Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Truth About Fiedler's Chihuahua comments

The last 36 hours in Miami have been dominated by talk about Miami Herald Exective Editor Tom Fiedler's answer to a question at a meeting with reporters.

An excerpt from an article in yesterday's Herald:

In staff meetings Tuesday, Miami Herald reporters asked whether the paper was caving to critics. Editor Tom Fiedler dismissed that notion, saying the ''22 people who listen to Cuban radio'' were being stirred up by ''little chihuahuas nipping at our heels.''
Here's my take on the comments. If we analyze the question and the context in which it was asked we see that Fiedler's response was wrong-headed but not for the reason most people think.

Mr. Fiedler wanted to convey the idea that the Herald had not been influenced by community pressure to bring the 3 dismissed journalists back. Remember these journalists were dismissed for supposedly violating the Herald's ethics code. Fiedler wanted to tell his staff that the reason the 3 were given "amnesty" was because they were correcting a mistake they had made in not properly investigating the circumstances surrounding the freelance assignments with government-funded Radio/TV Martí and in properly communicating the company's policies about such assignments.

But instead of simply saying that, Mr. Fiedler took the opportunity to lash out at his critics on Spanish talk radio. Let's be clear about this, he did not say that Cubans are Chihuahuas. Anyone that says he said that is lying. But he did refer to those talk radio personalities as Chihuahuas.

Here's why the remarks were wrong-headed. Tom Fiedler should know by now that there's a lot more than 22 people that listen to Cuban talk radio in Miami. Fiedler says he was using hyperbole but effective hyperbole is based in truth. There are certainly radio stations in Miami that one could say have 22 listeners because they have very small audiences that hardly appear in the ratings as anything but hashmarks. But the truth is that the station Fiedler claims he was specifically referring to (WAQI, Radio Mambi) is the highest rated talk station in the market (English or Spanish).

Fiedler grossly underestimates the influence of the station and its personalities. Radio Mambi has been near the center of the Martí Moonlighters controversy because one of its hosts Ninoska Perez Castellon was mentioned in the Oscar Corral Sept. 8th article that resulted in the dismissals of not only the 3 Herald employees but also of a TV sportscaster named Omar Claro. Perez Castellon has maintained all along that the Herald has a right to do what it wants with its own employees but they can't project their code of ethics on other journalists that don't work for them. She claims that in doing so the newspaper unfairly smeared her and others.

I don't know what Tom Fiedler expected. Did he think that Perez Castellon et al would simply take the attacks on their integrity lying down. The fact is that the Herald created this mess when it published a sloppy and incomplete story with an inflammatory headline and equally inflammatory copywriting.

Mr. Fiedler claims that he was bothered by the accusations made on Radio Mambi that The Herald was in league with Cuba's Castro regime. But the fact remains that Cuban state television reported the essence of the Herald's Sept. 8th story a week before it was published. It's only reasonable to think this happened because either The Herald got its idea for the story from someone in the Cuban government (unlikely because it's been widely reported that the Chicago Tribune was working on the story as well and that's why The Herald rushed to publish its version) or someone in the Herald leaked the story to the Cuban government. Neither scenario is a pleasant one for the Herald. The questions Radio Mambi raised are legitimate and deserve answers. Answers that Feidler hasn't been forthcoming with.

Back to Fiedler's Chihuahua comment. His comment is demeaning in the sense that he portrays Cuban-Americans as people that are easily and irrationally swayed and propelled into loud demonstations. This is a condescending attitude that I doubt Fiedler would express so easily about any other ethnic group in our community. I mean imagine him saying:
"22 people who listen to Black radio are being stirred up by junkyard dogs nipping at our heels.''
You can't imagine it. But he can say that about Cubans because it's become en vogue to savage Cuban-Americans in the media. The Herald has several columnists whose only job seems to be exactly that. The fact is that The Herald was trying to turn the page and hopefully rebuild trust with the Cuban-American community after its disastrous reporting on the Martí Moonlighters when Fiedler stuck his foot in his mouth. I don't see how Fiedler can continue to credibly do his job when a large segment of his audience thinks he is a bigot.

For the record, Fiedler's comments are the second occasion in as many weeks that a Herald employee has used a canine reference to describe at least part of the Cuban-American community.

Perhaps as Guillermo Benitez told Fiedler on Spanish radio yesterday, instead of Chihuahuas nipping at his heels he has poked a Great Dane in the eye.


Val Prieto said...

I disagree, Henry. While his remark may have been directed straight at Radio Mambi, by proxy, it reflects upon Mambi listeners and supporters. And while I may not always agree with Ninoska and Mambi, the work they do is important.

Henry "Conductor" Gomez said...

Val I don't think we disagree at all. If you read the pertinent parts of my post again you will see that that's exactly what I am saying.

Alex said...

