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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Prognosticator of Prognosticators

Does anyone know who wrote this letter to the Miami New Times? I can only suspect a new incarnation of Nostradamus. Talk about a good read on things. Note the date that this was written and what has happened in the ensuing decade. (For Example, Miami has displaced Detroit as the poorest large city in America, The Herald is bankrupt after alienating its Anglo and progressive, educated Latino base, and extremist Cuban exiles will be heading the Florida State House and Senate.)

Miami New Times, Letters
Published: Thursday, November 14, 1996

A Corrupt City, a Faltering NewspaperOn Saturday, November 9,
Miami made the front page of the New York Times for the corruption that marks our city like the wine stain on Gorbachev's forehead. (The article was titled "Corruption and Money Woes Divide and Anger Miamians.") This bashing -- you can already hear the grinding teeth at the chamber of commerce -- calls to mind New Times editor Jim Mullin's column describing the paper's lawsuit against Knight-Ridder chairman Tony Ridder for participating in secret and perhaps illegal negotiations for a new arena ("Tony Ridder and the Heritage of Arrogance," October 31).

Is Miami more corrupt than any other American city? Probably not. In its lack of a moral compass -- a phrase describing civility and civic purpose -- is Miami different from any other American city? Yes. And the Miami Herald, whose independent voice has been dulled to pointlessness by compromising positions its leadership is wont to take, bears a heavy share of responsibility.

The New Times lawsuit explicitly calls for Ridder to be held legally accountable. Mullin's column calls for the Herald to be morally accountable to readers it has poorly served. He cites the Herald's paternalism (what's good for the Herald is good for Miami) as a particular form of arrogance, practiced with citadel-style discipline by its eminence grise, former Herald president and Knight-Ridder chairman Alvah Chapman.

At its core Chapman's Non-Group was an effort to preserve Anglo values in a society transformed by Hispanic migration. But the Non-Group, for all its pretensions, never stood for much more than a Hail Mary pass by Team Anglo -- on fourth down and long -- to save the present from the sordid past, a city built on a swamp at the expense of dim-witted voters in the Twenties, a legacy of making money the old-fashioned way: fast bucks and easy fortunes for developers, lobbyists, and politicians. It is a legacy that will haunt South Florida as long as people live here.

Today the misdirection of the Miami Herald is conditioned by fear more than arrogance, although the two are intertwined like bad twins: fear of declining readership causing the Herald to be ever so judicious in criticizing the current regime that happens, as a historical and geographical accident, to be Cuban American; fear of entertainment and new media causing the Herald to publish a TV-IQ equivalent of a newspaper; fear of a stern and unforgiving corporate father -- Knight-Ridder -- causing Herald leadership to be the good corporate son, putting shoulder to the wheel of profits first, advertisers second, and readers third; and fear of Spanish-language radio and printed cheat sheets causing near paralysis of everything between the covers.

That last is the biggest fear of all, and not surprisingly the New York Times article quotes Miami's radio-talk-show-host-cum-city commissioner Tomas Regalado pulling the ethnic card from its dog-eared deck: "[The corruption probe] has a lot to do with the resentment and disdain that some people feel against Cuban Americans. They can't stand the power we have acquired."

Most newspaper readers -- including the universe that reads New Times, the Miami Herald, and yes, the New York Times -- want more investigative reporting on Miami and Dade County corruption; pin the demagogues to the wall with truth, irrespective of their race and ethnicity. But the Herald is so torn and divided in its loyalties -- the legacy of Alvah Chapman -- that it has abandoned its purpose: journalism.

For example, when the Lobbyist Class behaves with impunity, skirting the edges of the law while burnishing its reputation, the Herald should be there from morning to midnight on the trail of the Ron Books, the Ric Sissers, the Rodney Barettos, the Chris Korges, the Dusty Meltons, the Carlos Herreras, the Ric Katzes, and the Jorge de Cardenases. But much too often -- and this is Mullin's most excellent point concerning Tony Ridder, Alvah Chapman, attorney Parker Thomson, et al. -- the Herald is on the same side as the Lobbyist Class and its clients, our elected officials. The effect on the public spirit is profound. As a consequence the Miami Herald is a shell of a newspaper, and its staff, the ones who will admit it, are demoralized; many professional and capable employees tell the tale.

In the latest piece of news, members of the Dade delegation are attempting to wrest leadership control of the Florida legislature. It's unlikely to work -- this time -- but hold on to your hats: Miami will be the Detroit of the South a lot sooner than it becomes the Hong Kong of Latin America. As goes Detroit, so goes the rest of Michigan. And that's not good news for the Miami Herald or any of the rest of us in Florida.

Name Withheld by RequestMiami

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