Letters from the Issue of July 4, 2002
Why beat up on Liz Balmaseda? After reading the piece "Buying Time" by Rebecca Wakefield in the issue of June 27, I feel compelled to write. First I think Jim DeFede's addition to the Herald is as good a move as they've made in a long time. I hope they give him the freedom you did at New Times.
More importantly, I am writing about Liz Balmaseda's move at the Herald. Balmaseda is the one person there who brings the life of the dispossessed and the marginalized, the often immigrant lives that are rarely described with the dignity they deserve, to us as readers. Those lives are not told as "sappy heartstring melodramas," but rather with the understanding of the difficulties of human life, especially as an outsider in modern-day America, that she regularly captures in her columns. Frankly Balmaseda reminds me of how easily we all, including myself, fall into the trap created by the false values we confront daily, forgetting the very human values we must have if we are to continue. And if Balmaseda says she's content with her move, I believe her.
Her honesty and courage is why I asked her to join me at an ACLU function in December, because as an advocate for freedom of expression I felt her courageous and compassionate voice exemplified what I was fighting for. I will not forget when she took on the terrorists (a term that is now too loosely thrown around) in Miami when others did not -- something she did before New Times even existed here, and something that New Times has done exceptionally well after her trailblazing. The fact that the Herald will apparently no longer have a regular Hispanic columnist on the local news page will also deprive us of an invaluable perspective. While Balmaseda is a friend (which has allowed me to criticize her directly when I believe, as a reader, she is wrong), more importantly she is a treasure as a journalist in this community, someone who should remind us of the values and standards we too often forget. Saludos.
John de Leon
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Why beat up on me? Rebecca Wakefield in "Buying Time" reports accurately that I was seeking to branch out from my role as local columnist for the Herald. She reports accurately that Herald executive editor Tom Fiedler responded with a proposal I accepted. Yet Ms. Wakefield writes that the Herald "in effect" demoted me, and that I was "busted back to reporter ranks." Remarkably she never asked me, nor ever attempted to answer, the obvious question: "So, Robert, why did you request a demotion?" After nearly nineteen years in this business, I think I can tell the difference between a rare and exciting opportunity and a kick to the curb.
The king is dead -- long live the queen: Jim DeFede has left Miami's alternative newspaper to write a book and go establishment at the Miami Herald. We mourn his departure. But only for a little while. He is survived by Rebecca Wakefield, a writer who can dig up as much dirt as DeFede and ably spread it among this newspaper's pages.
Will DeFede survive in this establishment miasma? Time will tell. So will Alberto Ibargüen, the Herald's publisher. Just as many of us have mourned the passing of Tom Dubocq and other Herald greats who have left for greener pastures, so will we mourn DeFede's passing. As he wades through the muck of Miami-Dade County government, will Ibargüen allow him to write of the dirt he finds, or will he insist that DeFede find some greenery among the mire? Where else but in the Miami Herald do we find the publisher sitting down with Miami's own version of the Flying Nun, Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin, and making the news instead of reporting it? Yes, DeFede is going to have a grand old time in Herald Land.
I was shocked but not upset to see Steinback and other Herald stalwarts banished to the inside pages. This I feel is a just reward for Steinback, who recently moderated a forum where I spoke. I suggested that the legislators in the room and United Teachers of Dade boss Pat Tornillo comment on my proposal to amend legislation that would, I believe, save Florida's school districts much money and keep the most experienced teachers. All Steinback could say when no one said a word was "thank you," and with no comment of his own. Hello Jim! Bye bye Bobby!
Wakefield has already proven that she is able to plumb the depths of government at all levels in Miami-Dade, exposing the crap that be -- though we will miss DeFede, we still have Rebecca.
Alan W. Rigerman
Palm Springs North
The whole lot of you needs a refresher course: The article about Steinback, Balmaseda, and DeFede underscores the need to bring in fresh talent who can be objective. At the Miami Herald Edna Buchanan was renowned for her perspective, but the one thing she did, aside from trampling over other reporters at crime scenes (sorry Edna), was to keep it real -- real gory, but real. Today we've lost objectivity from our fourth estate.
Cases in point: Liz Balmaseda gets involved (directly) in the Elian prayer vigil. It is important to get a gut-level perspective, which earned Ms. Balmaseda bragging rights to the Pulitzer award in 1993, but, as they say in the biz, "What have you done in the last decade?" Perhaps less sap and more reality would earn her more recognition?
Case number two is our own "Geraldo Rivera of the school system" -- Jilda Unruh. Poor Ms. Unruh was so busy chasing "the story" where there was none that she brought a fifteen-million-dollar lawsuit down upon her, and WPLG-TV (Channel 10), for violating the sanctity of a hospital room because the man who was the target of her investigation was awaiting a cardiac procedure and couldn't find sanctuary from the stress that she brought with her. What did she get from the interview? Zero. What did she uncover after the 30-day restraining order that he brought against her was over? Zero.
Whether you are a Boston Globe reporter who plagiarized the hell out of a story or a local Miami reporter, you are still charged with one thing, and one thing only: Report the truth without parsing words or trying to destroy a person's life with innuendo. In the end reporters reap what they sow, be it a "reorganization" of the newspaper staff, or a huge lawsuit for trying to be the self-appointed inspector of the school system.
Truth, dear readers, is one of the things that is more obscured than ever as the "reporters" insinuate guilt where there is none and try to draw ratings and attention to further their own ends. Perhaps all mentioned should take a lesson from Carl Hiaasen and consider a sabbatical for a fresh perspective. Lord knows they, and the readership, could use it.
Name withheld by request
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