MediaWatch: August 1989

Vol. Three No. 8

Celebrating the Sandinistas


The tenth anniversary of Nicaragua's ill-fated Sandinista revolution coincided with the tenth anniversary of favorable reporting on the communist government's intentions. On July 20, Washington Post reporters Julia Preston and Lee Hockstadter, for example, saw Ortega's dictatorship not as the realization of communist doctrine, but a temporary inconvenience caused by the Contra war, driving the Sandinistas to "radicalize their revolution, sharply curtailing civil liberties and starting down the path to socialism. Since 1987, they have stepped back from their hardest positions."

Preston's tilt was no surprise: before joining the Post, Preston wrote for the Pacific News Service, an arm of the far-left Institute for Policy Studies, and for the pro-Castro North American Congress on Latin America.

ABC News correspondent Peter Collins also trumpeted the Sandinista version of history: "They brought with them Marxist ideas about spreading wealth and creating a new, unselfish society. And in the first few years, they did manage to reduce illiteracy, the infant death rate, and launched the biggest land reform in Central America. But the Reagan Administration saw the Sandinistas as a threat and forced them into a war with the U.S.- backed Contras." J.D. Gannon of The Christian Science Monitor found the Sandinistas have "avoided the systematic violent excesses of their U.S.-supported neighbors...Nicaragua is the only country in Central America which vigorously prosecutes some of its own soldiers and officers."

Preston and Hockstadter heard only kind words in Ortega's July 19 speech: "President Daniel Ortega struck a new conciliatory tone and appealed for national 'serenity'...Today, Ortega again reached out to his political opposition." But New York Times reporter Mark Uhlig heard something else: "'UNO is nothing...UNO is nothing'...The partisan rhyme, which was repeated throughout the speech and shouted back by the audience at Mr. Ortega's invitation, gave unusual prominence to the opposition coalition."

Washington Times reporter Peter LaBarbera focused on a La Prensa poll showing 61 percent of Nicaraguans would say no to six more years of Ortega. But CBS reporter Doug Tunnell predicted on Sunday Morning July 23 that "if there were to be an election right now, Ortega would win." Does Nicaragua threaten the U.S.? No, they're more interested in "feeding and caring for their own people, keeping their promise of ten years ago, a revolution for the poor." He admitted "They haven't done that yet," but insisted "that's their number one priority."