Back to the "Peaceable" Paradise: Media Soldiers for the Seizure of Elian

Introduction:The Cold War Is Over, Thank Goodness

To the national media, the Cold War has long been over, and is best forgotten. But for those still living under communism in Cuba, the Cold War remains. When Elian Gonzalez was rescued last fall from a deadly boat ride that claimed his mother’s life, the media grasped the dramatic possibilities of his rescue, but had no grasp of the political possibilities his mother had sought for her son.

Instead, reporters replayed an old soundtrack, as if the Soviet Union and communist Eastern Europe had never collapsed; as if the suddenly liberated voices from behind the Iron Curtain hadn’t declared their relief; as if the communist archives hadn’t told telling tales of repression and subversion. Following the lead of thousands of predecessors, Elian and his mother boarded a rickety boat to leave Cuba behind in the hope for a life of liberty in the United States. As much as media coverage would insist the Elian dispute should not be politicized, this was a political act. But to the media, it was hysterical.

"In the end, the drama may reveal how fed up both societies are with the ‘Dr. Strangelove’ hysteria of U.S.-Cuba relations," declared Time Miami correspondent Tim Padgett. NBC reporter Jim Avila was perplexed by the escape: "Why did she [Elian’s mother] do it? What was she escaping? By all accounts this quiet, serious young woman, who loved to dance the salsa, was living the good life, as good as it gets for a citizen in Cuba." Avila concluded that she’d made a terrible mistake in leaving: "An extended family destroyed by a mother’s decision to start a new life in a new country, a decision that now leaves a little boy estranged from his father and forever separated from her."

In the interests of documenting national media trends from Elian’s rescue at sea through the aftermath of the federal raid on the Miami home of Elian’s Cuban American relatives, MRC media analysts compiled a record demonstrating how the national media built the public-relations rationale for Elian’s eventual return to Cuba and then justified the government raid on a private residence to insure a political victory for the Clinton administration and the communist regime of Cuba. Analysts identified four patterns of distinct liberal media bias: