WLRN Radio: Joe Cooper's Cuban Disaster and Recent Firings Damage the Herald, Radio Station

WLRN Radio, the area's largest and best public radio station, on Wednesday publicly spanked longtime radio talk-show host Joseph Cooper.

An open letter to the community from station general manager John Labonia states, "We want to apologize to our South Florida listeners for the decision made this week by Joseph Cooper, the host of WLRN's Topical Currents show, to cancel an interview with the author of a controversial new book on the so-called Cuban Five, the Cuban spies who were convicted of espionage charges here in 2001."

This follows the firing in July of news director Dan Grech and anchor Phil Latzman. Perhaps worse, the latest public shaming happened during a fundraising drive.

See also: WLRN Cans Anchor Phil Latzman and News Director Dan Grech

The public chastisement of Cooper is rare. He has worked in radio for more than four decades, according to his station bio, and has been at WLRN for years.

LaBonia's public rejection of one of his best-known personalities relates to a decision -- apparently Cooper's -- to uninvite an author who has written a book about the Cuban Five, a group of alleged spies who have been long imprisoned. (One was recently released. The others are still behind bars.) Cooper told El Nuevo Herald that What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five was "incendiary" and canceled an interview with author Stephen Kimber scheduled for Tuesday.

But LaBonia took him to the cleaners: "Mr. Cooper's decision, in fact, was made without our knowledge, and it in no way reflects -- in fact, it blatantly contradicts -- who we are and what we do as South Florida's source for public radio news and discussion."

Ouch. (For blogger Bill Cooke's read on the "apology" click here:

Following the two high-profile firings, the public repudiation bodes ill for the reputation of WLRN, which is owned by the Miami-Dade School Board and partnered with the Miami Herald. The significant instability and repeated bad decisions have tarnished the reputation of a station that has won a passel of state and regional awards.

Because of the station's partnership with the Herald, it also puts the newspaper in an uncomfortable situation. El Nuevo Herald reporter Juan Tamayo, one of the community's best reporters (and a friend of mine), broke the story of Cooper's disinvitation -- yet folks from his newsroom constantly appear on the station.

Let's hope WLRN gets it together.

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Chuck Strouse is the former editor in chief of Miami New Times. He has shared two Pulitzer Prizes and won dozens of other awards. He is an honors graduate of Brown University and has worked at newspapers including the Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times.
Contact: Chuck Strouse