What to make of all this? It’s impossible to know for sure what happened on that conference call, and if Univision is guilty as charged, of course, it deserves many darts. But the Herald didn’t make its case. To accuse four journalists of conspiring in such a serious ethical breach demands more than the assertions of a few anonymous sources—especially ones without firsthand knowledge of the alleged breach—and Rubio’s staff. Garcia’s assessment of Univision’s Cicilia investigation is that it wasn’t “soup yet.” But the Herald’s story wasn’t fully cooked either.

Univision’s news judgment also deserves scrutiny. The relevance of a twenty-four-year-old story about the drug conviction of a relative with no connection to Rubio’s career or candidacy is debatable.

The public, particularly American Latinos, are the real losers. The presidential debate presumably would have addressed issues important to them. Instead, they got the kind of political journalism—myopic, insidery—that fuels the sense that the press and politicians are bound up in a feckless soap opera when they should be addressing the challenges we all face. At a time when the nation confronts a host of daunting problems, from a struggling economy to debilitating foreclosure rates, there surely were better uses of the journalistic talent in these two newsrooms.

 

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Erika Fry is a former assistant editor at CJR.