Suits vs. Roots

Did NBC "professionalize" Channel 51's Cuba coverage? Or just weaken it?

After a brief conversation with his assignment editors, Vizcon responds to the charges leveled against 51's management and Don Browne. He vehemently denies that Browne or anyone else at NBC is exerting control over Channel 51's Cuba coverage. "If you look at Channel 51 today compared to six months ago, the news content remains the same," he says, pulling out a blue binder detailing NBC News's editorial policies and procedures. "The only thing that has changed is how we do business, which I think is just much more professional."

For example, Vizcon relates, he can no longer send a reporter on a clandestine mission to report from Cuba. This is because of an NBC News policy stipulating that employees cannot misrepresent themselves while investigating pieces. Prior to NBC's purchase of Telemundo, Channel 51 reporters would visit the island as tourists and return with stories. "Today we can still go to Cuba, but we have to say we're from Channel 51. Of course, the Cuban government [doesn't] let us in, because they don't want us doing negative news."

Another change, Vizcon says, is how Channel 51 handles videos sent to the station from Cuba through anonymous sources. Citing the Raul Castro episode, Vizcon says that such news footage must be reviewed by NBC lawyers for authenticity, copyright, and any other possible legal considerations. That video sat for a few months, Vizcon explains, so reporter Juan Manuel Cao could interview people to authenticate the video. Then, Vizcon says, the station made a decision to hold the report until February, just in time for the ratings sweeps.

Former reporter Jorge Lewis accuses NBC of "corrupt journalism"
Steve Satterwhite
Former reporter Jorge Lewis accuses NBC of "corrupt journalism"

"In the past, we would have aired it immediately, asi a lo loco [all crazy]," Vizcon offers. "Now it's a new ball game. We have to make sure the video is genuine. We have to make sure we are doing responsible journalism, so our audience sees a credible report."

Channel 51, he continues, passed on the home video of Fidel (the one that appeared on 23) because of money. "The guy who came to us wanted $200,000 for it," Vizcon says. "NBC's policy is that we don't pay for news. We are not into checkbook journalism." Asked how the tape made it to rival air, he opines: "I guess they paid for it." Officially Univision denies this, though anonymous sources say the station paid between $75,000 and $175,000.

Continuing the official rebuttal, Vizcon then explains that he'd called Lewis into his office on January 24 to inform him that execs would be reviewing his contract renewal the following week. "It's pretty standard procedure to meet with our employees a month before their contract is up," Vizcon says. "He thought I was going to fire him, which was not the case. I just wanted him to improve his reporting skills and work on his English. Lewis acted very bizarre. He came in here, pulled up all the blinds, and asked to tape-record our conversation. Then he just snapped. He started talking about calling the FBI. I was like: 'What the hell are you talking about?!?'"

That's when Lewis stomped out and made his subsequent appearances on Cuban-American radio. After a series of letters between the reporter and Telemundo's human resources department, his contract was effectively terminated on February 28.

From his home, Lewis vows to continue his fight. "It's been a struggle to denounce them for what they did to me," he says, sounding like a defeated man. "Pero yo sigo con mi historia [But I'm sticking to my story]."

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