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'CQ/CX' tells of Hernández's role in Jayson Blair scandal

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Macarena Hernández

Photo: Greg Barrios, License: N/A

Greg Barrios

Sheila Tapia

It's been nearly a decade since Macarena Hernández outed the New York Times staff reporter Jayson Blair, the serial plagiarist who did as much damage to the paper's august reputation as Judith Miller's pre-war coverage of the supposed WMDs in Iraq. And while the events of those days still color the former Express-News reporter's life, now they also color off-Broadway and have served to propel a strong Latina character to forefront of a national theater-going audience.

Gabe McKinley's play CQ/CX at the prestigious off-Broadway Atlantic Theater Company centers on the character of Jay Bennett, a former staff reporter for the Times, "who committed frequent acts of journalistic fraud." But it is the pivotal character of Monica Soria, a stand-in for Hernández, who is captivating audiences — including the Times' first female executive editor Jill Abramson, who attended a recent performance.

The irony that Hernández and Blair were both interns at the Times isn't lost on playwright McKinley, a former Times writer himself. Nor is the fact that several years later, it was Hernández, then a San Antonio Express-News reporter, who wrote a news feature on the mother of a Mexican-American Marine missing in Iraq that led to the uncovering of Blair's plagiarizing.

"I think of Monica as a very ethical person and journalist, who as a woman, a Latina woman at that, has earned hard-fought respect by doing things the right way," McKinley said by email. "She is one of the ultimate victims of both Jay's deception and a myopic culture in the newsroom of the New York Times."

Former Express-News editor Robert Rivard, who challenged the Times over similarities between Blair's report and Hernández's (which, in turn, led to an investigation of Blair, which ended with the reporter's resignation), called Macarena's story the "more interesting and enduring" one. "Unfortunately, almost everyone missed it," Rivard said.

The play explores the lives of three interns: Jay Bennett, Jacob Sherman, and Monica Soria (played by Shelia Tapia). They are contrasted with the publisher; a managing editor who, like Blair, is African American; and the executive editor. Two other voices include an aging old school newsman near retirement and a hard-nosed metro editor who senses that Blair is bad news for the paper. Interestingly, it was San Antonio born Jaime Castañeda, an artistic associate at ATC, who was the first person to read the play and got it produced at Atlantic.

In the play, Jay describes Monica succinctly when he says, "Look me in the eyes cub reporter Monica Soria, of Lackland Terrace, just inside the 410 on the west side of San Antonio. … Your dad, Manny, was a mechanic, and your mother Lucia raised the kids, but made extra money cleaning houses in the Alamo Heights neighborhood, lovingly referred to as 'Alamo Whites.'"

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