Hatchet Man

Q: What's a nice guy like Alberto Ibargen doing at a place like the Miami Herald? A: Exactly what his money-grubbing bosses want him to do.

Alfonso believes IbargYen canceled his column because of its trenchant content. "El Nuevo believes its readers are from the Cuban rightwing," he asserts.

An alleged El Nuevo bias in favor of anti-Castro hard-liners in the exile community is also a favorite topic of Francisco Aruca on his show Radio Progreso. Aruca, whose pro-dialogue views have enraged many in Miami's exile community, has kept a file over the past year of a dozen or so translations of Herald articles that have appeared in El Nuevo. The stories have been edited to make them more palatable to conservative readers, he believes. For example, he cites the following:

*An article in December 1997 under the headline "Castro healthy, firmly in power, CIA chief says," by Miami Herald staff writer Christopher Marquis. El Nuevo's translation cut a paragraph in the middle of the piece that read: "The portrayal of a hale Castro firmly in charge is unwelcome news for many Cuban exiles, who last month buried Jorge Mas Canosa, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation and Castro's most influential antagonist. It comes as Mas Canosa followers are scrambling to shore up the hard-line U.S. policy toward Cuba and as proponents of a change probe for an opening."

*A March 1998 article, also by Marquis, headlined "Pentagon: Cuba is not a threat," about a U.S. military report that downplays the danger of Castro to the United States. A number of paragraphs in the El Nuevo version were deleted, including quotes from a Bush administration deputy assistant secretary of defense who says, "Anybody who admits there's a problem with existing policy is branded a pro-Castro apologist."

*A recent story about the protests against Cuban musicians performing at the MIDEM convention in Miami Beach. The Herald story led with the bomb threat that momentarily halted the concert of Cuban performer Compay Segundo. The story carried the headline "Bomb threat interrupts concert by Cuban artists." El Nuevo's story, written by two of the newspaper's reporters, was called "Music inside and outside for MIDEM opening." The bomb was not mentioned until the jump page.

"In English there is always better information," Aruca contends. "They are consciously keeping two communities that are experiencing the same reality from digesting that reality in the same way."

IbargYen and his Argentine-born wife, Susana Lopez, live on Grove Isle in Coconut Grove, according to public records. Their son graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut last year and is now traveling the world with his father's blessing. The publisher appears frequently in El Nuevo's social pages, at parties and various civic events around town, but he nevertheless objects vehemently to questions about his personal life. "I am not a public person," he angrily asserts after repeated requests for additional information.

His role as Herald publisher and his active participation in the Florida Philharmonic and the Mesa Redonda would seem to belie that contention. In fact, his highly visible role in the latter two organizations has given rise to questions of conflict of interest. IbargYen insists he has never directed coverage of those institutions. "I've never tried to influence a story about an organization that I've been involved in," he says. "I make sure they are kept separate."

He also says he has no intention of resigning from any of his civic activities unless he is forced by time constraints to do so. Two months into his new job, as IbargYen's schedule remains as hectic as ever, vague outlines of change are beginning to appear.

According to IbargYen, three distinct newspapers will take shape: one in Miami-Dade, one in Broward, and one for Hispanics who want their news in Spanish. El Nuevo will continue on its independent path, the publisher promises. Unsigned editorials are planned. (In the tradition of Latin American newspapers, El Nuevo has never published editorials representing the position of the paper as a whole.)

In a bid to wrest readers from its Broward competitor, the Sun-Sentinel, and to increase readership in Miami-Dade, the Herald is initiating a new emphasis on local coverage. Some areas of Broward have already been introduced to a special Thursday and Sunday section called "Extremely Local." Reasons IbargYen: "What matters to someone in Miami is not going to matter to someone in Davie." By the middle of next year, he hopes to have a version of "Extremely Local" in Dade as well.

Back at One Herald Plaza, sweeping editorial staff changes were announced two weeks ago, the most significant being the appointment of veteran Herald editor and Pulitzer Prize-winner Mark Seibel to a newly created position; he will assume responsibility for all local and statewide news operations (excepting Broward County). Many see the move as a commitment to more aggressive news-gathering. "I think putting Seibel as metro editor is a signal that they want to get tougher and harder," says former Herald editor Jay Ducassi. "Now, whether that will be the case or not ... A lot of good people with very good reputations go to the Herald and suddenly become toothless."

One seasoned Herald reporter recalls a dinner gathering earlier in IbargYen's tenure during which the new publisher outlined his editorial philosophy for the paper. "He said he wants 'bloody-nose stories,' investigative, finding out what's wrong with stuff," the reporter reports. "He wants whatever [readers] see through the [news-rack] window to shock them so much that the 35 cents will just fly out of their pockets."

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