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'Miami Herald' Investigating How Racist Insert Was Distributed In Paper For Months


In Florida, the storied Miami Herald newspaper is known for its investigative reporting, and now the newspaper is turning its attention onto itself as the newsroom is in crisis. It's dealing with the fallout of the revelation that it had distributed a Spanish-language periodical with anti-Semitic and other offensive material to subscribers of its Spanish-language sister paper, El Nuevo Herald. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has been reporting on this and joins us now.



GARCIA-NAVARRO: David, what happened here?

FOLKENFLIK: So let's set it out. El Nuevo Herald, as you said, is a Spanish-language sister paper to the Miami Herald. It's distributed. Inside it was tucked, in a paid relationship, a very strong anti-Castro publication called Libre. It's put out by a Cuban American who was an active politician for years, also a felon who was investigated by the Miami Herald. And they paid since January to have this put in there. That publication had within it a number of columns that were racist, that were anti-Semitic.

And one or two examples - and I apologize. They're offensive. But, you know, at one point, the columnist described Michelle Obama as reminding him of a black monster from Dante's "Inferno." He described Islam as filth and Native Americans as primitive and really was angry about Black Lives Matter, essentially at one point calling the protesters - saying that they should be summarily put to death. The most amazing thing about this was it turned out that this kind of material was appearing in this publication tucked inside El Nuevo Herald in this paid relationship ever since January. It had been going on for eight months.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Eight months - I mean, that seems like an extraordinary length of time for a newspaper of such sophistication and renown. How is that allowed to happen?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, this was called out on Twitter by Billy Corben. He's a documentary-maker and founder of a brand-new news aggregation site called Because Miami. And it appears to have been allowed to happen by the Herald's own account by virtue of the fact that nobody in editorial or management position was reading any of this material before it went to print and was tucked in and, as it turns out, after as well so that you were really having a scenario in which there was no responsibility taken for what they were incorporating.

And this was not labeled as an advertisement. This was essentially tucked in. Readers would not have - it was slickly produced. One of the key columnists saying some of the most racist and anti-Semitic material was himself a former El Nuevo Herald columnist for nine years - really very little ability for readers to discern that this wasn't editorial content. And two complaints - I will say the review by the paper found two complaints were registered and not passed along to leaders of the paper.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Does this say something about the Spanish-language press in Florida or just this particular publication?

FOLKENFLIK: I think it is more telling about Spanish-language press in that state. You know, if you think about particularly in Miami and - Latino culture is so dominated by Cuban Americans down there. The latitude in the Latin American press and in Spanish-language press there is much broader for sort of what we would think of as fairly incendiary statements, particularly when it carries conservative or anti-communist rhetoric along with it against the Cuban regime.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what does it tell us about the Herald and its place now in the community?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, Herald leaders say they're going to do outreach and talk to Black and Jewish leaders in particular about what has happened, make restitution. They've apologized lavishly. But right now, there are two things to take away. First, the Herald's been cut to the bone. It was just bought out of bankruptcy by an investment firm. And it - maybe they didn't have enough bodies to review. And secondly, the Herald itself didn't allow its own executives to be interviewed by its reporters, who did, I thought, a very intelligent job trying to explain to the public what occurred. And I think there's been a lack of transparency in that regard that the community may feel and that certainly the journalists I've talked to within the Herald say they note very strongly.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.

Thanks so much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.