The Monster Mash

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

Other sections of the story alleged to be defamatory were less clearly false, but were nevertheless hotly contested by Mas.

From Mas's deposition:
Crockett: (reading from the article) "Throughout the 1980s, Mas was a staunch supporter of [William] Casey's covert ventures in Latin America." Does that harm your reputation, sir?

Mas: Yes.
Crockett: How does that harm your reputation?
Mas: I was not a supporter of Casey, or the CIA, or any activities down there because I did not know them.

Crockett: (reading from the article) "'Mas was born and bred by the CIA,' says Gaeton Fonzi, a Miami-based writer and authority on Mas who has covered Cuban exile politics for two decades." Does that sentence harm your reputation?

Mas: Yes, sir.
Crockett: How does it harm your reputation?
Mas: I have never been a member of the CIA. I never been hired, I never been born and bred by the CIA, I never done anything for the CIA.

Crockett: What is wrong with being involved with the CIA's activities that harms your reputation, sir?

Mas: This is not my line of business.... I find that defamatory. It's a false statement.

Crockett: Do you believe that Cuban exiles in Miami, which were associated with the CIA, have their reputations damaged by that association?

Mas: I don't know.
Crockett: The next sentence, sir, states, "'He's a master of psychological warfare. Bill Clinton didn't have a prayer once he agreed to dance with Mas.'" Does that sentence harm your reputation?

Mas: One at a time.
Crockett: You can break it up.
Mas: "He is a master of psychological warfare." That's false. Not true.
Crockett: Does that harm your reputation?
Mas: Yes.
Crockett: How does that harm your reputation?
Mas: I'm not a psychological warfare master. I'm a businessman.

During Bardach's deposition, she emphasized that her principal sources were newspaper articles and writer Gaeton Fonzi, who provided her with the quotation about psychological warfare. But she also relied on individuals well known for their opposition to Mas and on Miami friends with no particular expertise. For example, she recounted that a casual conversation led her to believe that Mas supported covert operations in Chile. "I walked into my friends' apartment, who are Cubans here living in Miami, and they were watching [a talk-show host] interview Mas Canosa," she said, "and they told me he had just expressed his support and admiration for Pinochet, a Chilean -- the dictator, the former dictator of Chile. And they said that he had said something about, that he felt that, the feeling he expressed was that Pinochet was a good role model for what was needed in Cuba."

Even if Mas could prove that Bardach's reporting was negligent, it would be of little help to him legally. As Miami libel expert Tom Julin observes, the notion of malice as it would apply in this situation (assuming Mas is found to be a public figure) "is not about [a reporter's] duty to conduct an investigation; it's about what was going on in a reporter's mind."

Thus the discovery phase of the lawsuit may prove far more beneficial to Bardach and her lawyers than it will to Mas. Because he objected to such a broad range of material in the article -- involving statements that encompass virtually every aspect of his life -- the defense lawyers are justified in seeking almost anything they want.

Indeed, Crockett and Schwiep have energetically pursued everything from documents that indicate Mas intended to do business with communist China to paternity allegations made against him by a woman who says she was once his lover. (That case was chronicled in a May 23 New Times cover story, "Love and Cuba.") Mas's lawyers have objected to such wide-ranging discovery, but Judge Davis has generally ruled against them.

Since June 1995, lawyers for Bardach and The New Republic have submitted six requests for documents, including one demand that included 96 different categories of material. The defense lawyers have asked for:

"Any and all documents related to Oliver North."
"Any and all documents relating to the hiring, retention, or use of private detectives by Mas or CANF for the period from 1985 to 1995."

"Any and all documents relating to the income and expenses of Mas for the period from 1985 to 1995, including bank accounts and checks."

"All documents that refer or relate to any communications, discussions, dealings, or contacts of any nature between Mas and any prosecution or law enforcement authorities (state or federal) regarding any criminal conduct or potential prosecution of any individual, including Mas."

"All documents relating to all lawsuits in which Mas has been a party or a witness."

Mas's attorneys balked. "Some of the defendants' requests...simply go too far," wrote Adorno in a court pleading. "They either request production of a vast array of documents, without limitation as to time or scope, or they seek documents totally unrelated to the issues of this lawsuit." In particular, Adorno opposed releasing Mas's tax returns, information about hiring private detectives, and lawsuits, which he maintained were public record and thus readily available to the defendants and their counsel.

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