Friday, October 5, 2012

Feathers in the wind

Edmundo Garcia
Cuban journalist Edmundo Garcia hosts a Miami-based radio show called "La noche se mueve." He called me today and asked if I secretly recorded any of my interview with former spy Juan Pablo Roque.
Of course not, I said. The interview was on the record.
Later Garcia said he contacted Roque, who confirmed my story and said I didn't try to deceive him.
But the idea that I somehow tricked Roque is circulating, like feathers in the wind, thanks to a former state security agent named Percy Francisco Alvarado Godoy.
Alvarado's blog is called "Descubriendo Verdades" - Discovering Truths. He conceded today that his original claim saying I recorded Roque without his permission may have been inaccurate. He wrote - and this my rough translation:
Tracey Eaton may not have betrayed his interviewee, but he gave ammunition to biased Miami mobsters so they could fatten themselves with anti-Cuban perversion.
Alvarado's chief complaint, according to a post entitled, "Alguna culpa tenía Tracey Eaton," seems to be that I passed the Roque interview to América TeVe, a Miami cable TV station that Alvarado sees as biased.
That is true. That's what I did - and I can live with that.

Roque is a controversial figure and there would have been strong reaction to his views no matter where his interview appeared.
I agree with Alvarado that media bias exists. It exists on both sides of the Florida Straits.
In Havana, news outlets portray America as a dangerous, unjust, violent and racist hellhole.
In Miami, the media push the narrative that Cuba is corrupt, immoral, dangerous or falling apart.
There isn't a huge market in the U.S. for articles criticizing American policy toward Cuba. After I started the Cuba Money Project more than two years ago, a TV reporter and cameraman in Miami traveled to my office in northeast Florida and interviewed me about it. But the piece never aired.
No doubt I could sell more stories if all I produced were tales of scandal and decay in Cuba. I could even snag a chunk of the money that the U.S. government spends so that journalists write objective (read: anti-Castro) stories about Cuba. But I haven't taken that route.
I haven't tried to earn a paycheck from U.S. government-financed Radio Martí, which has paid journalists and some non-journalists hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years to write stories about Cuba. Many of these stories help promote U.S. policy goals, which include undermining Cuba's socialist government. (See "Reporters for Hire").
While American taxpayers keep this stable of writers and pseudo-journalists fed, government agencies send me letters requiring me to prove that I am a journalist.
It's not enough that I've worked for seven daily newspapers. I've written thousands of articles since 1983. I've been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize at least eight times.
Yet when I file Freedom of Information Act requests for documents related to U.S. government programs in Cuba, I get letters like the one below.

In the letter (download here), the State Department denies my request for a fee waiver, which is routinely given to journalists who are seeking public documents. The refusal means that officials can charge me $30 or more per hour to search for the documents I requested almost a year ago.
Search fees can easily spiral into the tens of thousands of dollars, which is out of reach for many independent journalists. If I want to appeal the denial, I must give the government reams of information. A State Department memo on fee waivers states:
  • Provide a summary of your educational background and work experience, particularly in the field of foreign affairs, and your expertise in the subject area of your request.
  • When is the article to be published or the program to be aired?
  • ...Will you be paid for the publication or dissemination of the requested information? If so, how much will you be paid and in what manner will you receive payment?
I told Edmundo Garcia about my FOIA campaign when we spoke today. The conversation drifted back to the Roque story.
Garcia said he, along with Roque, didn't think much of my decision to share the interview with América TeVe. I accept that criticism. I will also point out that my writing has appeared in dozens of newspapers over the years, everywhere from the New York Times to Granma, the newspaper of Cuba's Communist Party. That doesn't mean I always agree with how my stories are used.
My coverage of Roque could have been more balanced. I presented the ex-spy's views accurately - almost all of it was on tape - but I didn't have comments from his supporters.
I saw that weakness in the story after it was published, so I emailed Alvarado, who I had interviewed in Havana in 2011.
I was surprised he didn't respond to my email asking for his thoughts. He said he never got the message. A screenshot of it is below. (My email address is Percy Alvarado - and anyone else - is welcome to drop me a line and that includes both Roque supporters and critics).

As for the "feathers in the wind" that I mentioned at the start of this post, that goes back to something a journalism professor once told me - or maybe I read it. I can't remember. But it went something like this:

  • Publishing a story is like climbing a mountaintop and hurling a fistful of feathers into the wind.
  • Correcting a mistake is like going back and trying to find all those feathers the next day. It can't be done.

None of this is aimed at disrespecting Alvarado, whose views I broadcast in a four-part interview starting here. But his claim I secretly recorded Roque was false and he evidently did little or nothing to verify his story before casting it into the wind.

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