MediaWatch: September 1990

Vol. Four No. 9

PBS "Balances" Castro Documentary with Landau


Americans rarely get the full picture when the media spotlight turns to Cuba. Few have heard the testimony of Alcides Martinez, Castro's prisoner for eight years, who explains his suffering well: "There were five to eight in one cell. We had to take turns lying down. And there were no sanitary facilities. In a few days, we were on a scum of maggots and excrement...the world was unaware or didn't want to know. It was 1967." Viewers finally got to see Martinez in the searing documentary Nobody Listened, by Jorge Ulla and Nestor Almendros, the Academy Award-winning cinematographer, on PBS August 8.

Despite worldwide critical acclaim, PBS refused to air the film for two years. Marc Weiss, producer of P.O.V., a series dedicated to films with a point of view, rejected the film twice for "presenting point of view as fact." Frontline was no better. According to Washington Times critic Don Kowet, one producer told Almendros that "Frontline does not co-produce anti-communist programs."

PBS finally allowed Nobody Listened on the air when Minneapolis affiliate KTCA "balanced" it with The Uncompromising Revolution, a film by Saul Landau, Senior Fellow at the radical Institute for Policy Studies. Landau made no bones about the source of his inspiration: "There is no doubt who is directing this revolution, or this film." Landau followed Castro around the countryside, describing how the "force of nature" gave Cuba "action-packed decades of experiments in collective survival and socialist living." Landau tingled his way through the hour like an overaged groupie: "Fidel touched this young machine adjuster and the man enjoyed a mild ecstasy. I know the feeling."

At the end of the back-to-back broadcasts, Landau told an interviewer "if the United States would practice self- determination in its sphere of influence as the Soviet Union did in Eastern Europe, Cuba could open up and experience glasnost, perestroika, and God knows what else." As if Castro was a U.S. puppet, Landau complained this would not happen "as long as the United States continues its control, or its desire to impose its control, on Cuba."

The program's segues supported Castro. National Public Radio anchor Scott Simon began by insisting "If you make the trip from Mexico, you might notice first the well-fed, well-cared-for children, and the absence of beggars and shanty towns in contrast to so much of the rest of Latin America." He ended with a call for normalizing relations: "Perhaps as the Cold War closes down, more Americans may feel it is time to open up to Cuba."