It seems I’m not the only one who reads the Herald with too much care. Consider this commentary, sent to me today by reader Gustavo Sardiña:
On Monday, the Cuban Communist Party held its sixth ever “Communist Party Congress.” The Miami Herald covered the party congress in both its English language “Miami Herald” and its Spanish language “El Nuevo Herald” with startlingly different headlines. The front page of the Miami Herald (English) includes the following headline: “Fresh air may finally be seeping into Cuba Congress.” The front page of the El Nuevo Herald (Spanish) includes this headline: “Cuba: mas de lo mismo. El sexto congreso del Partido Comunista entra en su etapa final.” This translates to “Cuba: more of the same. The sixth congress of the communist party enters its final stage.”
So which is it: “fresh air” or “more of the same”? (This isn’t the first time the Herald has a “contradictory headlines” problem. See Michael’s post Spot the Difference.)
Both versions of the article include the same byline (by Frances Robles), and are for the most part similar in content. They both include background on prior party congresses, quotes from American University’s William LeoGrande to the effect that “[t]his is the most important party congress since the party was founded,” and Raul Castro describing what is to come as “[a] truly extensive democratic exercise.” The “democratic exercise” in question:
- the first party congress without Fidel Castro. Thus, according to both versions, “[t]hat means real debate between delegates;”
- the approval of certain economic proposals (curiously, the English version numbers them at “about 300” proposals while the Spanish version numbers them at “close to 200” proposals) intended to liberalize Cuba’s economy. The proposals include allowing “micro-businesses” and home ownership, and laying off 500,000 government workers.
The two versions of the article differ however in some details that have (IMHO) a real impact on the tone and tenor. Besides the obvious conflicts in the headlines, the Spanish language version includes details omitted from the English version including that the economic proposals agreed upon are not law. Raul Castro instead called them “orientaciones de una naturaleza politica y moral.” This doesn’t translate easily, but, in a nut shell, the proposals are “guidelines for natural development of politics and morality.” It is instead, according to the Spanish language article, up to local municipal and provincial officials and party bosses to make changes to local law – not up to the “party congress.” This is a detail of seemingly considerable importance that was inexplicably omitted from the English language version. The English language reader is therefore left with a very different take on the “economic proposals” than the Spanish language reader.
I take no position in this post on the happenings in Cuba. I wasn’t there, have never been there, and can’t with any credibility comment on what happened in Cuba on Monday. But, I can say that the Herald’s editing of Frances Robles’s article raises (not for the first time) doubt in my mind about the credibility and journalistic integrity of the Miami Herald and its editors.
FWIW, I’d blame the editors more than the reporter here. First, reporters don’t get to write headlines. Second I bet the (not very adept) cuts were intended to make the article fit some space.
That said, while the different headlines might be human error, there is indeed something odd about putting such different headlines on two otherwise pretty similar versions of the same story. I wonder if the editors on the two papers even check each others work — does the Anglo editor read Spanish? Are the deadlines running in parallel in a way that makes better coordination too difficult? Whatever the source of this difference, the end result is just a little too much like politicians who say one thing on Spanish radio and another thing to Anglo audiences to make anyone feel good about it.