Frank Talk About Free Speech

Attorney Victor Diaz chats up the ACLU's Howard Simon

MULLIN: It is a political issue, Victor. It began as a political issue on the county commission. This is a child of politics.

DIAZ: Two wrongs don't make a right. It was injected into the arena as a political issue and it could be taken out of the arena via politics. But Howard has given us a better way.

SIMON: I thank you for that compliment, but I don't think it should be forced from politics, regardless of the history. First of all it's not entirely certain that the court's going to rule the way you and I think. Yogi Berra told me a long time ago: "I don't make predictions, particularly about the future." But if the court rules as you and I both think it's most likely to rule, that's not the end of it. What that means is the county commission is going to have to rethink its approach to the regime in Havana.

They may have to respond by repealing the ordinance, reshaping the ordinance. They're going to do something. I mean, this commission is not going to be bereft of a response to the regime in Cuba. So I think a discussion out in the community is important.

Let me go back to something else Victor said that I think was very valuable, when he talked about the value of discussions like this. I was taken by your comment that maybe there were people in the community who thought that part of our motivation was an all-out assault on Helms-Burton or the embargo or something like that, and didn't know that we were motivated entirely -- as ACLU always is -- by First Amendment values and censorship and things like that. I think that speaks to a larger issue of how separated this community is.

I've lived in segregated parts of the country -- Detroit, Chicago, and elsewhere -- but this community is so separated. I mean, it's two or three different worlds of people who live in their own segregated areas. They go to eat in their own restaurants, read their own newspapers, listen to their own media. And the fact that some people may have perceived what we're doing as an all-out assault on the embargo and so misunderstand the purpose of the ACLU, really speaks to the fact of what little crosscultural dialogue there is in this community.

DIAZ: I want to totally, 100 percent register my agreement with you. That absolutely is one of the key issues in this community, and one of the key reasons that we are in the situation that we are in with the ethnic and racial tension we have. And one of the key problems that we have to remedy in order to get out of this mess -- is what I call the great disconnect. There is a great disconnect between what's being said at one level and what's being heard and received at another level.

MULLIN: What's the cause of that disconnect?

DIAZ: Number one, we are very geographically segregated in this community in ways that we don't like to admit. Number two, I think that our sources of information are also very much tied to our racial and ethnic identities. I think that in the African-American community there are very strong associations with certain radio stations and with certain newspapers and with the church as a means of educating the community. In the Hispanic community there is again a very strong association with radio stations. And the same thing with the Anglo community. They're all the same except they're different sources they're all listening to. You want to see that disconnect? Perhaps the most striking way is to compare the coverage of any issue in the last six months in El Nuevo Herald versus the coverage in the Miami Herald.

SIMON: It's hard to maintain a community when there isn't a system of shared values. And I don't think there is a system of shared values here. There are separate and distinct communities here. The Elian situation didn't cause it; it uncovered it. And it uncovered something that is very dangerous.

DIAZ: Exactly. And not only dangerous but fundamental. You know, I've been in some meetings, "community conversations," where these civic leaders get together and talk about the issue. To me that kind of feel-good rhetoric is not going to address the real fundamental problems we have in this community. How do you get the readership of the Miami Herald to understand what is going on on WEDR or Radio Mambí? How do you get the point of view of Howard Simon to the people who for whatever reason choose to get 100 percent of their news in Spanish? The New Times can't get that message to them. This conversation is never going to get to those people.

SIMON: Let me give you a very concrete example. I've lived in New York, Chicago, Detroit, and I can't imagine another community in which the multiracial and multiethnic leadership would not have risen up the day Raul Martinez's comments were reported in the Herald and uniformly condemned those comments. What idiotic, racially, ethnically divisive comments those were.

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