A Clown? No Way. A Genius!

October, 1987
"The Miami Herald may as well close its doors if it believes it can take advantage of us economically while it belittles our ideals and misrepresents our people and our purposes."

- Cuban American National Foundation, Jorge Mas Canosa, chairman; from a full-page advertisement placed in the Herald

"No American newspaper can negotiate news coverage. We shall continue maintaining our professional standards. The Foundation represents just one part of the Cuban community, and we have to listen to all of them as well as to other, non-Cuban, Hispanics."

- Richard Capen, publisher, Miami Herald, quoted in the New York Times

January, 1992
"The Miami Herald takes and assumes the same positions as the Cuban government, but we must confess that once upon a time they were more discreet about it. Lately the distance between the Miami Herald and Fidel Castro has narrowed considerably.... Why must we consent to the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald continuing a destructive campaign full of hatred for the Cuban exile, when ultimately they live and eat, economically speaking, on our support? These attacks...aim to destroy the authentic and genuine values of the Cuban-American community."

- Jorge Mas Canosa, chairman, Cuban American National Foundation, in a local radio broadcast

"The allegations against the Herald and El Nuevo Herald are sad and painful and unfair.... We don't claim to be perfect - no human institution could - but we are newspapers and people who care a great deal about the future of this community for all of its citizens.... We have worked hard to be fair, and feel badly when anyone thinks otherwise. We will always remain willing to try and do even better."

- David Lawrence, publisher, Miami Herald; and Roberto Suarez, president, Miami Herald Publishing Company, in the Herald

Good news, friends: The circus is back in town! And I'm delighted to report that the clowns are more entertaining than ever before. Jorge Mas Canosa, veteran funnyman from the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), has outdone himself, his wickedly delicious sense of the absurd never more on target.

Richard Capen, unfortunately, has left the big top. His last great performance, cited above, surprised and thrilled everyone who had always assumed he was just a smarmy, glad-handing geek miscast as publisher of a major daily newspaper. A splendid and memorable bit of stagecraft.

But we knew we could count on the folks at Knight-Ridder when it came to replacing Capen. With Lawrence (and his sidekick Suarez), they've convincingly established themselves as masters at picking talent. I don't know about you, but those comeback lines knocked me out. Mas Canosa, with his legendary gift for the setup, goes on the air with a side-splitter: The Miami Herald sleeps with Fidel and foments a diabolical hate campaign designed to obliterate its most significant community of readers: local Cubans. This is great material.

But most journalists, creatures not known for quick wit and repartee, would have blown it. In less skilled hands, the response would have been a blast of self-righteous hot air - Dick Capen without the irony: "We don't make the news, you jerk, we report the news. And our only allegiance is to the truth, not to you, not to your lousy Foundation, and not to anyone else. If you don't like it, you can stuff it." Boring, boring, boring.

Not so the boffo team of Lawrence & Suarez. They saw their opening, stepped into the spotlight, and gleefully grabbed the mike: Gosh, Mr. Mas, sir, we've tried so very, very hard to be nice. How can you say these horrible things about our poor little newspaper? We know we're just imperfect humans, sir, but we'll try harder, by golly. We promise.

Genius! Dazzling! Sarcasm sophisticated enough to make Mort Sahl proud. (Note to Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry: Keep an eye on these guys. They're after your jobs.)

I've got to tip my hat to Lawrence in particular. My earlier assessments of the man have now been thoroughly trashed. Don't ask me how I got it so wrong, but there was a time when I thought (and, I'm sorry to say, wrote in these pages) that he was a transparent wimp so disoriented by the humid heat of Miami that he had confused his new job as publisher with that of a missionary plopped down among jungle heathens. I don't like the taste of crow, but I'll admit it: Boy was I stupid.

Lawrence only appears to be a clown. In truth he is as canny as they come. It is a testament to Lawrence's shrewdness that early on he saw Mas Canosa for what he is - a petulant child in a three-piece suit. What best revealed his sublime intellect, however, was his strategy for dealing with this character: disarm him with honey, not vinegar, and do it with such finesse that he never knows he's been had.

After the vitriolic outburst of the full-page ad in late 1987, Mas Canosa and his cronies were eerily silent. Lawrence arrived at the Herald two years later and began making the rounds among Miami VIPs, Mas Canosa included. In the meantime, his team of reporters quietly went about their work. And busy bees they were:

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