What About Tom?
South Florida is on fire right now. The Foley thing won't stop burning and then there's that revolution at the Miami Herald. I had to choose one -- so I'm going with the Herald.
Turns out that all the turmoil over the Marti payments at the Herald came to a head in a battle of two titans at the newspaper, columnist Carl Hiaasen and publisher Jesus Diaz. Hiaasen wrote a satirical column about the Marti reporters and Diaz didn't want to run it, fearing more canceled subscriptions (there had been 1100, reportedly) from Cuban readers. Hiaasen explained his side of the fight to David Folkenflik at NPR: "When they told me my column wasn't going to run, my response was, 'You'll have my resignation
in the morning.'"
Now, 99 percent of the time, the columnist is going to fall on his own sword in a case like that. But there is only Carl Hiaasen and he happens to not only be one of the most respected journalists in South Florida history, but also an extremely successful novelist. If Hiaasen had quit in that situation ... oh my God, the fallout. Diaz blinked. Then Diaz resigned, according to this very good Herald story by Douglas Hanks.
How appropriate. It seems that Diaz's last act as publisher was a letter that misled readers about the reason he was a resigning. That's class. Also, Diaz's own column about the Hiaasen column two weeks ago made it appear he gave in because he had high journalistic ideals.
These are the kinds of shenanigans that occur in a bloated corporate bureaucracies like The Herald. In the end, after all of this, I think it's definitely time for Tom Fiedler to resign. The newspaper needs a news start editorially as well as on the business side. Fiedler has made huge mistakes in his tenure (the firing of Jim DeFede front and center) but I'm convinced he's a decent man. I think the record is clear that he's a proven journalist, as well. The Herald is in such disarray right now, though, that it definitely needs a clean slate. And Fiedler has proven himself to lack the backbone to lead the giant and oft-troubled Herald ship through rough waters.
During the entire Marti controversy, Fiedler was a no-show. Diaz took responsibility for the firings and then managing editor Dave Wilson took responsibility for serious flaws in Oscar Corral's original story exposing the scandal.
But Fiedler's chief fault through this horrible mess hasn't been invisibility, it has been inconsistency. After the abrupt and unwise firing of DeFede, he said he had "zero tolerance" for ethical violations in journalism. Then he pardoned writer Ana Veciana-Suarez after she lied in court about her father's criminal background and, more recently, gave "amnesty" to a total of nine reporters at El Nuevo Herald who took propaganda money from Marti. How can Herald staff and readers really take him seriously after that kind of wishy-washy leadership.
Hanks reveals some of the unrest at One Herald Plaza:
In staff meetings Tuesday, Miami Herald reporters asked whether the paper was caving to critics. Editor Tom Fiedler dismissed that notion, 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.
Those are the words of a man backed into a corner. He should do the Herald -- and himself -- a favor and step down immediately.