Back to the "Peaceable" Paradise: Media Soldiers for the Seizure of Elian
Table of Contents:
- Executive Summary
- Introduction: The Cold War Is Over, Thank Goodness
- 1.The news media have deliberately undermined the moral legitimacy of Elian’s Miami relatives specifically and anti-communist Cuban-Americans in general
- 2.The news media have consistently praised the actions and "achievements" of Fidel Castro’s Cuba, claimed it was better for children than America, and played up the paradise Elian could dwell in among the Communist Party elite.
- 3.The media justified Attorney General Janet Reno’s actions and arguments, and lamented any resistance or delay in sending Elian back to Cuba
- 4.The news media have dismissed congressional criticism of the INS raid and calls for investigation as unpopular and unnecessary
- Conclusion: What a Balanced Approach Required
2.The news media have consistently praised the actions and "achievements" of Fidel Castro’s Cuba, claimed it was better for children than America, and played up the paradise Elian could dwell in among the Communist Party elite.
In an April 12 discussion on Fox News Channel’s Special Report with Brit Hume, National Public Radio reporter Mara Liasson exclaimed about press reports lauding Cuba: "To make those kinds of assertions, that somehow his life would be better in Cuba. It’s one thing to say that a child belongs with his father, it’s another to say that growing up in a communist country is somehow better than being in Miami. I can’t think of anyone in the United States who would agree with that." But that’s what some reporters felt the public should believe: (With Real Video)
NBC’s Andrea Mitchell boasted of an exclusive interview with Fidel Castro on the December 15, 1999 Nightly News. Clearly impressed by her hours with Fidel, Mitchell gushed: "What’s astounding is how much Castro is personally micro-managing the Elian case. He’s not just the country’s head of state, he’s the CEO, tracking every political development back in the U.S., even to the point of personally transcribing U.S. officials on the Sunday talk shows. Our meeting with Castro began in the middle of the night. He sizes us up by calling us to his palace. A dinner that lasts seven hours. The next night a second dinner even later, a call to be ready at midnight, a five-course dinner that doesn’t begin until two in the morning. He ate little and talked a lot. He seemed old-fashioned, courtly—even paternal. But while appearing to be less confrontational, make no mistake: When it comes to ideology, he is still a communist."
ABC’s Cynthia McFadden reported from Havana during ABC’s live 24-hour coverage of the New Year 2000: "Part of what the children talked about was their fear of the United States and how they felt they didn’t want to come to the United States because it was a place where they kidnap children, a direct reference, of course, to Elian Gonzalez. The children also said that the United States was just a place where there was money and money wasn’t what was most important. I should mention Peter that, you know, as you talk about the global community, Cuba is a place because of the small number of computers here—in the classrooms we visited yesterday there was certainly no computers and almost no paper that we could see—this is a place where the children’s role models and their idols are not the baseball players or Madonna or pop stars. Their role models are engineers and teachers and librarians—which is who all the children we spoke to yesterday said they wanted to be."
It’s the educational wonder of Latin America, but it doesn’t have any paper? Peter Jennings followed up McFadden by helpfully passing along more pro-Castro propaganda: "From the Cuban point of view, as everybody knows, I guess, education and participation in the Third World are very much what Cuba has stood for, at least in the developing world."
Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary visited Havana with a group of black columnists and came back to report on March 5 that there was nothing unsatisfactory about growing up in a dictatorship: "What I see are sweet-faced children—and intangibles that transcend all foolish materialistic arguments about who’s better off where. I could see no reason why Patricia [a Cuban child she met] would be happier anywhere else than with her mother, even though her mommy doesn’t have many ‘worldly’ possessions."
Singletary assured readers: "Now, I’m not naive about Cuba. Riding and walking around Havana, with its dilapidated apartment buildings and treacherously pothole-ridden streets, it would be easy to pity the people. But I’m not naive about poverty either. I’ve been there. And I can tell you that it is just as wrong to equate deprivation with misery as it is to equate prosperity with contentment." She’s handled poverty, but what about tyranny?
NBC’s Jim Avila was the most cooperative TV reporter in Havana. On the April 4 Nightly News, he touted the "Cuban good life" Elian could have: "If and when Elian returns, he will become a four-foot tall deity in a country that officially does not believe in God....Elian’s future here likely to be the Cuban good life, lived by Communist Party elite with perks like five free gallons of gasoline a month for the family, a Cuban tradition called ‘La Jaba,’ the bag, which includes extra rice, beans, cooking oil and sundries like deodorant, shampoo, razors and shaving cream, about $15 a month worth of basics. Plus, invitations reserved for the party elite to cultural events, sports, discos and restaurants, access to the best medicine, expensive drugs like heart cures not available to everyone in Cuba."
Four nights later, Avila wondered why anyone would leave a "prestigious" job changing other people’s sheets in a communist country: "Why did she [Elian’s mother, a maid] 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....In today’s Cuba a maid, where dollar tips are to be had, is a prestigious job. Elian’s life relatively easy by Cuban standards, living with Mom and maternal grandparents half of the week, in Dad’s well-furnished home the rest of the time. Both Mom and Dad friendly to each other and caring towards their only child." Avila concluded by mourning: "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." (With Real Video)
Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift caused jaws to drop when she claimed on the April 8 edition of The McLaughlin Group: "To be a poor child in Cuba may in many instances be better than being a poor child in Miami and I’m not going to condemn their lifestyle so gratuitously."
