WLRN backpedals after host dumps talk show guest

G.M. apologizes for station’s handling of author who criticized prosecution of Cuban Five case

By Mike Janssen

Kimber, whose book on a controversial spy case was deemed ‘too incendiary’ for listeners of Topical Currents, later appeared on a different WLRN show.

Kimber, whose book on a controversial spy case was deemed ‘too incendiary’ for listeners of Topical Currents, later appeared on a different WLRN show.

The author of a book arguing for the innocence of five convicted Cuban spies found himself disinvited from an appearance on Miami’s WLRN-FM last month, only to be reinvited after the station’s g.m. caught wind of the cancellation.

Stephen Kimber, a journalism professor at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was slated to appear on WLRN’s Topical Currents Sept. 17 to discuss his new book, What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five.

The book examines the 2001 Miami trial of the Cuban Five, who were convicted for conspiracy to spy on the U.S. and for failure to register as agents of a foreign government. One of the spies was also convicted for conspiracy to commit murder for his involvement in a 1996 incident in which Cuban jets shot down planes flying between Florida and Cuba, piloted by exiles.

The case remains controversial in Miami, where a community of Cuban exiles harbors strong anti-Castro sentiments. In his book, Kimber argues that to be fair, the Cuban Five trial should have been moved out of Miami. The book also alleges that the charge of conspiracy to commit murder against one of the Five was poorly supported.

The day before Kimber’s scheduled appearance on WLRN, a Topical Currents producer informed the author’s publicist that host Joseph Cooper had decided to cancel the interview. “After looking over the book and accompanying material . . . he feels that the topic is too ‘incendiary’ and fears a negative reaction from certain segments of the community,” Senior producer Richard Ives wrote in an email that Kimber quoted on his blog.

In the email, Ives offered his apologies to the author and said he had tried to make the case that Cooper’s fears about the book were overblown, “but to no avail.”

Cooper did not respond to requests from Current for an interview. But he told Miami’s El Nuevo Herald that Kimber “was presupposing the innocence of the Cuban Five” in his book.

“It’s not a polemic,” Kimber told Current, describing his book. Though he does argue that the Cuban Five were wrongly imprisoned, “there’s a certain amount of balance,” Kimber says.

What Lies Across the Water (Image: Fernwood Publishing)

What Lies Across the Water   (Image: Fernwood Publishing)

Yet a day after Kimber’s appearance was canceled, he was booked on a different WLRN program, the weekly Florida Roundup. In a letter posted on WLRN’s website Sept. 18, General Manager John LaBonia apologized for Cooper’s decision to cancel Kimber’s interview and announced that the author would appear on the Sept. 20 edition of Florida Roundup.

Cuba “remains a highly sensitive matter in Miami, especially within the Cuban-American community,” LaBonia wrote. “But we also realize that the local conversation about Cuba has evolved and become more broadminded over the past decade — and that it can accommodate opinions today that might have been too uncomfortable to engage a generation ago.”

“The book argues that the Cubans are innocent, a claim that Mr. Cooper deemed too ‘incendiary’ for this community to hear — a judgment that I and the rest of WLRN’s management strongly disagree with,” LaBonia wrote. “Mr. Cooper’s decision, in fact, was made without our knowledge, and it in no way reflects — in fact, it blatantly contradicts — who we are and what we do as South Florida’s source for public radio news and discussion.

“It also belies the recent launch of WLRN’s efforts to provide our listeners with more coverage of Latin American news and issues, and that includes more open forums on Cuba policy.”

When Kimber later appeared on Florida Roundup, another guest had also been booked — David Buckner, a federal prosecutor in the Cuban Five case. Though Florida Roundup usually features a panel of South Florida journalists discussing current events, the show was revamped to accommodate Buckner and Kimber.

At the interview’s outset, Kimber attempted to discuss the Topical Currents cancellation and rescheduling of his interview, but host Tom Hudson firmly and repeatedly cut him off and redirected the conversation. During the frequently contentious hourlong discussion, Kimber accused Hudson and Buckner of “ganging up” on him.

Kimber told Current that his experience with WLRN “strengthens the argument made in the book that Miami is a very difficult place for someone representing the Cuban government to get a fair hearing, such as the Cuban Five.

Questions, comments, tips? mike@mikejanssen.net
This article was first published in Current, October 7, 2013.

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