By Michael E. Miller
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All things considered Castañeda professes to be pleased with El Nuevo. He is running a business, and the results adhere to the bottom line. "People can say whatever they want to say, but for me the thermometer is the circulation figures," says the smiling 68-year-old newspaperman.
And he fears no challenge from efforts to cover the diversity of South Florida's Hispanics. "It is trying to exploit the ghetto, and [they] don't buy newspapers," he notes disparagingly. "That's for those free papers you have around for the communities."
Francisco Aruca studies El Nuevo like the Chinese would scrutinize wall graffiti for insight into their leaders' decisions. To Aruca El Nuevo forms part of a vast right-wing conspiracy he calls "the evil industry." Its dominant ethos is to capitalize on anti-Castroism, both politically and economically. Under this theory El Nuevo's coverage is shaped by members of a powerful cabal whose membership includes local politicians; the publisher of the two Heralds, Alberto Ibargüen; and the Cuban American National Foundation among others. (Not to be outdone, Aruca's antagonists brand the loquacious radio host a communist because a travel company he owns benefits economically from relations with the Cuban government.)
Past and present employees of El Nuevo laugh at Aruca's conspiracy theory. The reality is much more complex, they argue. For example many of the reporters at El Nuevo, particularly those who write about Cuba, are exiles from the island. They write from their own obvious perspective, and they protect their own. "The bias is not institutionalized," insists one non-Cuban El Nuevo reporter. "It's their bias."
A certain slant might be good business sense. El Nuevo's most loyal readers are Cuban exiles. Maria Travierso, a Costa Rican former El Nuevo reporter who now directs El Diario's newsrooms, adds: "There isn't a diabolic plot. It's just about money."
Nonetheless Aruca has amassed a body of evidence that he reads over the air to support his theory. "They are making fun of you," he tells his listeners as he narrates. "They are treating you as second-rate citizens and readers." He relates a couple of recent examples.
This past June 12, the Miami Herald ran a page-one story titled, "Two Defectors Among Cuba's Doctor Envoys in Third World." The article attempted to give context to an event much discussed in Miami: the defection of two Cuban doctors working in Zimbabwe. (When the doctors finally made it to Miami, Mayor Joe Carollo held a free public banquet with full bar for them on the terrace of city hall.) The story, by Chris Gaither, was notable for its balance. In stark terms it discussed the desperate need Cuba helps fill for doctors in Africa. At the same time, the author showed that Cuba sends its doctors not solely out of altruism but because the island needs the hard currency they produce. Moreover special perks for the Cuban doctors have at times created tensions in the countries where they work.
A much shorter translated version of the story appeared in El Nuevo, also on page one. Aruca notes that if the article had been edited solely for length, staff simply could have cut from the bottom. Instead the editor deleted selective paragraphs that changed the balance of the story. In essence most of the quotations favorable to the Cuban doctors were axed. Among the quotations omitted were sentences such as, "Into the void stepped the Cubans, whose work Sanders calls valiant and indispensable...." Aruca is outraged. "What they leave out is precisely the thing that would make people think," he opines.
It is on topics such as the embargo or anti-Castro activities that Aruca believes the paper publishes the most bias. Such was the case on May 14, 2000, in a front-page story titled, "Cuba Embargo May Be Eased." The article by Ana Radelat reports on a trend that has many Cuban exiles fuming: alliances by U.S. politicians and business interests to lift the embargo.
Among the excised quotations that appeared in the Miami Herald but not in the El Nuevo translation was one from Rep. Charles Stenholm (D-Tex), in which the well-known conservative says about the embargo: "We're hurting the Cuban people and American producers." Closer to home was a deleted paragraph that had stated in the English version: "Moreover the staunchest defenders of the long-standing U.S. Embargo against Cuba have been battered by their fight over Elian Gonzalez, which has elicited little support among both the general public and Capitol Hill lawmakers."
Aruca points out the bias he finds is not limited solely to translations. It also affects how stories are covered. Case in point is a recent study on Cuban exile views released by Florida International University.
El Nuevo began its significantly shorter story by noting that the poll indicated Cuban exiles would vote for George W. Bush for president and would approve an invasion of the island because they don't see change coming to Cuba anytime soon. The Miami Herald story was spun differently, its introduction focused solely on the news that Cuban exiles are giving up hope that change will come to the island anytime soon. The survey detected a loosening of exile views regarding the sale of medicine to Cuba. This point was missing in the El Nuevo story. The English version of the story included more details of the survey and greater analysis than the truncated Spanish-language article. The Herald also included a paragraph that would never appear in El Nuevo. Author Ana Acle wrote: "Local Cubans acknowledged the embargo was not working but, in an apparent contradiction, overwhelmingly favored tightening it anyway."