Of Murrow and Marti

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

“This is Edward R. Murrow speaking from Vienna. … It’s now nearly 2:30 in the morning and Herr Hitler has not yet arrived. …” Murrow, working for CBS radio in Europe, had just landed in the Austrian capital on a chartered plane from Poland to cover the German army’s entry.

He would go on to London to cover the Battle of Britain from the offices of the venerable state-owned BBC. As Nazi bombs rained down on London, he began ending his broadcasts, “Good night, and good luck.” Indisputably courageous, he brought World War II into the living rooms of millions of Americans.

After the war, he moved to CBS television, bucking his corporate bosses to continue hard-hitting reports on America’s travails through the 1950s. He took his pioneering show, “See it Now,” to another war focusing not on the generals but on the troops for a memorable broadcast “This is Korea, Christmas 1952 …”

Two years later, the program’s report on the bullying tactics of Senator McCarthy, who asserted both the Army and State Department were riddled with communists, led to the Senate’s censure of McCarthy and an end to the “Red Scares.”

Murrow was a journalist of indisputable courage and great love for America and all that it stood for. When Murrow retired from CBS in 1961, he became head of the U.S. Information Agency, overseeing the Voice of America. He died four years later of lung cancer.

Of course, all of this happened before many of today’s powerful American journalists were born, and many seem to know very little about him. Likewise, Murrow would very likely be surprised by today’s journalism practices and its insular focus.

The men and women proudly wearing American uniforms in more than one battlefield around the world would probably identify with Murrow’s worldview, his courage in the midst of war, his troubles with the corporate world, and his government service. But the schism between these blue-collar Americans and America’s elites (including the journalistic elites) is real and deep.

The Voice of America survives, a government-funded broadcast service telling the world about America, respected for the professional standards and balance Murrow established. Radio Free Europe broadcasting to the captive people of Eastern Europe under communist rule proved successful in demonstrating the give and take of democracy. Radio and TV Marti continue the tradition with broadcasts to captive Cubans, offering a worldview they otherwise would not hear, and holding to the same professional and objective standards of balance.

In recent weeks, however, journalists contributing stories and commentary to Radio and TV Marti have been under attack in the Miami Herald, accused of being propagandists and unethical because the stations, as American law requires, have paid them for their services. A front-page headline in the Miami Herald screamed,”10 Miami journalists take U.S. pay,” and the story quoted a former reporter for el Nuevo Herald and a journalism professor, who both said that the journalists had a clear conflict of interest.

The Miami Herald and el Nuevo fired two reporters and severed the contractual relationship with a freelance columnist, stating editors did not know about their moonlighting. On tuesday, in a stunning turn of events, the publisher of the papers, Jesus Diaz Jr., acknowledged he made a mistake, reinstated the reporters, and announced his own resignation. In his public statement, Mr. Diaz said he “discovered that over many years, [the papers] conflict-of-interest policies were poorly communicated and inconsistently applied.”

That suggests Mr. Diaz is a man of integrity, willing to right the wrongs in his own house. The other journalists named in the phony expose, however, work for other publications and broadcast stations and may still be caught in the whirlpool. Among them is internationally syndicated columnist Carlos Montaner, who is based in Madrid and learned only via the Internet that the Miami Herald was accusing him of unethical conduct. The Herald continues to publish his column.

Programs for Radio and TV Marti are produced in Miami and easily accessible on the Internet. Who is broadcasting and what’s being said has never been a secret. At one time, an editor of el Nuevo’s opinion page hosted a Radio Marti commentary show. Both the Herald and el Nuevo, whose readers include thousands of Cuban Americans, frequently write about Radio Marti and its programs.

The freelance columnist whose contract was torn up not only wrote about what she was doing at Radio Marti but also about what she was being paid. Not only was it hard to believe the papers’ management did not know, the real question appeared to be: When did they forget?

The controversy poses other important questions: Who is a “professional” journalist? What constitutes a conflict of interest? Does disclosure “cure” a conflict of interest? When and how often are these disclosures supposed to be made? What ties to a community, democratic ideals, and the truth are allowed of “professional” journalists?

In Cuba, “professional” journalists are those paid by Fidel Castro. Independent journalists smuggling stories out of Cuba for publication in Europe or in America are denounced as paid agents of the American government and jailed. This particular Miami imbroglio became even more complicated after it was learned that Cuba’s state-owned television network had commented on the Herald story before it ran in the newspaper and denounced journalists working for Radio Marti in very similar terms.

Mr. Montaner, writing in the Wall Street Journal, commented that “The Miami Herald did more damage in one day to Cuban writers in the democratic opposition than Granma [Castro’s official daily] has done in 40 years.” While el Nuevo Herald quoted from Mr. Montaner’s Journal column, the Miami Herald did not, which leads to another sore point — the difference in how the two papers operate and cover the news. When Cuban-American leaders pushed for a full accounting, their concerns were dismissed by some of the Herald’s editors as “a Cuban thing.”

Even so, immediately after the publication of the original article, both papers began publishing articles and letters to the editor. When the controversy didn’t subside, some readers began contacting McClatchy Company officials, who recently bought the newspapers.

When Murrow became head of the U.S.Information Agency, no one questioned his credentials as a journalist, his courage, or his professional integrity. Why today is it becoming common to attack journalists committed to democracy as propagandists — without regard to the truth of their work, principles, or experience?

There are real abuses, unfairness, and arrogance in the world — some committed in the name of a “free press” that won’t acknowledge its mistakes and is too elitist to address the everyday concerns of working Americans or acknowledge their basic common sense, decency and fairness.

And what about Edward Murrow, the American journalist and former director of the U.S.Information Agency who never betrayed his commitment to journalism, democracy or the American ideal? Hearing the demands of colleagues today who insist that America’s “free press” stand separate and apart from the pursuit of democracy, he must be turning in his grave.

Mr. Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba in Washington, D.C.

The New York Sun

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