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MediaWatch: January 1989

Vol. Three No. 1

Castro's 30th

January 1 marked 30 years of communist rule in Cuba, but the network evening news shows didn't view the anniversary as anything particularly newsworthy. Not one story was dedicated to Cuba's political repression. Some network morning shows and news magazines, however, took notice.

On the anniversary, NBC's Sunday Today rebroadcast segments of co-host Maria Shriver's trip to Cuba last February. The essence of her message: while there are problems with Cuba, Castro has been for the better and has provided for his people: "Schools, family doctors, hospitals...the level of public services was remarkable," she gushed, "free education, medicine, and heavily subsidized housing."

On January 4, CBS This Morning's Harry Smith picked up on yet another liberal line: the cause of disgruntled exiles who want reconciliation with Cuba. He did give some airtime to those who object to a rapprochement with Castro, but sympathized with liberal exiles: "[These] 30 years have been marked by limited contact between exiles and their homeland. And for some that isolation has become unbearable." He went on to feature Maria Herrera, whose views "last Spring cost her a corner of her home to a bomb."

Harry Reasoner gave a more balanced assessment on 60 Minutes. Though he repeated the distorted communist line on "strides in medicine, education, and housing," Reasoner noted that "over one million Cubans have fled," and that "many young people are yearning for a change and a chance to leave." Reasoner also sought out a prominent Cuban human rights activist to rebut government claims that it does not hold political prisoners.

ABC's Good Morning America co-host Charles Gibson was the most willing to raise the horrid side of Castro's communist Cuba. On January 2, he asked liberal Congressman Robert Torricelli: "Fidel Castro gave a speech yesterday...It was as hard line as he's ever been. 'Socialism or Death!' 'Marxist-Leninism or Death!' Why should we cozy up to somebody like that?"