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 MartÃ and TV MartÃ, 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 MartÃ and TV MartÃ. 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 MartÃ, 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 MartÃ for their news organizations.
Channel 41 reporter Juan Manuel Cao, who received $11,400 this year from TV MartÃ, 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 MartÃ 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.