The publisher of the Miami Herald said Thursday that his newspaper came by chance upon the story that made it famous nationwide, but once reporters had the information, they were morally obligated to publish it.
The story, of course, was that Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart had a weekend liaison with Miami model Donna Rice, a revelation that eventually led to Hart's withdrawal from the race. Though the Herald was criticized by some for its investigative methods, Publisher Richard G. Capen Jr. told a group of Brigham Young University students the real issue was trust."That was a tough issue, and the most important thing to me in all of that was a matter of trust," Capen said during a communications symposium in the Pardoe Theater. "If we can't trust our spouses, if we can't trust our political leaders, what do we have left in this world?"
The Herald uncovered the Hart story after receiving a tip that the former senator would meet with Rice in his Washington home. Reporters were sent to check out the information and saw the couple together outside the home.
"Stories tend to unfold. It was a total chance and coincidence (that they got the story)," he said. "We felt we had a responsibility to pursue that story. You do not win any popularity contests, but the issue again was one of trust. How a candidate for the presidency of the United States conducts himself is extremely important. For better, for worse, the Miami Herald has been fairly well-known the past few years."
Capen, who has been at the head of the Herald for more than five years, is trying to make his newspaper famous in other ways, too.
The Herald has won five Pulitzer Prizes during his tenure and has increased its circulation during a time when many newspaper are struggling. Capen attributes that success to the paper's efforts to give its readers a sense of ownership through such things as town meetings and opportunities to phone the publisher.
"All of this has helped to develop the sense that we're trying to be better listeners," he said. "We think, in the long run, newspapers have a great future. If we do our job right, we think the opportunities will grow."
Capen uses the weekly column he writes for the Herald to speak out for traditional ethical values. Before joining Knight-Ridder, the Herald's parent corporation, he was senior vice president and director of Copley Newspapers, which publishes nine papers in California and Illinois.
"I feel that I have the most exciting, challenging newspaper job in the United States," he said.