The Herald Strikes Back

A discussion with executive editor Martin Baron

New Times askedMiami Heraldexecutive editor Martin Baron to respond to the New Republic article:

It is absolute, utter nonsense. And I guess that's what you would expect if the writer chooses not to talk to the editor and the publisher of the newspaper. The piece is just contradictory. If Cuban Americans on staff and in the community are criticizing the paper, then how can we be pandering to the community?

Every day I get messages and phone calls from people saying we are biased one way or the other.... The notion that we are biased in any way is just silly. With the exception of just a couple of stories, we have led the pack on [Elian] in every way.... When we got beat, we came back and covered the same information. To suggest that we did not run stories is absolute nonsense. In fact when the New York Times beat us [by detailing the DUI records of some family members, assistant managing editor] Mark Seibel sent a note to the entire staff saying there should be remedial training on checking such information.

I am looking at an e-mail message right now ... from a guy saying he is going to cancel his subscription because our coverage has been so anti-Cuban. He describes us as a group of leftist rednecks and xenophobic haters in the newsroom. I get e-mail on the other side, too. The idea that the paper is trying to go soft on anyone is just ridiculous.

This article points out that the news coverage contradicts the editorials.... Give me a break.

What do you say to the claim that other papers like theLos Angeles Times, where you held senior editorial jobs, responded more appropriately to explosive situations?

I know about L.A.; I was there at the time [of Rodney King]. There was plenty of criticism of the Los Angeles Times. Were there enough black reporters to cover it? I don't think there is any difference between the way this paper covered the story and the way the Times covered the story.

Did pro-Elian sentiment, internal or external, intimidate the staff?

I don't think anyone intimidated anyone. If anyone can point to a story that was held out of the paper because of editors trying to sense anything in the community [or among the reporters], I have yet to hear about it.... Yeah, there was a debate in the newsroom. And guess who published a story on that debate? Guess who published the quotes from [Frances Robles] on this? We published criticism from staffers who were concerned about that criticism. This is not a revelation. We reported it before anyone else did. Debate within the newsroom is welcome. If a group of people are concerned, if they want to talk to me or the publisher, they are free to do so.

What about the "hit list " of anti-Elian staffers authored by an El Nuevo Herald reporter? That note came from someone from another newspaper. Someone took it out of the computer system because it was offensive. Someone puts a vile note in the system, I think it should be removed.

And what of publisher Alberto Ibargüen 's hosting of the conference call with Attorney General Janet Reno?

The publisher wasn't involved in the negotiation. What happened is that one of the negotiators was in his office and returned a call. That is about the extent of it. Any suggestion he was involved in the negotiations is plain inaccurate.

 
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