‘Miami Herald’ Publisher Actually Quit Two Weeks Ago Over Hiaasen Column

By: Joe Strupp

Former Miami Herald Publisher Jesus Diaz Jr., who announced his resignation Tuesday in the wake of the recent uproar over reporters accepting payments from government-sponsored broadcasts outlet, actually quit two weeks ago, the paper reported Wednesday. His earlier departure plan stemmed from a “blow-up” over a related column by Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen.

The Herald reported that Diaz opposed a Hiaasen column, described as “a sarcastic essay,” about three writers for el Nuevo Herald, the Herald’s Spanish-language daily, who had been paid to appear on Radio Marti and TV Mart?, two U.S.-government sponsored outlets.

Diaz reportedly believed the Hiaasen piece shouldn’t run. Hiaasen threatened to quit if it did not. The Herald reports that “a furious Hiaasen phoned friends close to The Miami Herald’s new owner, the McClatchy Company. Within hours, Howard Weaver, McClatchy’s top news executive, called The Miami Herald to voice his support for strong columnists in the company’s papers.”

By the end of the day, Diaz “reversed course and ordered the column published,” the Herald reported. His resignation followed 16 days later.

“The incident sheds light on some of the pressures Diaz faced and on McClatchy’s role in responding to the scandal,” the Herald wrote. “Diaz would not comment on the Hiaasen episode, and did not mention it in talking about his departure after the reinstatement of the fired El Nuevo Herald writers.”

Hiaasen’s syndicate, Tribune Media Services, distributed the Sept. 19 column that Diaz initally opposed. “We felt it was a strong column and well-timed — typical of the kind of commentary we’ve come to expect of Carl,” said John Twohey, TMS vice president of editorial and operations, when contacted today by E&P. Twohey added that TMS received no negative feedback about the piece from Hiaasen’s client newspapers.

Word of Diaz’s dust-up with Hiaasen comes a day after the paper also revealed that it would reverse its previous dismissal of the three el Nuevo Herald writers, as well as taking no action against a group of other reporters found to have accepted similar payments. Diaz disclosed Tuesday that the paper had discovered that a previous el Nuevo editor had given approval for such payments to some staffers years ago.

However, the papers announced they would no longer allow staffers to receive payments for any such appearances.

Frank Whittaker, McClatchy vice president of operations, told the Herald that Diaz was asked to hold off announcing his departure until a replacement was found. General Manager David Landsberg was named Diaz’s successor on Tuesday.

The rehiring of journalists and disclosure of others receiving payments brought mixed reaction within the Herald newsroom, and the Miami area, the Herald reported.

The paper wrote that “the re-hirings were heralded as ‘a victory for the community’ by Spanish-language TV reporter Juan Manuel Cao. Spanish-language radio personalities Ninoska Perez-Castellon and Armando Perez-Roura also told listeners the decision to offer amnesty to the reporters was a “victory for the exile community” over the “monster on the bay.” Perez-Castellon and Cao were among 10 reporters cited in the original Miami Herald article as accepting payments.

But in staff meetings Tuesday, the Herald reports that some reporters asked “whether the paper was caving to critics.” Editor Tom Fiedler dismissed that assertion, saying the “22 people who listen to Cuban radio” were being stirred up by ”little chihuahuas nipping at our heels.” He later apologized for his choice of words.

Diaz acknowledged in a Sept. 17 note to readers he had wanted to kill columns by Hiaasen and Ana Menendez because he believed they might inflame sentiments in the Cuban community, the Herald reported. But he wrote that he changed his mind after others said doing so would suffocate “the very freedom of the press I was trying to protect.”

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