Rick ... or Red?

Could Rick Sanchez, Miami's most notorious journalistic windbag, actually be an agent of Fidel Castro?

Cut to footage of a child riding a bicycle and a dog running across the street. Bleed into a closeup of Rick Sanchez's face -- morphing suddenly into the iconic image of Che Guevara. Cue recording of a child wailing in pain.

Herbert (voice-over): Rick Sanchez has strong ties to the communist nation of Cuba. The news anchor was born 41 years ago in Havana, Cuba's capital city and the current home of Fidel Castro. Rick received his first passport when he was less than two years old, moving with his family to the City of Hialeah. After struggling as a student at first, he went on to attend and play football for Hialeah High. Two days after graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1982, he began working at WSVN.

Although he initially thrived at Channel 7, Rick quickly earned himself a second exile. In 1985 wiretaps recorded Rick trading favors with his friend Alberto San Pedro, a self-proclaimed political fixer described by police as "a major corrupter in Hialeah." With his journalistic reputation compromised, Rick fled Miami in shame. At least one source tells us he may have landed at a Houston television station, though the Night Team has not been able to confirm that at this hour. It is not implausible that Rick actually returned to his homeland, perhaps for intensive training.

New Times photo illustration

Returning to Miami two years later with a resolve to make it to the top, Rick emerged as a local news celebrity after WSVN adopted a lucrative "if it bleeds it leads" philosophy. Rick blew up so big in Miami that he easily survived a second scandal, in 1991, when he pleaded no contest to charges of driving while intoxicated after he hit a pedestrian following a Dolphins game. In 1996 Rick signed a five-year, seven-figure contract to stay at WSVN.

Throughout his career Rick has remained obsessed with Cuba and Cuban issues. He won a local Emmy in 1983 for his series "When I Left Cuba." He occasionally refers to his Cuban-born mother on the air. In 1993 the Sun-Sentinel recorded Rick's on-air reaction to a story about uncontested Cuban elections: "If you'll pardon the commentary, what a sham! What an insult to the Cuban people. If it wasn't so sad, it'd kind of be funny."

In hindsight, Rick and Laurie, this rhetoric may very well be a case of overcompensation. Given his background, what seems obvious here is that Rick, or should I say Agent Sanchez, has been plotting for years, making himself into a beloved local icon while patiently waiting for his opportunity to wreak havoc on democracy. Back to you.

Sanchez: Wait a minute, Holly. Wanna go back to something at the beginning of your report. Did you say I was born in Cuba?

Herbert: Yes.

Sanchez: And you said my mother is Cuban, and that I sometimes talk about her on the air?

Herbert: Correct, Rick.

Sanchez (looks at Jennings, shakes his head): It's indisputable that the majority of living persons born in Cuba pledge fidelity to a communist government. In fact I think everyone agrees most spies for Cuba have at some point in their lives actually lived in Cuba. Knowing this, isn't it reasonable to conclude I am one of Castro's minions?

Herbert: That's exactly the point, Rick.

Sanchez: Gotta ask this one straight out: Have you been able to determine if I am now or ever have been a member of the Communist Party?

Herbert: Not at this time, Rick, but we're working on it. From what sources who dislike you tell us, I wouldn't be surprised at all.

Sanchez taps his desk with a pencil. He furiously shuffles some paper. The camera zooms in on Jennings. A graphic of a pounding gavel appears over her shoulder.

Jennings: Thank you, Holly, for that report. Here to help us make sense of all of this is Seven's legal advisor, Howard Finkelstein. Actually sitting in for Howard tonight is Sun-Sentinel media critic Tom Jicha. A warning to viewers in advance: Jicha does not have a ponytail. Tom, good to have you with us.

Jicha: Good to be here, Laurie.

Jennings: Tom, even before the INS raid, you wrote in your column that "WSVN-Ch. 7 didn't even fight the good fight. Rick Sanchez, who weeks ago abandoned any pretense of being a reporter to become an advocate for the Miami Gonzalez family, was particularly unprofessional."

Jicha: He definitely was. He just abandoned any pretense for neutrality. He was fair and impartial only if you defined his viewers as that small segment of people who were protesting in Little Havana. He allowed people to go on the air and say anything they wanted unchallenged. Rick just walked in lock step with Elian's spokespeople.

Jennings: Did he offer any explanation? I mean, he didn't just come right out and tell you he was one of Castro's operatives, did he?

Jicha: He told me 60 percent of his audience is Cuban. His ratings are excellent. That was his defense of why he did what he did. If that's what you want, well fine. But Rick Sanchez is not a journalist. He's an entertainer, as most people on TV are. Just don't even claim to be objective, as Rick will do. Just come off for what you are. If you want to be a cheerleader for that group, then fine.

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