from writing news to making news.
Photo by Jacqueline Carini/jacqueline.nexsoftware.com
days, it ainít easy being Oscar Corral. The Miami
Heraldís reporter of all things Cuban exile-related
has tackled some of that communityís hottest topics and
found that the flames can blow back in his direction.
Corral was born
in Sweetwater, a town known mostly for its outlandish
politics, poor drainage and for being founded by Russian
circus midgets. He is one of five children born to Cuban
exiles who arrived in 1961, at age 15, and met in Miami.
Corral grew up largely in Coral Gables and attended
Belen Jesuit Preparatory, a school noted for producing
everyone from Fidel Castro to Manny Diaz.
understands the Miami Cuban diaspora from both the
inside and outside, but the perspectives are sometimes
hard to bridge, especially when the local idea of
political discourse is often burning bridges.
Just in the past
year or so weíve had the Vamos a Cuba
book-banning controversy, the Cuban spy professors at
FIU, the transition of power from Fidel to Raul, and the
latest installment of the Luis Posada Carriles saga.
Thatís not to mention the scandal that erupted after
Corral wrote a story last September revealing that a
number of local journalists, including some who worked
for El Nuevo Herald, had accepted money from the
U.S. government for producing reports for Radio MartŪ
and TV MartŪ.
The reaction was
fierce and, in some cases, vicious. A contributing
columnist to El Nuevo Herald suggested that
Corral may or may not be linked to pro-Castro agents
within the community. People were fired, then rehired.
The publisher quit. Then Herald executive editor
Tom Fiedler accused El Nuevo of committing a
ďblood libelĒ against Corral, and went on to get
embroiled in his own strange Taco Bell moment.
Corral was also
threatened and harassed by a small group of exile
activists who spread rumors he was a communist, among
other outlandish claims. It was a critical moment for
Corral, whose innocuous Herald blog, ďMiamiís
Cuban Connection,Ē was inundated with hateful screeds.
But he got through it, if anything more determined to,
as the blogís motto states, continue ďfiltering the BS
out of the mess.Ē
Corral, 32, is soft-spoken,
thoughtful and earnest to a fault. He still looks like a
Catholic school boy and has an almost ecclesiastical
approach to journalism. Heís married with two kids, and
also enjoys a huge extended family that includes some 30
I invited Corral for
coffee recently and picked his brain about what itís
like to be a young Cuban-American journalist in Miami at
this time in its history.
Why did you decide to
be a Miami
Herald reporter, Oscar?
would drive by the Herald building in college and
see it as this incredible fortress of truth. Maybe
thatís a little corny. I saw it as a fortress that
needed to be penetrated and broken into. It had this
elite air as an institution in Miami that didnít bow
down to anybody.
What do you mean
ďbroken intoĒ? By you in particular, or by
Cuban-Americans in general? Or do you just mean that the
Herald usually hires from outside the community?
Even though I grew up in Cuban Miami, my parents always
subscribed to the Herald. So I saw it as this
elite institution I wanted to get into somehow. In the
newsroom there arenít that many Miami natives.
Where did you start?
started by freelancing for $25 an article for Neighbors
right after college while in grad school at FIU. It
barely covered my gas and parking. I did that for six
months before they hired me in Broward to do the police
blotter. I went on to Newsday in New York for
three years as a crime reporter and left there two weeks
before Sept. 11.
The Herald had offered me a job covering Miami
City Hall. My first political assignment was to cover
the mayoral election where Manny Diaz won over Joe
Carollo, which surprised everybody. I covered the city
on and off for about three years.
You came from the most
Cuban of local schools, in some ways the center of the
universe for the part of the community that arrived in
the í60s and í70s. Then you went to New York and got to
see how the community is viewed elsewhere. What is that
Going to Belen, youíre insulated from not only the
realities of Greater Miami, but the world, really. When
I was there I was surrounded by Cuban-American boys like
myself. You never got the sense that you were part of a
tiny immigrant group that made up just a small part of
the puzzle of this country. You got the sense that this
was what the world was like.
When did you switch to
the Cuban beat at the
was never formalized. I became kind of the defacto Cuban
exile community reporter there. I like it because itís
part of who I am. I feel like I understand the Cuban
How are you using that
knowledge to cover it and not let the exile community be
defined by a narrow range, rather than the broad
community it is?
