By Washington Post
Ernestina Herrera de Noble, who transformed her late husband’s newspaper from a struggling political project into Argentina’s most powerful media organization, a telecommunications giant whose size allowed her to tangle with presidents and quietly shape national politics to her advantage, died June 14. She was 92.
Grupo Clarín, the Argentine conglomerate that she formed in 1999, announced her death but did not provide additional details. With annual revenue of more than 11 billion pesos ($700 million), the company is among the largest telecom businesses in Latin America. Its flagship paper, the Buenos Aires-based tabloid Clarín, claims to have one of the highest circulations in the Spanish-speaking world.
Mrs. Herrera de Noble, a former flamenco dancer, had neither business experience nor a college education when she took the reins of Clarín in 1969 following the death of her husband, Roberto Noble. A wealthy rancher with a reputation as a charismatic womanizer, Noble had served as a conservative-aligned minister in Buenos Aires Province before founding Clarín in 1945.
The paper — its name means “bugle” in Spanish — at first distinguished itself with striking, photo-filled front pages that were designed to capture a working-class audience. Yet by the time of Noble’s death, it had fallen into debt and had acquired a reputation as a pro-development political organ, limiting its mass appeal.
“I was distressed, but at the same time I arrived with a tremendous determination,” Mrs. Herrera de Noble later recalled of her first days running Clarín. “I had to continue the work of Noble, not imitating it, because people are irreplaceable and each one has his own style.”
She soon set about broadening the paper’s scope and surrounding herself with talented advisers, including accountant Héctor Magnetto, Grupo Clarín’s current chief executive. Within a decade, according to journalist and Clarín historian Graciela Mochkofsky, Mrs. Herrera de Noble had pulled the paper out of debt and set it on a path to become Argentina’s most widely read publication.
She went on to grow her company into a political heavyweight, ignoring critics who accused her of seeking a media monopoly through investments in provincial broadsheets, local radio stations, websites, film productions, printing plants, a wireless carrier and the country’s largest cable and Internet business, Cablevisión.
The company’s growth was driven in part by favorable relations with strongmen and presidents who regarded Mrs. Herrera de Noble as a kingmaker, a backroom operator capable of cutting deals or skewering her opponents with negative press coverage.
She and Clarín “were always a power player,” Mochkofsky said, from the era of military rule that began in 1976 and on through the return of democracy in 1983. The company, she said, was “opportunistic . . . always negotiating behind closed doors, with every government from the dictatorship on, to obtain licenses for cable television or support for their business growth.”
Mrs. Herrera de Noble’s dealings with the government remained largely out of view until 2008, when a spat with then-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner began dominating headlines. Kirchner’s husband and predecessor, Néstor Kirchner, had been championed by Grupo Clarín, and the president signed off on the company’s acquisition of Cablevisión during his final days in office.
Yet Cristina Kirchner, a left-wing populist, felt antagonized by Mrs. Herrera de Noble’s media outlets shortly after being elected. Clarín papers and stations criticized the president for raising taxes on agricultural exports and for her subsequent, aggressive handling of farmers who were protesting the tax measure.
In response, Kirchner helped direct investigations into links between Mrs. Herrera de Noble and atrocities committed during the Dirty War of the 1970s and early ’80s.
It was during those years that Mrs. Herrera de Noble joined with several rival papers to purchase the country’s sole newsprint manufacturer, Papel Prensa. Ownership of the plant helped fuel Clarín’s growth in the coming decades, ending its reliance on imported paper that could be heavily taxed or outlawed by disgruntled government officials.
Kirchner and her allies charged that the purchase was facilitated by the junta, to take the plant away from owners who were sympathetic to the leftist Montoneros guerrilla group. Mrs. Herrera de Noble, they said, was complicit in the sale and in the subsequent torture and murder of associates of the plant’s former owners.
Her two children, whom she said she adopted in 1976, also were alleged to have been stolen from mothers who were abducted as political prisoners during the Dirty War. An estimated 30,000 people were killed or “disappeared” by the military during the conflict, while Clarín and other Argentine papers avoided coverage of the incidents, largely threatened into silence.
Mrs. Herrera de Noble insisted that she had done nothing wrong in adopting her son and daughter, and at one point testified that she adopted her daughter after finding her sitting inside a cardboard box outside her door. In 2011, DNA tests found that her children were not part of a group of 55 families whose children had been abducted.
Ernestina Laura Herrera was born in Buenos Aires on June 7, 1925, the youngest of six children. Her father was a humanities professor and her mother was a pianist from Valencia, Spain.
She once said that she met her future husband, who was 23 years her senior, during a 1946 cruise down the Paraná River. They saw each other intermittently and married in 1967, by which time Noble had divorced another woman.
Following Noble’s death, Mrs. Herrera de Noble vied for control of the paper with a daughter from Noble’s earlier marriage. They eventually settled in court, with Mrs. Herrera de Noble taking control of Clarín.
Survivors include her adopted children, Marcela and Felipe, and three grandchildren.
The election of Cristina Kirchner’s successor, former engineer Mauricio Macri, helped Grupo Clarín expand further as telecommunications regulations began to be rolled back. In August, the company announced a plan to convert Cablevisión into an independent business, allowing it to compete directly against Argentine phone carriers.
Mrs. Herrera de Noble remained tight-lipped about her plans, as well as her own life. She seemed to follow the advice of her late husband, adopting his motto as her own, according to an obituary in Clarín.
“Those who make a newspaper,” she liked to say, “do not have to... (Read More)