Yes, ten years ago I sent the Miami Herald a love letter...well maybe not brimming with love. My relationship with the Herald didn't start with this blog in 2007. I found this blast from my past I had written to the paper in October of 2000. You will get a kick out of some of the old names, Lunetta, Bianchino, I did throw in every beef I had at the time in this one email:
Hey Joe Natoli: (CC sent to Alberto Ibarguen)
I thought about the "Mushy News" tag you didn't agree with me on, and since you didn't call me back I thought I would share my reflections on my assertion so you wouldn't think it an idle put down. I have actually given it a lot of thought.
The press is supposed to act as the Fourth Estate, overseeing the activities of government and telling people what they need to know. Without such information democracy can't function properly. Also the newspaper should consider itself as guardian of the public trust. The paper's duty is to shed light on issues for us. Except for the sharp, incredible Oct. 17, 1999, Herald: Miami's Wheel of Fortune Airport story, this cutting edge, sharpness is lacking most of the time. Stories are passed over or given superficial coverage. The Herald, to me, is fuzzy and mushy on issues a lot of the time -- oil slick reporting. The details are there but there is no effort to get below the surface on stories, all the usual suspects are quoted. For instance:
The reporting on the eight billion dollar Everglades restoration plan has been incomplete and basically shallow. The Herald needs to put a reporter on this full-time. The Herald has failed dreadfully in reporting the great rip-off of the taxpayer and public resources by the sugar industry. It has not explained adequately why the natural Everglades is so important. The paper has not fought damaging incursions into the Everglades. The Everglades is one of the top environmental issues in the Nation. The Herald could be a leader on this reporting.
There seems to be very little investigative reporting (I will forward you an expose on the Army Corps. by the Washington Post - they gave 14,000 words to this issue). Tom Bayles an investigative, environmental reporter from the Herald Trib. in Sarasota (owned by the New York Times) is writing 4 part articles on dredging and the folly of beach renourishment. They have a second (yes, two) environmental reporter who covers the Everglades, Victor Hull. The St. Pete paper gives terrific coverage to growth management and environment as well. The Herald coverage is very sparse on environmental issues and is sometimes hostile towards the issues.
The port of Miami operates on a different plane -- where mitigation for misdeeds is part of the cost of doing business. Port expansion and dredging is bullying its way down the pike for more than a year, without hardly a peep from the Herald. There was no follow-up on your 4/8/99 story on the destruction of 5 acres of sea grass by the port. Towsley blames it on Lunetta. Now there is a sleazy maneuver being proposed by the port. Derm should drop much of the illegal issue, in return, the port will call "mitigation" "restoration" thereby allowing the Army Corps to give matching funds (mitigation cannot garner matching funds). This is a ploy to strong-arm DERM into relenting which will work. Illegal, probably not, but it is a symptom of the sleaze factor which is the order of business in Miami.
About two weeks ago an activist from Miami Beach asked me how the port expansion on Watson Island would effect Miami Beach. They wanted to know how they could find out more about the expansion (negotiations in a sunshine state being conducted for over a year behind closed door on public park land - and deed restrictions on public land being bandied about as bargaining chips -- I did a public records request to find that out). I had to send the Miami Beach Activist to New Times because there aren't any public records nor any Herald Stories.
I am told that if someone should audit the Community Block Grants of the City of Miami, there is some very creative finances going on. Who really cares about this? Certainly the Herald won't look into it. Some staff at the City are being asked to sign off on illegal documents. They are soon gone.
There are shadowy conflicts of interest going on, never reported:
- Dena Biachino, The Miami One/City of Miami (baywalk in jeopardy). And what about Dena? The paper makes her seem like the savior of the City. I see her as the enemy of public access and publically owned assets.
- A Chamber of commerce representative pushing for the Marlin Stadium, is being paid by the Marlins.
- Your Bill Losner/Homestead National Bank ad. He was a candidate and is Katy Sorenson's biggest foe. His bank ad crosses the line between political statement. He is pushing for the 8 1/2 square mile deflooding plan - where people are living in the Everglades. The ad makes it seem like places like Sweetwater would benefit, however, Losner is just focusing on the 8 1/2 square mile area, hoping to use the uninformed
other flood victims to get his own agenda met.
Curtis Morgan doing stories on Stiltsville (which impacts 7 well connected homeowners), yet there are no stories on the port expansion, no stories on the injection wells, no stories on Bicentennial Park - all of which impact many citizens.
