In our continuing efforts to provide readers with stories they're not likely to find in other local media, we introduce this new feature, devoted exclusively to the affairs of the Miami Herald and its corporate parent, Knight-Ridder, Inc. (KRI). The irony is palpable: The biggest, most influential news organization in South Florida -- the paper of record -- avoids writing about itself and remains shrouded in mystery.
Now and then over the years, New Times has seen fit to lift the veil and cast some light on events emanating from within the walls of the KRI compound. And we certainly will continue to do so. But too often we've had to forgo publishing some items because we lacked an appropriate format. That problem is now solved.
In solving it, though, we've created another: jeopardizing the job security of our Herald sources. It's not enough to simply guarantee their anonymity, although we will. We also suspect they may face retribution should they be associated with New Times in any way. For that reason "1 Herald Plaza" will appear without the bylines of New Times writers who contribute to it. An acceptable tradeoff for what we hope will be an illuminating peek inside the Beacon by the Bay.
This column will appear irregularly, as material warrants. Such as:
This anonymous note, sent to us not long ago on Miami Herald stationery: "Those of us who work at the Herald find it ironic that Dave Lawrence should receive a diversity award [from the National Association of Minority Media Executives], especially since we have had a drain of minority journalists in the past six months. Those leaving: Ralph de la Cruz, Nancy San Martin, Jay Ducassi, Ed Lopez, Derek Reveron, Marjorie Valbrun, Eleanor Ransburg, Sharony Andrews, Dan Holly, Rick Christie, and Kim Crockett....The Herald may talk a good game about diversity, but it sure doesn't play by its own rules."
The notable modesty of reporters Dexter Filkins and Joseph Tanfani. Their article headlined "Rumored Plot to Dump Avino Fails" led the July 30 "Local" section. Buried near the end of the story was this: "When rumors about a Thursday coup began circulating late Wednesday, reporters for The Miami Herald began calling commissioners. During the next day's meeting, some commissioners accused The Herald of fueling the speculation." Here's what the commissioners actually had to say after their vote of confidence in County Manager Avino:
Maurice Ferre turned to Larry Hawkins. "I'd like to ask exactly when it was that Dexter Filkins talked to you and told you that rumor," Ferre said.
"Approximately 11:00 p.m. last night," Hawkins replied.
"All right. Well, I'm going to tell you something and I'm sure Dexter is listening somewhere around here," Ferre continued, motioning toward the press box to the side of the commission dais. "At 9:30 last night Dexter Filkins called me and he said, 'I understand there is a rumor that the manager is going to be fired and you are linked to it.' And I said to him, 'Dexter, I know nothing about it, I have nothing to do with it. I have no intention of voting for the firing of the manager. I don't know what you are talking about. It's a rumor and nothing more than a rumor, and I have told the manager that. Because he asked me that three weeks ago, because this rumor has been floating around for a long time. And the manager knows exactly how I feel. And I have no involvement or intentions to do that.' I cannot believe," Ferre went on, his voice rising in anger, "that Dexter Filkins, a professional newspaper person from the Miami Herald, after hearing that statement, would use my name in telling you that I was part of that conspiracy or cabal or whatever you would want to call it."
"Well, I'm going to just put it on the table," interjected commission chairman Art Teele. "At 9:30 at the Culmer Center, after speaking to Dexter for 30 minutes in the car at 7:00, Mr. Fantani [sic] came over to the Culmer Center in Overtown. I spent a half an hour telling him not only was it not true, it was a damnable lie. I told him not only was it a damnable lie, but I resented the fact that the reference was that the four black commissioners -- that's the way it was presented to me, and that's the way it was going through Cuban radio -- and I understand the way these subtle messages get hidden.
They didn't call Commissioner Moss's name or Commissioner Burke's name or Commissioner Ferguson's name; they said 'the four black commissioners.'... And that's what upsets me so much. It is not so much the rumor, but it is the racial implications of the way this rumor was germinated."
The red-hot buzz around the newsroom recently that a married Herald executive allegedly had become romantically involved with a reporter, and that a number of other reporters (several of whom called us) were incensed because, in their opinion, such relations are banned by the paper's rules regarding sexual harassment. The executive, they felt, was flouting those rules.
Herald political editor Tom Fiedler's startling announcement to a group of students and professors at a UM seminar on journalism ethics: Tropic magazine, Fiedler told the group while holding up a copy of the June 27 issue, had breached accepted standards of ethics by altering the cover photograph, which showed anti-homosexual activist Ralf Storrs posing in a church as a preacher. Fiedler railed that the man wasn't a preacher and the photo hadn't been taken in a church. In other words, the image had been electronically manipulated to smear Mr. Storrs. The assembled ethics students were aghast. And Fiedler was dead wrong. The photo was taken in a church, and Storrs had no problem with it. In fact, when we contacted him, Storrs was highly complimentary of the photographer's professionalism.
You Read It Here Second
As a public-service feature of this column, we will occasionally acknowledge those hard-working reporters and editors at the Herald who exhibit the good sense to pick up stories first published in New Times and have the chutzpah to pretend they discovered them on their own. Such as:
New Times headline: "The Idea and the Bureaucrats" (about efforts to ship hurricane-downed trees to Haiti). Publication date: October 28, 1992. Herald headline: "Fallen Trees May Be Shipped to Haiti." Publication date: November 9, 1992. Elapsed time: 11 days.
New Times headline: "HIV in the First Degree" (about the State Attorney's Office bringing unprecedented attempted-murder charges against an HIV-infected man accused of rape). Publication date: December 9, 1992. Herald headline: "Rape Trial Considers Lethal Use of AIDS." Publication date: July 6, 1993. Elapsed time: 209 days.
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New Times headline: "Sewergate" (about Dade's crumbling sewer system and the threat of environmental catastrophe posed by the system's cross-bay pipeline). Publication date: March 31, 1993. Herald headline: "When the # * Hits the Fan." Publication date: April 25, 1993. Elapsed time: 25 days.
New Times headline: "No Deposit, Big Return" (about freelance parking-meter entrepreneurs whose activity in downtown Miami has cost the city thousands of dollars). Publication date: May 19, 1993. Herald headline: "Panhandlers Park in City Lots." Publication date: August 11, 1993. Elapsed time: 84 days.
New Times headline: "The House That Curtiss Built" (about threatened demolition of the historic Glenn Curtiss mansion in Miami Springs). Publication date: July 21, 1993. Herald headline: "Landmark Faces Risk of Demolition." Publication date: August 8, 1993. Elapsed time: 18 days.
"1 Herald Plaza" is now open for business and is accepting all tips, rumors, internal memos, confidential documents, et cetera. Anonymity guaranteed! Call the editors or a staff writer at 372-0004. Fax: 372-3446.