On May 1, Clift was asked on Fox’s The O’Reilly Factor to defend her "lifestyle" remarks. She retracted nothing: "I can understand why a rational, loving father can believe that his child will be protected in a state where he doesn’t have to worry about going to school and being shot at, where drugs are not a big problem, where he has access to free medical care and where the literacy rate I believe is higher than this country’s."
ABC’s Peter Jennings looked in vain for American advantages on the April 12 World News Tonight: "Beyond the questions of custody, the Cuban-American community in Miami has always argued, almost every day in fact, that Elian Gonzalez would have a better life here in the United States than in Cuba. It’s been argued before, and there’s not a simple answer."
Time’s Nancy Gibbs boasted in the April 17 issue: "Altogether, in wages, tips and bonuses, he [Elian’s father] earns more than 10 times Cuba’s $15 average monthly salary—enough to afford to buy Elian imported Power Ranger toys and birthday pinatas fat with Italian hard candy and German chocolates....Elian enjoyed that rarest of Cuban luxuries: his own air-conditioned bedroom. And before Juan Miguel sold it to pay, he says, for calls to Elian in Miami, the boy’s father even had a car, a 1956 Nash Rambler, in which Elian rode through town like a prince, while many people relied on horse-drawn carts."
Newsweek’s Brook Larmer and John Leland used their April 17 article to compare Cuba favorably with these dangerous, uncaring United States: "Elian might expect a nurturing life in Cuba, sheltered from the crime and social breakdown that would be part of his upbringing in Miami. Because Elian’s father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, works as a cashier in a tourist resort, the family already belonged to the nation’s well-off stratum, who has access to American dollars. The boy’s relatives in Miami can offer further support: Cuba now even has ATMs that dispense dollars from foreign banks. The education and health-care systems, both built since the revolution, are among the best in the Americas, despite chronic shortages of supplies."
Larmer and Leland concluded that if Elian returned to Cuba, "The boy will nestle again in a more peaceable society that treasures its children."
CNN’s Martin Savidge promoted Elian’s awaiting mansion and compared it favorably to his lesser Miami digs on the April 18 edition of The World Today: "This is the home Cuba says is almost ready for the return of the six-year-old in Havana’s fashionable Miramar district, home to many international embassies. Even by American standards it’s luxurious. By Cuban standards, almost unimaginable. The report on Cuban TV showed freshly painted rooms it says will house not just Elian, but his close family and 12 schoolmates, a stark contrast to the boy’s Little Havana house, and that may be the point." (With Real Video)
NBC’s Jim Avila couldn’t let Savidge be the only shill on the tube that night, declaring on the Nightly News: "This is the state-owned guesthouse where Elian will stay when and if he returns to Cuba. It’s a mansion by Cuban standards, but psychiatrists consulting the Castro government tell NBC News the boy’s home town, Cardenas, is not the best place for his immediate transition into island life." He added without the slightest hint of skepticism: "Two stories, eight bedrooms, four-car garage in the upscale Miramar neighborhood—a section of Havana busy with new foreign companies and renovations. A far cry from most Cuban homes, it has a swimming pool in the backyard, satellite TV, air conditioning, a playroom. Specially built: a classroom and dormitory to accommodate twelve of Elian’s Cardenas classmates, who will live with the Gonzalez family, and a medical team including psychiatrists. Cristobal Martinez heads the Cuban mental health team in charge of Elian’s transition. He says Cardenas was ruled out because Elian is too big a hero to simply return to his family home."
CNN’s Larry King asked Tipper Gore on the April 20 Larry King Live: "Tipper, one of the things that Elian Gonzalez’s father said that I guess would be hard to argue with, that his boy’s safer in a school in Havana than in a school in Miami. He would not be shot in a school in Havana. Good point?"
The sympathy for Cuba didn’t stop after the raid:
CBS’s Dan Rather lauded Fidel just hours after the raid: "While Fidel Castro, and certainly justified on his record, is widely criticized for a lot of things, there is no question that Castro feels a very deep and abiding connection to those Cubans who are still in Cuba. And, I recognize this might be controversial, but there’s little doubt in my mind that Fidel Castro was sincere when he said, ‘listen, we really want this child back here.’"
Washington Post reporter John Ward Anderson reported from Elian’s hometown of Cardenas, Cuba on April 24, and wrote mysteriously that "Cuban exiles claim" children are imparted communist ideology, followed by noting children begin each day praising communism: "Starting in the first grade, all Cuban children are members of the Young Pioneers—a group that Cuban exiles claim imparts Communist ideology, but which parents say also teaches social skills and responsibility. Although they begin each day reciting, ‘Pioneers for communism will be like Che!’ [Guevara] few children give it much thought, parents said."
NBC’s Jim Avila pontificated from Cuba on the April 26 MSNBC simulcast of Imus in the Morning: "The one thing that most, that I’ve learned about Cubans in the many times that I have visited here in the last few years, is that it is mostly a nationalistic country, not primarily a communist country."