In fact, the EPA thought the injection well problem important enough to hold a hearing in Palm Beach on it. No Herald reporter was at the meeting. And, channel 10 did a 5 minute report on the Sierra Club financed Geological report on injection well problems. The New Times did a cover story and Rundle's office is looking into it. But the Herald hasn't covered it even though approached. But we have had 3 stories on Stiltsville. Bicentennial Park is dropped like a hot potato unless the Marlins are involved. There are meetings going on every week regarding this park and never a reporter to shed light on the issue.
The Herald doesn't have enough reporters doing the job on the county and the City. The business reporters are reporting on Cruise ship discharges. Finefrock is reporting on sediments (an environmental story) and Morgan is reporting on Cars (the gas saving Honda which was really a business story).
I don't mind Morgan reporting on what he is reporting on if he would give equal weight to the important issues facing us here in Miami.
The Herald has been reporting on Alaska cruise ship dumping. Well, I hate to inform you that Florida has a similar problem which isn't even delved into. There was an incident in Biscayne Bay caught by DERM involving Royal Caribbean -- and they lied (surprise). And, the Memo of Understanding (MOU) that the State signed, the Herald did not address it. Does anyone know that our State signed an MOU with the Cruise ship industry? Does anyone know that no one had an opportunity to comment on this, the environmental groups didn't know about it? Cruise ships are a Miami issue because the cruise ship are here - Why are we only reading reports on Alaska issues with cruise ships? Our ports up and down the coast are all in competition for the cargo and cruise business and thus forced to dredge to 50 feet for these 1/4 mile long ships. The ports and Army Corps are in a dredging frenzy in Port Everglades, Jacksonville, Savannah, Charleston, etc.
The Virginia Key story was presented by me to the Herald numerous times. It was picked up by the New York Times - On the front page of the National Section on Sunday. The Herald anemically picked up the story after the New York report and got many of the facts wrong. It was also in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Sun Sentinel and three issues of New Times. I remember Jim Mullin saying: "This story has legs." And the Herald was given the story first but passed on it.
I gave the Joe Celestin Story to the Herald. He lied on his Mayor registration form for the Dept. of Elections. He gave his occupation as an Engineer. A call to the Dept. of State determined he had no license to practice engineering. He was ordered to cease and desist from using this title. He mentioned finances from a car rental company that, according to the Dept. of Motor Vehicle, didn't have a license to operate because there was no bond posted. This story made the front page of New Times.
I broke the story of Gwen Margolis not running again for County Commissioner through Larry Olmstead. Why am I breaking news stories? Because the reporters don't have a relationship within the community or within the realm they are reporting on. If they had, they would be CAPTURING THE NUANCES of the stories they are reporting on. The problem is the reporters don't leave offices as much as they used to and the moles
within the system have changed. A simple search on the internet (like sunbiz. org where you can look up corporate connections, and Opensecrets. org where you can look up campaign contributions) the reporters can get information to ask more pointed
questions. For example, the Herald endorses a guy as County Commissioner linked on Corporate web pages to people that he voted on their issues when he was on the head of the community council. He would have made a fine commissioner. Good work with that endorsement, glad he lost.
And, the Herald stoops down to the lowest level of readers. That is why we are deluged with murky stories that don't delve below the surface - that oil slick reporting. Although Cy Zaneski could get the edge, one of his last columns on The Biscayne Bay Partnership Initiative exposed the anxiety of the environmental community
a lesser reporter would have missed completely. Cy knew us well enough to know something was afoot.
You might profit from reading Martha Musgrove's editorial comment on the salmon. She was really talking about cumulative impact of environmental onslaught (to the Everglades) and how we have to spend billions after-the-fact to clean up the mess. Why doesn't the paper, instead, stop the cumulative impact or at least shine a light on it while it is happening so that we will be saved millions or billions in the future? I think Martha was on to something big.
The paper can shed light on incestuous business relationships, corruption and greed so it can become less prevalent in the future. Further, it is your duty to do this as the fourth estate.
So, that is why I find your paper mushy. I know you disagree, but, if I didn't feel there was hope, I wouldn't be writing to you.
There you have it, my 2000 opus to the Miami Herald and here I am still waiting and hoping the Miami Herald will get better. In the meantime, I am still writing but now with actual readers. What a turn of events. Did you know that they are saying Blogs are the Fifth Estate? I find that fascinating.