Executive editor, The Miami Herald
Publisher, The Miami Herald
Dear Mr. Fiedler and Mr. Landsberg:
I am writing today in response to the growing controversy surrounding payments by the Bush administration to Florida journalists, some of whom work for the Herald, for appearances on Radio and TV Marti.
I was encouraged to read in today's Herald that "Top Miami Herald and McClatchy executives announced a new policy that no journalists in the future will accept pay for appearances on government-sponsored media." This is a good and necessary step in reassuring your readers of the Herald's commitment to editorial independence. However, the context in which the Radio and TV Marti payments occurred suggests that the Herald owes its readers more.
As I'm sure you know, the payments to Herald reporters are only the latest in a string of troubling examples of the Bush administration manipulating the news media through the use of paid propaganda and, in some cases, direct payments to journalists in exchange for the promotion of Bush policies. Examples include:
The Government Accountability Office has determined that the Bush administration broke federal law by distributing so-called "video news releases" that were designed to look like actual news broadcasts; the video news releases were often broadcast by television stations without any indication that they were produced by the government. According to the GAO, the VNRs "constitute covert propaganda."
Conservative commentator Armstrong Williams was paid $240,000 to promote a Bush administration education initiative he had earlier criticized.
Nationally syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher was paid more than $40,000 to promote the Bush administration's $300 million marriage initiative.
Nationally syndicated columnist Michael McManus was paid $10,000 to promote the marriage initiative.
These incidents and others have seriously eroded the American public's confidence in the independence of the news media.
Now we learn that several journalists employed by The Miami Herald and its sister publication, El Nuevo Herald, were paid by the Bush administration for appearances on Radio and TV Marti.
According to the September 8 edition of The Miami Herald, syndicated columnist Carlos Alberto Montaner -- whose columns appear in both the Herald and El Nuevo Herald -- is among those who have been paid by the administration.
A quick review of columns by Montaner that ran in the Herald raises troubling questions that demand immediate investigation. During the heated 2004 presidential campaign -- a campaign in which, as you know, Florida was seen as a key battleground state -- the Herald ran columns by Montaner that praised President George W. Bush and criticized his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry. For example:
On February 3, 2004, the Herald ran a column by Montaner with the headline "Bush's actions reasonable, not so Hussein's." The column charitably argued that President Bush's false claims about Iraq were based on "reports from the U.S. intelligence services," blaming "the spies and analysts" for erring. In fact, it has long been reported that the Bush administration knowingly cherry-picked intelligence to bolster its case. Yet Montaner concluded that "Bush was led astray by rationality."
On May 18, 2004, the Herald ran a column in which Montaner made the provocative statement that "Kerry, then, is [Cuban dictator Fidel] Castro's candidate." Later in the same column, Montaner referred to "Castro's preference for Kerry."
On June 29, 2004, Montaner used his column to criticize Kerry for a "misguided" and "lamentable mistake" in dealing with Cuba. In the same column, Montaner also referred to "some mistaken measures recently dictated by Bush" but concluded by praising Bush's general approach to Cuba policy.
Further, Montaner wrote a September 7, 2004, column in praise of Mel Martinez, the former Bush administration secretary of Housing and Urban Development who was, at the time, the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate. Martinez couldn't have asked for more favorable treatment than he received from Montaner, who noted that Martinez "insists jubilantly that the American Dream does exist and that it is attainable. His very life is proof of that."
We have no reason to believe that Montaner wrote favorably of Bush, or negatively of Kerry, as a result of the payments he received from the Bush administration. No reason, that is, other than the administration's pattern of paying journalists to promote Bush administration policies.
That pattern, however, makes it essential that the Herald immediately conduct a thorough and public review of the articles and columns it published that were written by journalists who were on the Bush administration's payroll. Herald readers -- and all Americans concerned about their government's pattern of using taxpayer money to pay for favorable media coverage -- deserve prompt and thorough answers to several basic questions, including:
How much were the journalists paid?
When were the payments made?
What did they write about the Bushes -- President George W. Bush and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush -- and their administrations?
What did they write about the Democrats who ran against the Bushes?
Did their coverage of the Bush administration and its allies and adversaries shift once the payments began?
Thank you for your attention to this matter. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any assistance.
Media Matters for America