Local leaders need to foster pride, not panic
July 20, 1987
Someone please administer heavy sedatives to certain downtown types so they will quit convulsing about the New York Times.
As everybody knows, the Times magazine published a cover story yesterday that asked the musical question: "Can Miami Save Itself?" The article was subtitled "A City Beset by Drugs and Violence."
Actually the headlines had little to do with the text of the article, but it was enough to provoke the usual gnashing of teeth among the Guardians of Our Sacred Tropical Image.
Indignantly they declared that the Times piece was "grossly exaggerated," a perfect description of their own reaction. They also whined that author Robert Sherrill downplayed the wonderfulness of Dade County while dredging up all that nasty old stuff about cocaine cowboys, Mariel murders and racial tensions.
This criticism is not only inaccurate, it's ludicrous. In assessing Miami's current national image, it is impossible not to discuss the indelible traumas of the early 19805. If anything, Sherrill was merciful for not dwelling on more current events.
Consider a few everyday news items:
• The statewide prosecutor has publicly apologized for unknowingly buying stolen suits, which he said he needed to look nice for an upcoming corruption trial.
• The so-called River Cops case has swelled into the worst police scandal in local history—you now need a calculator to add up all the former city cops implicated in drug-rip-off-murder schemes.
• Meanwhile, a new group of international narco-assassins—these from Jamaica—has relocated its headquarters in Dade and Broward counties, where it's easy to get parts and servicing for their MAC- ids.
• To ensure that our Dodge City reputation never ebbs, many South Florida legislators backed a new state gun law that enables practically any glassy-eyed psychopath to arm himself on a whim.
• And, oh yes, the state attorney general recently was asked to give an opinion on whether animal sacrifices were permissible in Hialeah.
Image problem? What image problem? How could the Times suggest such a thing?
Face it, things get bizarre in these latitudes. Consequently, every magazine that strives for hipness has taken a crack at Miami—Esquire, Vogue, the Village Voice, the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker, and there will be more. Writers come down here because it's interesting, in the best and worst sense.
By now you'd think the Civic Pillars would have the brains to shrug it off, but no. The county manager, who had not yet read the Times article, boldly announced that "we're going to take a public stand." (Quick—call the networks. A public stand!)
Then, two days before the magazine actually appeared, an emergency meeting was convened at the Grand Bay Hotel to plot counterpublicity.
The session was closed to the public, so God only knows what was dreamed up. Perhaps it was a list of alternative headlines for submission to the Times corrections department: "Miami—We're Doing Our Best, So Lay Off!" Or: "A City Beset By Snotty Press Articles." Something mature like that.
In critiquing the Times' presentation, it should be noted that the magazine used a photograph of a mock drug bust staged by U.S. Customs. This was undeniably sloppy, but would a picture of the real thing have made the Chamber of Commerce any happier? Probably not.
The publicized summit at the Grand Bay Hotel accomplished at least one thing: It sold a heap of Sunday newspapers for the New York Times. If I were Publisher Sulzberger, I'd send citrus-scented thank-you notes to the whole Beacon Council.
For the record, Bob Sherrill's article does not portray Dade County as the sludge pit of the universe, so take your medicine and calm down. There's nothing wrong with civic pride, but civic panic is embarrassing.