NPR Miami Affiliate Censors Interview to Mollify Right-Wing Cuban Exiles
September 17, 2013
An executive at WLRN radio station canceled an interview with a Canadian writer whose book attacks the Miami trial of five Cuban spies, saying the author assumed their innocence and the interview might upset some people in South Florida.
“I looked at the information [on the book] that was submitted to me and he was presupposing the innocence of the Cuban Five,” said Joseph Cooper, executive producer of Topical Currents. “They were foreign agents.”
“In my fiduciary capacity I have a responsibility to the community and [WLRN] and I made the decision after very careful consideration,” Cooper told el Nuevo Herald.
“For this community, it just seemed a little too much,” he added. WLRN is the Miami affiliate of National Public Radio.
Stephen Kimber, author of the book What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five, wrote Monday that WLRN had canceled the interview scheduled for Tuesday from the offices of WGBH in Boston.
Kimber posted a note on his website, Cubanfive.ca, quoting part of an email his New York publicist, Kristi Hughes, received from Topical Currents producer Richard Ives.
“After looking over the book and accompanying material (Cooper) … feels that the topic is too ‘incendiary’ and fears a negative reaction from certain segments of the community,” Ives was quoted as writing to Hughes.
Ives did not reply to el Nuevo calls seeking comments. Cooper confirmed that Ives had invited Kimber to appear on the program.
Kimber, a journalism professor at the University of King’s College in Halifax, wrote on his website that the WLRN decision bolstered one of the arguments he makes in his book, which was published in August by Fernwood Publishing in Canada.
“That email tells you everything you need to know — and more — about why it was impossible to find an unbiased jury in Miami to hear the case of the Cuban Five,” he wrote.
Cuba’s government has long maintained a strong propaganda campaign for the release of Gerardo Hernandez, Ramón Labañino, Fernando Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero, and Rene Gonzalez, convicted in a federal trial in Miami in 2001 as part of the so-called Wasp Network. Rene Gonzalez completed his sentence and returned to Cuba in May.
Cuba has confirmed the five were intelligence agents but claimed they were spying only on Cuban exiles who might be planning terror attacks on the island. Evidence at their trial showed they spied on exiles as well as U.S. military bases in the Florida Keys and Tampa and tried to infiltrate the Pentagon’s Southern Command in Doral.
The five were convicted of conspiracy to spy and failing to register as agents of a foreign government. Hernandez also received two life prison terms for conspiracy to commit murder, for his role in the deaths of four South Florida men killed when Cuban MiG jets shot down their civilian Brothers to the Rescue airplanes over international airspace in 1996.
Kimber argues in the book that the murder-conspiracy charge was so weak that prosecutors considered withdrawing it, and that the trial should have been moved out of Miami because of its large population of anti-Castro Cuban exiles.
Lawyers for the five have appealed their convictions and U.S. District Court Judge Joan Lenard’s refusal to move the trial out of Miami all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear their case.
Gerardo Hernandez, leader of the Wasp Network, filed a separate habeas corpus appeal in 2012 asking Lenard to overturn his conviction. That appeal is pending.
OpEd Commentary on WLRN’s Decision to Kill the Interview in the Miami Herald
Miami NPR affiliate spikes spy-book author interview to not upset Cuban exiles
It’s tough to top Juan Tamayo’s story today story about a Miami radio station’s self-censorship of a Canadian author. It evokes so many passions and speaks so much about living here: spies, fear of angry Cuban exiles, crime, justice.
But it’s also a tale of journalism and the abdication of it by WLRN (an NPR affiliate and Miami Herald news partner) for canceling discussion of What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five, which attacks the Miami trial of the now-convicted spies.
WLRN’s Joseph Cooper, executive producer of opical Currents, believes the five are Cuban agents. Cooper’s probably right. But author Stephen Kimber, apparently, is “presupposing the innocence of the Cuban Five,” Cooper said.
ooper basically says he canceled the interview because he didn’t want to upset the Cuban-American exile community, which likely then wouldn’t donate money: “In my fiduciary capacity I have a responsibility to the community and [WLRN] and I made the decision after very careful consideration… For this community, it just seemed a little too much.”Have cash and a loud community? Will allow commenting. Or not.
Either way, it’s insulting. It makes it sound as if all the members of the Cuban-American community are as reflexively irrational, unfair and inflexible as some of the propagandists on Radio Mambi. The large majority isn’t.
Maybe WLRN should censor Topical Currents and instead try out a show that practices journalism.
Since Cooper obviously doubts Kimber’s work, what’s to stop Cooper from actually representing “the community,” challenging Kimber and debating him? If anything, a large number of Cuban-Americans would rally to WLRN’s side. Maybe some would want to donate more money.
More importantly, there’s the simple fact that (whether you have an opinion show or column or not) challenging people to defend their ideas is also known as “journalism.” Topical Currents should give it a whirl. There would be a side benefit: It would make Topical Currents far less dull than it is now.
WLRN’s decision was probably met with a measure of glee by Kimber. And by the Castro regime. Kimber, a journalism professor at the University of King’s College in Halifax, wrote on his website that the WLRN decision bolstered one of the arguments he makes in his book: “That email tells you everything you need to know — and more — about why it was impossible to find an unbiased jury in Miami to hear the case of the Cuban Five.”
So a Canadian who was probably spoonfed info from the Castro regime gets to make a more-plausible argument about America freedoms thanks to this decision. In politics and public relations, giving your opponent the ammunition to justify a stereotype of you is among the worst of unforced errors.
But the show will go on. After all, it’s a government-supported broadcast. So it’s partly insulated from the free market, like a government program that can’t get cut. Maybe WLRN should censor Topical Currents and instead try out a show that practices journalism.