One of the things that bothers some of the older
hard-line Cuban exiles in Miami is that there is
in fact a rich diversity of opinion among Cuban exiles
and Cuban-Americans, as to how they feel about policy
toward Cuba, and how they feel toward politicians their
parents or grandparents endorsed. As a journalist, you
have to take that into account. You cannot feel that you
are writing for one part of the community, but have to
lay it all out there for people to absorb.
I really liked a story
you wrote a while back about how newly arrived Cubans
living in Hialeah were having a hard time adjusting to
life here, even in a heavily Cuban-American community.
Thereís a totally different world view of Cubans who got
here recently versus those who got here in the í60s.
Thereís people who love to talk about how the Cubans who
come here now are not trustworthy, or lazy, or
money-hungry. In the end, they are just immigrants who
are going through the immigrant experience and they are
a lot like [the critics] were back in the í60s. Itís
just 45 years of exile, and working in this country
clouds your perception of how you were, or how your
parents were when they first got here. As a reporter you
have to let the community know that that applies to the
new Cubans as well.
So you have deep roots
here, family and friends, neighbors who read the paper
every day. How do you deal with strong reactions they
may have to what you write?
Having roots in a community makes you sensitive to that
community; I think itís people who have roots here who
are most appreciative of what I do. No one wants to see
their city turned to crap. People like to know there are
journalists out there, prosecutors, artists, etc. who
are trying to do the right thing for their city.
How do you deal with
the kind of backlash you got after the Radio/TV MartŪ
The way I approach reporting is that youíre never going
to make everybody happy. My only commitment is to the
facts and the truth. I really deeply believe that.
People feel strongly about the Cuba issue. Itís part of
the democratic process where people can express
opinions. I think lines are crossed when those opinions
turn into threats and insults and baseless accusations.
That story had a big effect on the way people viewed my
coverage of the exile community. People accused me of
all kinds of nonsense, like being a Cuban agent. But it
gets repeated enough that people start believing it.
Itís almost as though being anti-Herald goes hand
in hand with being anti-Castro. Thatís inexplicable to
When I started my blog, people were upset that I didnít
offer my opinion. Some of the hard-line exiles felt I
should be out there as a champion for anti-Castro cause.
There is a concept in parts of the traditional Cuban
exile community where you have to pass a litmus test of
opinion to be approved of or included. But thatís a
minority point of view.
How do you know that?
Because of the feedback. Comments Iíve gotten on my
blog, letters, e-mails, phone calls Iíve got.
Did the criticism get
to a point where you were concerned for your safety?
got to a point where I did feel that my family and I
were in danger, and it made me feel as though the
discussion that could have been triggered by those
stories was hijacked by people who were out to basically
stifle any discussion with threats and insults. Some
people become so safe and secure in their viewpoint that
when a certain set of facts raises questions about that,
thereís a knee-jerk reaction to the person laying out
the facts. That person is an enemy and is out to get
them. And thatís a tragedy because thatís not true.
Iíd received minor threats and accusations from people
on other stories. But I got the sense on this story that
there was an orchestrated campaign to intimidate, harass
and silence. It was e-mails, phone calls, and comments
on my blog. It was a barrage. Some threats were very
specific and mentioned my family. It got to a stage
where I had to tell my editors that I was concerned.
They were great about it. They moved me and my family to
a secure location for about six weeks, so I could finish
Do you think it would
be different if your name was Joe Smith instead of Oscar
Itís almost like the Cuban exile community feels more
comfortable being covered by a non-Cuban journalist.
Itís harder to accept that somebody from your own
community looks at things in a different way than you
do. If theyíre an outsider, you write it off. I love my
city, I love the Cuban exile community, but I completely
reject anybody who thinks itís a monolithic,
single-issue community that only thinks one way.
All right, Oscar. You
are basically an optimistic person. Letís end with one
of your escape valves ó culture. What can the cultural
side of Miami say to the political side?
think about Suťnalo. Itís this great Miami band made up
of people from all over the Americas ó American-born,
Venezuelan-born, Mexican-born. They get together and
each contributes something from their culture ó the
Cuban son, Brazilian samba, Mexican horns, a
little bit of everything. And it works.
So Miami is like a jam
I do see
Miami as a big jam session of cultures. Sometimes one
member is out of tune. Sometimes one doesnít show up,
sometimes one of them storms off the stage. But in the
end itís a beautiful chorus of crazy music that comes
together and somehow makes sense.