Days after one of its sports columnists defended the three-fifths compromise and criticized protesters of racial injustice, the Miami Herald continues to engage in damage control with what some consider to be lackluster apologies and appeals to free speech. Yesterday, after the paper's management censored a portion of a fellow columnist's podcast in which he addressed the controversy, the Herald attracted even more condemnation and claims of hypocrisy, leading some newsroom employees to criticize their bosses and ask for more racial sensitivity.
The uproar began last Thursday, when Herald sportswriter Armando Salguero took to Twitter to complain about athletes protesting against racial injustice, calling them "America bashing" people and pointedly criticizing Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who had said in a video message that the U.S. was founded on racist ideas.
Salguero also posted a link to a video that espoused the counterfactual notion that the three-fifths compromise — a constitutional provision that counted enslaved people as only three-fifths of a white person — was in fact "anti-slavery."
Miami Herald publisher and executive editor Mindy Marques told New Times that while Salguero's comments did not reflect the views of the Herald, he has latitude to express his opinions because he's a columnist and the Herald defends the right to free expression.
After the debacle unfolded, Greg Cote, himself a Herald sportswriter, recorded an episode for his Herald podcast that included commentary about the situation. But before the episode was released Monday morning, those six minutes of the show were cut out by the paper's management.
"They just quashed the part of the podcast that included the controversy," Cote tells New Times. He explains that he devoted pod-time to the matter because he felt it was newsworthy. "I thought it was important not only because it's a big issue in the Herald, but it mirrored what we're going through in our nation."
Yesterday, Cote tweeted that the Herald had chosen "censorship over transparency" on the subject.
New Episode 26 is out now. What's left of it. I spent 6 minutes on the controversy over colleague @ArmandoSalguero's tweet & the tempest it has caused. But you won't hear it. Because on this my company, the @MiamiHerald, chose censorship over transparency. https://t.co/hXI7aQ7zXa— gregcote (@gregcote) August 31, 2020
Cote says he was told by upper management that it was a sensitive topic and they didn't want to fan the flames. He says this was the first time in 26 episodes that any content has been excised.
He has asked the Herald to allow him to air the six minutes during the next episode.
One Herald Guild, the union that represents Herald journalists, responded to Cote's tweet and condemned the paper's actions, saying that the act of censorship would stifle meaningful conversation about race in the newsroom.
By censoring this podcast episode, Miami Herald management is deliberately thwarting productive conversations about how we build an anti-racist workplace.— One Herald Guild ???? (@OneHeraldGuild) August 31, 2020
Others on Twitter pointed out that the Herald has held writers to inconsistent standards when it comes to social media.
This past April, columnist Fabiola Santiago tweeted that packed beaches during the pandemic might do well to "thin the ranks" of supporters of President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez, all of whom are Republicans.
Hours later, Marques issued a statement condemning Santiago's words and saying she'd crossed a line.
"While columnists, unlike reporters, have broad latitude to express their opinions, the comments by [Santiago] earlier today crossed the line of acceptable commentary and does not reflect the views of the Miami Herald. We apologize and will follow up internally," Marques wrote at the time.
Miami documentary filmmaker Billy Corben noted that the Herald's response to Salguero's Twitter eruption was markedly different.
"[E]arlier this year @fabiolasantiago was forced to delete a tweet and @MindyMarques apologized, saying she 'crossed the line.' @MiamiHerald has different standards for a female columnist offending Republicans than a male columnist offending everyone else?" Corben tweeted.
Speaking of hypocrisy: earlier this year @fabiolasantiago was forced to delete a tweet and @MindyMarques apologized, saying she "crossed the line." @MiamiHerald has different standards for a female columnist offending Republicans than a male columnist offending everyone else? pic.twitter.com/tpNmvTDesq— Billy Corben (@BillyCorben) August 29, 2020
New Times has reached out to Marques with follow-up questions regarding Cote's podcast and the difference in response to Santiago's and Salguero's comments and will update this story if she responds.
Marques' statement defending Salguero's comments as "free expression" on Friday set off a flurry of tweets from other Herald reporters, as well as members of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ).
Isaiah Smalls, who covers Miami's Black community for the Herald, tweeted that he felt ashamed to work at the paper in light of the response from management.
"If we can't condemn racism within our own ranks, how can the public expect us to do so in the communities in which we cover?" Smalls wrote. He added that as a descendant of slaves, he feels it is his job to criticize decisions that perpetuate the subjugation of marginalized groups.
I’ve never felt more ashamed to work for the Herald as I am today. If we can’t condemn racism within our own ranks, how can the public expect us to do so in the communities in which we cover? I’m hurt, angry and disgusted by my colleague’s words.— isaiah (@stclaudeii) August 29, 2020
"Denial and racist spinning of facts cannot be tolerated at the Miami Herald by using the shield of 'it's his opinion,'" wrote Robertson. "Since when are columnists free to spew hateful untruths?"
NABJ president Dorothy Tucker condemned Salguero's words and expressed concern for the paper's Black writers.
"I am concerned a columnist who feels it's ok to insult the Black community may work in a newsroom where Black people are not valued and Black journalists are not respected. Unacceptable," Tucker tweeted on Saturday.
In response to the numerous complaints online and internally, Marques walked back her previous statement and issued a follow-up statement on Saturday night, saying the paper's management had listened to the feedback and intended to address the situation internally.
While columnists have broad latitude to express their opinions, his comments were uninformed, insensitive and deeply troubling. For that, we apologize. We expect our columnists to base their opinions on reporting and facts. We are addressing this matter internally.— Mindy Marques (@MindyMarques) August 29, 2020
Salguero then released a statement Sunday night, saying that he does not deny the ongoing racism in the U.S. and that to do so would be "illiterate" and "immoral."
"So if anyone who sincerely interpreted my comments to suggest otherwise, I assure you that is not what I'm about and it was not my intent to cause anyone pain," Salguero wrote. He stopped short of explicitly apologizing for his words.
This isn't the first time Salguero has been asked to issue an apology at the Herald.
In 2013, Marques and Salguero apologized for an insulting comment the sportswriter made in an email exchange with a reader who was a veteran of the Vietnam War.
"Hey Billie, you must be still pissed off you lost in Vietnam. Talk about leaving people behind...I'm sure the South Vietnamese appreciated you sucking as a soldier, failing in your mission and then leaving," Salguero wrote in one email.
Marques issued a statement saying the paper "would deal with the matter as an internal employee issue," and Salguero subsequently apologized for sending "an unprofessional and inappropriate response to a reader."
That was years before Salguero called NFL player Colin Kaepernick a "fraud" and an "unrepentant hypocrite" for the latter's peaceful protests against police violence; Salguero later tweeted that he'd prefer "Satan" to Kaepernick as a quarterback.
Representatives from One Herald Guild tell New Times they are drafting a list of demands to present to Herald management in response to Salguero's comments and the censorship of Cote's podcast.
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