By Circles Robinson
Placing paid “journalist” agents in the media at home and abroad to bolster its attacks on countries or leaders that don’t share its views should barely be news for an administration that has scratched the word ethics out of the dictionary in order to pursue the goals of special interest groups.
Friday’s revelations that ten “reputable” Florida based reporters and commentators were receiving at least hundreds of thousands of dollars to use false information to stoke the anti-Cuba fire is just what the island’s government has been saying for decades.
One of the most frequently used agents, Carlos Alberto Montaner, was among those whose cover was blown by a freedom of information request, reported the Editor and Publisher journal.
The syndicated columnist’s opinions frequently appear in the pages of The Miami Herald, its Spanish language sister paper El Nuevo Herald and dozens of newspapers across the nation and Latin America. He is also often consulted on network TV.
The Cuban-born self-exile, poses as an expert on the island who also extends his print media and TV network commentaries to attack leaders that question US policy elsewhere in Latin America like Venezuela and Bolivia.
Montaner and a host of other journalist-agents have provided the media justification for the existence of several Miami based paramilitary groups that for decades have plotted and carried out terrorist attacks against Cuba and its leaders in the name of fighting communism.
On numerous occasions the Cuban government has alerted Washington about the terrorist plans of these groups who possess weapons stockpiles and training camps in Florida that also put US lives in jeopardy.
In a celebrated case involving a group of men known as the Cuban Five, Cuba provided the Clinton Administration in 1998 with enough information to shut down several of the terrorist groups and their civic fronts including the Cuban American National Foundation, and put a lot of people behind bars.
But instead of cracking down on terrorism the US government ignored the information and in September 1998 detained those, the Cuban Five, who had infiltrated the terror groups and uncovered their plans. The five men, considered heroes on the island, were railroaded into maximum security prisons with harsh sentences after a politically charged Miami trail in 2001.
THE HERALD QUESTIONS ITS REPORTERS ETHICS
Citing a violation of the “sacred trust” between journalists and the public, Jesus Diaz Jr., president of the Miami Herald Media Co. announced that three of its reporters, Pablo Alfonso, Olga Connor and Wilfredo Cancio Isla had been fired for receiving between them over a quarter of a million dollars from the US government.
''Even the appearance that your objectivity or integrity might have been impaired is something we can't condone, not in our business,'' Díaz said. “I personally don't believe that integrity and objectivity can be assured if any of our reporters receive monetary compensation from any government agency.''
Other journalists reportedly on the payroll of the U.S. Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which runs the well-budgeted anti-Cuba operations known as Radio and TV Marti, included: Diario Las Americas opinion page editor Helen Aguirre Ferre and reporter/columnist Ariel Remos; Channel 41 news director Miguel Cossio.
Journalism ethics experts told Reuters that the payments undermine the credibility of reporters to objectively cover issues affecting U.S. policy toward Cuba.
Ivan Roman, executive director of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, was quoted by The Herald as saying the payments from the US government posed a clear conflict of interest.
The journalists involved are among the most popular in South Florida, and many specialized on reporting on issues involving Cuba, said the Miami Herald report.
Channel 41 reporter Juan Manuel Cao received an extra $11,400 this year from the US government. ''There is nothing suspect in this,'' Cao said. ``I would do it for free. But the regulations don't allow it. I charge symbolically, below market prices.”
Others don’t see it that way. ''This is such an obvious textbook case,” University of Florida journalism professor Jon Roosenraad told the Herald. “This is exactly like a business reporter during the day going out and moonlighting as a public relations person for a local company at night and then going back to the paper the next day and writing about `his' company.''
CUBA IS NOT THE ONLY PAID-TO-ORDER JOURNALISM VICTIM
Cuba is not alone in being the victim of US government journalist-agents paid to slander the island and/or distort its reality. This policy under the current administration even extends to other domestic issues like education.
“The Armstrong Williams case in 2005, revealed that the Bush administration had paid the prominent conservative pundit to promote its education policy, No Child Left Behind, on his nationally syndicated television show,” notes Reuters.
Last year, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Pentagon paid a consulting firm, a host of reporters and Iraqi newspapers to plant favorable stories about the US occupation of Iraq and the administration’s favorite corporations reconstruction efforts. Once again, when caught in the act, Bush administration officials justified buying fabricated news stories with the logic that all is fair in love and the war on terrorism.
In an interview broadcast at a Hispanic media convention in June, Ricardo Alarcon, the president of Cuba's parliament, denied the often made claim by today’s disrobed “reporters” and “commentators” that more than two dozen “independent journalists” had been imprisoned on the island for speaking out against the government. Alarcon restated the island’s position that the persons involved were actually paid U.S. agents, noted AP.
In defense of the Bush administration tactics, Pedro Roig, director of the US government’s Cuba Broadcasting network defended the use of journalist-agents. Roig’s babies, TV and Radio Marti, bombard the island with transmissions containing false US government approved information about the island in a carefully orchestrated attempt to create internal discontent. They stepped up broadcasts after President Fidel Castro underwent intestinal surgery at the end of July.
Roig told the Herald that “among other things, hiring more Cuban exile ‘journalists’ as contractors improves the quality of the news.” While seeing no foul play he added, “it's each journalist's responsibility to adhere to their own ethics and rules.”
The US government official unabashedly said he considers the Cuban exile journalist-agents “to be excellent reporters who adapted to the game and made good.” He added: “In reality, I feel very satisfied.”