within this country, were commenting on a variety of subjects and, they say, sometimes criticized U.S. policy.
Read the entire Editor & Publisher piece here.

Hat tip to Enrique.


Anonymous said...

In an update to its initial story on the Hoyt review, Editor & Publisher gives Herald Executive Editor Tom Fiedler's response to that review, as follows:

Fiedler told E&P this afternoon that the review is a fair look at his paper's coverage of the story, but points out that it does not contain any strong objections to the overall approach and finds no inaccurate information.

"There is nothing that suggests the need for a correction, clarification or retraction," Fiedler told E&P.

Well, at least now we can be sure what we're dealing with, because Fiedler couldn't be much clearer. He's saying the Herald basically did nothing wrong and has no need to take any action, let alone apologize. I don't know what to say to such monumental denial and arrogance, because he's clearly not receptive to criticism, constructive or otherwise.

Evidently, Fiedler hasn't learned a damn thing from this mess. He's just digging in his heels and apparently blowing off everything Hoyt found wrong. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but this clearly implies the Herald has no intention of mending its ways. It may, in fact, be more determined than ever NOT to do so, even if only out of spite.

Everyone has to judge for himself, but I just can't see how any self-respecting Cuban-American can look at this situation without serious disgust. In my opinion, if this affair and Fiedler's response to it are anything to go by, the Herald does not deserve any support from the Cuban-American community.

heraldphobe said...

Below is the text of a memo sent by Tom Fiedler to Herald staff concerning the Hoyt report. The memo was obtained and revealed online by the Palm Beach New Times and quoted by Editor & Publisher on 11/17:

All, I want to alert you to an important report in this Sunday's Issues & Ideas, which will come off the presses later today. Clark Hoyt, whom most of you know, has submitted a report to David Landsberg about events and decisions leading up to publication of Oscar's story about journalists on the payroll of TV and Radio Marti. This is part of the assignment that Clark took on a few weeks ago.

The report is written in the fashion of an ombudsman's column, which strikes me as both appropriate for our edification and engaging to readers. I won't offer my own opinion on Clark's findings beyond pointing out that he solidly supports the premise on which the story was based, as well as Oscar's reporting and Myriam's content editing. That is foremost; Oscar and Myriam earn our praise for that story and those that followed this week. Where Clark exposes flaws and misjudgments, they almost always come to rest on my shoulders.

Once you've read and thought about it, let me know what you think. But please approach this with the attitude that Clark's effort was that of an honest broker operating in the spirit of constructive criticism.


Myriam refers to Myriam Marquez, who was Corral's editor on the Marti story. Note Fiedler's words: "Oscar and Myriam earn our praise for that story." If anybody can detect any real regret, embarrassment, shame or contrition on Fiedler's part, please point it out, because I sure as hell don't see any. Basically, I think he's incorrigible, like the Herald culture he represents.

It looks like what David Landsberg promised Pablo Alfonso may simply have been Hoyt's report, but what Alfonso obviously had in mind is not likely to materialize. If this constitutes an apology and rectification on the part of the Herald, Fiedler has made it about as watered down and half-assed as possible.

The handwriting on the wall is very clear, and I think every Cuban-American should act in keeping with his degree of self-respect.

heraldphobe said...

The note in today's Herald (11/19) from publisher David Landsberg about the Hoyt report on the Marti affair is very disappointing. It says so little that I wonder why he bothered writing it (except to point out that he commissioned Hoyt to review the matter). Landsberg essentially makes no response to what Hoyt said.

It seems that the official Herald response, such as it is, amounts to what Tom Fiedler has said, which amounts to "There was and is no real problem here." This is completely unsatisfactory, but I'm afraid it's all we're going to get. I'm fairly sure now that what Landsberg meant when he promised Pablo Alfonso further action was not a true or substantial rectification of the seriously flawed 9/8 article and the attendant consequences for the maligned journalists, not to mention the lack of consideration, understanding and respect for the Cuban-American community. I think what Landsberg meant is what we have now, meaning a review by Hoyt which has been basically blown off by Fiedler as the spokesman for the Herald.

There's really little need for much further commentary. This is not hard to interpret or figure out. The only real question is what are we going to do about it, and merely complaining is not enough. In a way, we're to blame, because we've put up with too much from the Herald for too long. The only thing likely to make a real difference is to stop buying or otherwise supporting the Herald operation. If the Herald won't respect us, it simply does not deserve our money, and if we still buy it anyway, we don't deserve to be respected.