A U.S. agency that broadcasts news and other programs into Cuba says it is seeking to fire a total of eight reporters, editors and anchors following an internal investigation into anti-Semitic segments last year that disparaged philanthropist and prominent Democratic donor George Soros.
The three-part broadcast described Soros, a naturalized American citizen, as a “nonpracticing Jew of flexible morals” and as a “left-wing billionaire of Hungarian-Jewish origin.” The report alleged that Soros was working to undermine sovereign governments across Central America, a claim that John F. Lansing, the chief executive of the broadcaster’s parent agency, said had no merit.
The reports were beamed into Cuba and spread to a Spanish-language audience online by Radio and Television Martí, a sister agency to the better-known Voice of America.
Although Trump administration appointees have cycled through the broadcasting operation as Soros has emerged as a leading boogeyman on the right, the objectionable segments were the result not of interference but of a breakdown in editorial controls at the Miami-based Martí, the investigation found.
“This was purely a matter of a rogue journalist who was being supervised poorly that allowed that terrible piece of content to be published,” said Lansing, the chief executive of the U.S. Agency for Global Media. “There was no connection to anyone in the Trump administration, period.”
One federal employee and three contractors at Martí were fired after an independent researcher and blogger first noticed and publicized the Soros reports in October, Lansing said. On Wednesday, he said, four additional reporters and editors were notified that USAGM is moving to fire them through a federal disciplinary process that could stretch out for months.
Among those USAGM is seeking to terminate are two producers, writer Armando de Armas and the lead on-air reporter of the “investigative” series, Isabel Cuervo, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe personnel matters.
Cuervo and de Armas did not respond to emails and messages left on social media Wednesday afternoon.
The first federal employee let go late last year was Wilfredo Cancio, Martí’s former news director. In a December post on Facebook, Cancio blasted the investigation, saying USAGM had made him “a scapegoat to try to hide a long list of professional irregularities that have taken root” at Radio Marti.
In a text message, Cancio declined to comment but said he would have more to say.
Former morning anchor Maite Hernandez, who uses the on-air name Maite Luna, and morning producer Ibetti Perez — both contractors — have said they were among those fired and have alleged that they were terminated wrongfully.
In a statement from her attorney, Perez said she was not aware of the topic of the report, did not participate in its formation and was not in the control booth when the Soros broadcast was promoted on the program she worked for.
Hernandez said she, too, was not responsible. “I have all the documents to prove I have nothing to do with that story,” she said. “I just followed orders from my editors” to promote it, she said.
Lansing said the actions taken by USAGM speak for themselves.
“On its face, these reports were anti-Semitic and unjournalistic and violated our high standards of editorial content,” he said. “We found the eight people who we felt were the most responsible.”
Lansing, a holdover from the Obama administration, also said — as he has before — that it appeared the conservative group Judicial Watch had served as the primary source for the report.
“The person developing the Soros story was using Judicial Watch as a source as I understand it — the story was not only poorly sourced, it relied heavily on one less-than-credible source,” Lansing said.
Judicial Watch has rejected the criticism of its work and said it never spoke to any Martí reporter. The group frequently criticizes Soros and what it says is his “radical left-wing agenda” being subsidized by U.S. foreign aid.
Tom Fitton, the group’s president, said that with the firings, Lansing was “abusing his office to punish people critical of Mr. Soros.”
Lansing said USAGM is beginning a broader content review that could result in further disciplinary action.
The Washington Post reported in December that Martí published a Spanish-language opinion piece warning that the “Islamization” of Europe by migrants is destroying the continent’s Christian character and posing a danger to the United States “greater than that from the Nazis in the 1940s.” The author of that piece has not written for Martí since the Post report.
“I’m confident we’ve found the root of the Soros reporting,” Lansing said. “I’ll reserve judgment on anything else until our content review is completed.”