The Herald story also hints at unprofessionalism and roguishness in the Univision newsroom that it never proves. For instance, the Herald story mentions more than once that the Cicilia investigation was the network’s first ever piece of investigative journalism, which made it particularly “dispiriting.” In fact, it was the sixth piece by Univision’s investigative team. It also quotes letters from Rubio’s staff, which called Univision’s investigation “outrageous” and “tabloid journalism,” suggesting that Univision had failed to give the other side its say in its Cicilia piece. But, as noted above, Univision did in fact report those statements in its original story.
This sort of downplaying or overstating of facts for narrative convenience is a problem throughout the Herald piece. The story describes the high-profile résumé of Rubio staffer Todd Harris, for instance, who says of Univision: “This new team doesn’t follow the Geneva Convention.” But it makes no mention that Reyes, the respected former Herald reporter, is part of this investigative team, or that Lee and the other journalists on the call have years of experience.
What to make of all this?
There are seasoned and accomplished journalists on both sides. 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 who apparently don’t have 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.
But the public, particularly American Latinos, are the real losers. The January 29 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.
Since this story was written for CJR’s January/February 2012 issue, the New Yorker’s Ken Auletta has published a story on the matter, which can be read here. The Herald’s Marc Caputo responds to Auletta’s story on the paper’s Naked Politics blog here.