U.S. Paid Miami Journalists for Anti-Castro Articles

Several prominent Spanish language journalists in Miami were taking money for work for the U.S. government’s anti-Castro propaganda service without disclosing this relationship to their editors or audience.

At least 10 South Florida journalists, including three from El Nuevo Herald, received regular payments from the U.S. government for programs on Radio Martí and TV Martí, two broadcasters aimed at undermining the communist government of Fidel Castro. The payments totaled thousands of dollars over several years.

Those who were paid the most were veteran reporters and a freelance contributor for El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language newspaper published by the corporate parent of The Miami Herald. Pablo Alfonso, who reports on Cuba and writes an opinion column, was paid almost $175,000 since 2001 to host shows on Radio Martí and TV Martí. El Nuevo Herald freelance reporter Olga Connor, who writes about Cuban culture, received about $71,000, and staff reporter Wilfredo Cancio Isla, who covers the Cuban exile community and politics, was paid almost $15,000 in the last five years.

[…]

Other journalists receiving payments from the U.S. Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which runs Radio and TV Martí, included: Diario Las Americas opinion page editor Helen Aguirre Ferre and reporter/columnist Ariel Remos; Channel 41 news director Miguel Cossio; and syndicated columnist Carlos Alberto Montaner, whose opinions appear in the pages of El Nuevo Herald and The Miami Herald.

[..]

The journalists involved are among the most popular in South Florida, and many were reporting on issues involving Radio or TV Martí for their news organizations.

Channel 41 reporter Juan Manuel Cao, who received $11,400 this year from TV Martí, made news in July when he confronted Castro during an appearance in Argentina by pressing the Cuban leader to explain why his government had not allowed a well-known doctor and dissident, Hilda Molina, to leave the island to visit her son in Argentina.

Unlike Josh Marshall, I am not embarrassed for my country. Radio and TV Martí are ethically no different from private public relations firms, which frequently try to co-opt professional writers to get their message out. Indeed, as regular readers know, several bloggers, myself included, are regularly targets of such inquiries.

Many of these people have been fired, and rightly so. It may well be against company policy to do paid work for outside causes; I have mixed views on that subject. But failing to disclose such relationships is a huge violation of journalistic integrity.

UPDATE: Rick at SOTP adds,

You can be assured that when these journalists and commentators were plying their craft on the air or in the papers, somewhere in the back of their minds they wanted to make sure that they didn’t say or write anything that might jeopardize that next paycheck from Uncle Sam. Because it’s just human nature.

Probably so. On the other hand, it may well be that the government recruited people already sympathetic to them. Still, the reader deserves to know if the writer is being paid on the side by a partisan in the cause.

SOTP commenter gansibele thinks it’s a shame: “Pablo Alfonso had a great column with lots of inside info from his network of contacts in Cuba and was pretty balanced. Wilfredo Cancio is very good as well, even back in Cuba he was one of the few reporters that was readable.”

Florida Masochist Bill Jempty wonders,

Reporters working for multiple media outlets is nothing new. Look at blogger Michelle Malkin, she has a nationally syndicated column plus is a Fox News commentator.

Except in this case the second outlet is owned and run by the government. Is this any different than what Michelle does or is Freedom of the Press being endangered?

What’s different with Malkin’s various “employers” is transparency. Bill and all her other readers knows about these relationships because she discloses them. Indeed, the fact that she’s a syndicated columnist and TV talking head helped jump start her blogging career. If, however, she were secretly on the payroll of Al-Iraqiya or AIPAC, people would rightly be angry not to have known.

UPDATE: In the comments below, John Burgess makes an interesting point:

It’s possible that the subject reporters thought that since Radio and TV Marti are not easily accessible by American audiences—by law—the transgression didn’t count. They, as VOA, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, have their signals transmitted directionally, not via broadband satellite. They take great efforts (and spend lots of money) to ensure that American audiences are not accidentally reached by the broadcasts.

Which explains how they went undetected so long, too. Still, as Burgess notes, transparency is still important for the reasons Rick mentions.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. legion says:

    And the next time Rumsfeld or Cheney complains about how the media is being manipulated by leftists and terrorists and foreigners, and how bad their propaganda is, I want this article wadded up and shoved down their throats. Repeatedly.

  2. When I was a director of marketing at a fortune 100 company, I got NYT, WSJ and Washington Post to all print articles favorable to my company based on press release material and a ‘pitch’ I made to the writers. I didn’t bribe them (I think I handed out a pen that flashed lights or something) but they did pretty much print what I wanted. Other news outlets just printed my press release wholesale. One writer wanted a story other than the ‘standard’ PR story included, so he asked me to write him a custom version he would “edit” and print under his by line. I wasn’t sure how to answer him, but the PR company rep with me quickly agreed. She then explained to me afterwards that this was standard, she took the standard story, re-arranged a few things, changed a little of the language (“big” became “large” type stuff) and added a couple of additional points at the top that had come out from the dozens of interviews I gave.

    But I do agree that if you are going to pay directly to someone, they should acknowledge it.

  3. cirby says:

    That’s really strange.

    I mean, most writers I know who work for newespapers and TV stations do freelance work all of the time, and they all let their employers know about the work (if nothing else, to avoid conflicts of interst).

  4. John Burgess says:

    Transparency is the main issue here, of course.

    It’s possible that the subject reporters thought that since Radio and TV Marti are not easily accessible by American audiences–by law–the transgression didn’t count. They, as VOA, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, have their signals transmitted directionally, not via broadband satellite. They take great efforts (and spend lots of money) to ensure that American audiences are not accidentally reached by the broadcasts.

    But in today’s world it’s clearly not a safe assumption to make that the broadcasts are invisible.

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