The 22 people was wrong. Mentioning Ninoska on Corrals' article was wrong. But is it that a large segment of Herald readers thinks Fiedler is a bigot, or that a large segment of Radio Mambí listeners are being made to think he's a bigot? And that the Herald is antiCuban, the "monster on the bay" et, etc. It's not like Radio Mambí is extremely objective and fair in their coverage of the Herald either. One thing is to say someone inside the Herald may have leaked info, quite another is to say the Herald is doing Havana's bidding.

On the other hand you have the other large segment of Herald readers who think he was absolutely right and he should have said worse to "those Cubans"

Listening to any extreme won't do Fiedler any good. BTW I'm not a big fan of him either. I want him to resign because the editorial policy is a joke, the Marti thing was botched and even because he didn't pursue the Foley story. But not over the chihuahua comment.

Henry "Conductor" Gomez said...

Radio Mambi's function is not to be objective and fair and the Herald claims its function is. And whether he's a bigot or not his remark was dismissive and stupid. This episode about the Marti Moonlighters is only the latest episode in a litany of episodes where the Herald botched it to the detriment of the Cuban community.

If you have a problem with the editorial policies of the Herald then you have a problem with Joe Oglesby because he's the editor in charge of the opinions.

Val Prieto said...

What stick in my craw the most is that the Herald and its high and mighty ethics bullshit hold everyone and everyting up for scrutiny, but scrutinize them, ask them for an explanation on anything and immediately youre labeled as some kind of extremist or whatnot.

The freaken question still stands: How did elemnts of the Cuban governmnet know about the Marti Moonlighters story beforehand?

Alex said...

OK, the editor's policy: what gets pursued and what not, from what angle, etc. For example, the PAC articles may as well be advertorials. Critics of how much money was spent are called "naysayers" in the paper. And that's only one issue.

Why is Mambí exempt from the common's audience expectation that media should be fair? And if they are, would it be Ok to label it propaganda?

Henry "Conductor" Gomez said...

I don't have a problem with your problems vis-a-vis the Herald's editorial policies I was simply stating that in my work on Herald Watch I've learned the division of labor between Fiedler and Oglesby. If the problem is with a news article you need to talk with Fiedler if it's a column or letter you need to talk with Oglesby.

As far as audience expectations of fairness I think that's very subjective. Radio Mambi is a talk radio station not a newspaper so the standard has to be different. Remember "the opinions expressed by the hosts, guests and callers are necessarily those of the station, it's staff, management or advertisers."

The Herald is a news gathering organization and is also a monopoly in the newspaper business in SoFla. Their responsibility to be fair and balanced is much greater.

Besides name one instance where Mambi has been "unfair" to the Herald.

heraldphobe said...

As far as I can tell from their website, as of 10/7 the Miami Herald has only published a single letter to the editor concerning the Chihuahua comment. El Nuevo Herald has published around 20. Draw your own conclusions.

heraldphobe said...

Let's play Angel's Advocate. Let's say that Fiedler's Chihuahua crack, while undeniably a very stupid thing for him to say, was otherwise innocent. Let's say his published apology was truthful and that he really meant no harm by his canine comment. End of problem, right?

Well, not quite. There's still the part about "the 22 people who listen to Cuban radio." Let's say Fiedler was only referring to the one station that employs the Chihuahuas (Oops, sorry!), Radio Mambí/WAQI, and not to all of Cuban radio. According to the Arbitron ratings, as pointed out by Daniel Shoer Roth on 10/5 in El Nuevo Herald, that single Cuban station has more listeners than NewsRadio WIOD, the highest-rated English-language station. For you data junkies, as per the Arbitron figures for spring of 2006, for the 6 AM to 10 AM period on weekdays (the most important one on the dial), Radio Mambí had 119,800 listeners and NewsRadio had 114,900 (another Cuban station, WQBA, had 106,400).

What is wrong with this picture? Well, even angels can be skeptical. One explanation is that Fiedler really didn't know what he was talking about regarding the radio audience, that he was ignorant about something he, of all people, should be familiar with, and that he was (innocently, we hope) making something up to bolster his position. Unfortunately, as the Devil's Advocate keeps screaming at the top of his lungs (he's such a pest), there's another possible explanation. I'll let the sulfur-smelling one himself explain, since angels really shouldn't say nasty things.

OK, sucker. Man, aren't you embarrassed to go around with that halo thing? Anyway, here's MY take. Let's say Fiedler knew he was lying about the Cuban radio audience. OK, OK, don't freak out, you little pansy; let's say he knew he was misrepresenting the facts. That could mean that, as far as he's concerned, those 120,000 people who listen to Radio Mambí are so unimportant or insignificant or inferior that they might as well be just 22 people. Now don't cry, wing boy; I may smell bad, but I'm nobody's fool.