The Monster Mash

Jorge Mas Canosa answered a journalistic hatchet jobwith a libel lawsuit. But now everyone is getting cut to the bone.

The depositions themselves have been uncommonly combative, prompting attorneys for Bardach and The New Republic to ask the court to instruct Mas's lawyers to tone down their rhetoric. For example, during a hearing before federal Magistrate Barry Garber this past February, the attorneys claimed that Hank Adorno had been so abusive during his questioning of Bardach that they had been forced to abruptly terminate her deposition. In addition, they said, while Adorno was questioning Andrew Sullivan, the magazine's former editor, the attorney launched into a profanity-laden tirade so vicious that the court reporter fled the room.

Deposition transcripts also show that Adorno frequently made insulting remarks to the opposing attorneys. He told Jeffrey Crockett, for instance, that he "got an A for reading," after Crockett recited portions of the article during Mas's deposition. Adorno also commanded Paul Schwiep to "keep typing" on his laptop, adding sarcastically: "That's what you're good at."

Additionally, Schwiep recounted, "I was told that I shouldn't call myself a Cuban because it was a disgrace to the community."

"You shouldn't call yourself a what?" asked the bewildered jurist.
"A Cuban," Schwiep repeated. "I'm Cuban, judge, and proud of that heritage."
"I have had the opportunity to review the transcript...and quite frankly I think Mr. Adorno's conduct is inappropriate," Magistrate Garber commented during the hearing. Turning to Raoul Cantero, one of Mas's lawyers, who also happens to be a grandson of Fulgencio Batista, Garber said, "You know, there's no need to cast aspersions at counsel, make snide remarks. That's just totally inappropriate and unnecessary, and it's not going to be tolerated."

The idea for Bardach's story grew out of a Washington, D.C., dinner party in June 1994 at the home of journalist and policy pundit Christopher Hitchens. According to Bardach's deposition, the dinner guests, among them New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan, began talking about the emergence of moderate anti-Castro groups. "There had been a human rights report that had come out about the abuses in the Miami community, that people of different opinions weren't allowed to express their opinions," Bardach said. "There were accusations of everything from harassment to intimidation to outright murders.... We were talking about human rights in Cuba, human rights in Miami. It was this kind of basic conversation, you know, mostly dealing with freedom-of-speech issues."

Sullivan suggested that Bardach write a story about the Miami exile community. Months later, when Jorge Mas Canosa emerged as the key exile figure during the Cuban rafter crisis, the focus of the piece shifted to him. At the time Bardach knew little about Mas. She had seen a 60 Minutes segment about him and had read a profile published in Esquire magazine. Both were highly critical.

A 46-year-old screenwriter and freelance journalist, Bardach had begun writing about Cuban-related topics in 1993, when she published a story in Vanity Fair about a woman who claimed to be have once been Fidel Castro's mistress. Subsequently Bardach obtained a rare personal interview with the Cuban strongman. (Last year she won a PEN USA West award for an interview she did with Mexican guerrilla leader Comandante Marcos.)

To prepare for her new assignment, Bardach said in her deposition, she read hundreds of newspaper articles. She also said she interviewed more than 80 people, including half a dozen reporters and editors at the Miami Herald, confidential government sources, and leaders of other anti-Castro groups. She admitted, however, that 90 percent of her article was based on previously published reports, and that in particular she relied heavily on the research of South Florida writer Gaeton Fonzi, an author and former researcher with the House Select Committee on Assassinations.

Bardach did not interview Mas's business associates, and did not speak to any of the 100-plus directors and trustees of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), although she asserted in her deposition that "the opinion that I gathered from most people is that Mas and CANF are interchangeable; that he runs that organization, you know, lock, stock, and barrel...and that there's very little dissent of opinion within the organization. I say that based on my interviews with three or four former directors."

When Hank Adorno quizzed Bardach for names, she conceded that she had actually spoken to only one former director. She had simply read the deposition of one antagonistic former director taken during an unrelated lawsuit and had looked over interviews Fonzi had conducted with Raul Masvidal, one of the organization's founding members who is now a vocal critic of Mas.

In attempting to sound out current CANF supporters, Bardach limited her efforts to two men in charge of public relations and to Joe Garcia, a former foundation executive who left in order to accept an appointment to Florida's Public Service Commission. Bardach also said she tried to talk to Mas himself, enlisting Garcia as an intermediary and appealing to Mas's personal secretary -- to no avail.

For his part, Mas insisted under oath that Bardach made no effort to get in touch with him. "Who is Joe Garcia?" he wondered aloud during his deposition. "I don't recall who Joe Garcia is, but no, I haven't gotten any request from Bardach to talk to me....Joe Garcia is a very common name."

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