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

Conclusion: What a Balanced Approach Required

The media could have covered the rescue and seizure of Elian Gonzalez in a more balanced fashion.

1. The media could have scrutinized the administration more than justified it. Did federal agents bust down the door without knocking? Did the Gonzalez family offer any resistance? Were there any weapons in the house found in the raid? Was there any consideration of what the raid might to physically or mentally to Elian? Why was the NBC camera crew brutalized and threatened? Network anchors asked some of these questions in the first few days, but they often accepted without much resistance whatever answers they were given by the Justice Department.

2. The media could have explained the regimented reality of family life in Cuba. In the May 5 Wall Street Journal, Cuban refugee and human rights expert Armando Valladares explained: "If Elian returns to Cuba his father will have no authority whatsoever to make decisions related to his education. Cuban ‘law’ gives that authority to the communist government. Children are indoctrinated in Cuba from the moment they start to read. They are taught that the Communist party is owed loyalty above everything else. And they are taught they must denounce their parents if they criticize or do anything against the Revolution or its leaders....The Code for Children, Youth and Family provides for a three-year prison sentence for any parent who teaches a child ideas contrary to communism." In addition, "It is mandatory for all Cuban children over the age of 12 to do time in a Communist work camp in the countryside. Away from all parental supervision for nine months at a time."

3. The media could have balanced their questioning of the motivations of Elian’s Miami relatives by questioning the motivations of the reunification camp. Was Elian’s father really free to speak for himself? If so, why did he take so long to come to America for his son? Why wouldn’t he go to Miami? Why would the National Council of Churches raise funds to send a boy back to a country that persecutes religious believers? Did Elian’s father’s lawyer Greg Craig have special bargaining power after he saved President Clinton from impeachment? How much was he getting paid and by whom? These questions were rarely asked.

4. The media could have encouraged more discussion and oversight instead of trying to cut it off. In their 1988 Iran-Contra book Men of Zeal, then-Senators George Mitchell and William Cohen advised: "Open debate is one of democracy’s greatest strengths, its absence one of the great weaknesses of totalitarian societies. When covert action is necessary, there obviously cannot be an open debate." In the Reagan years, the media presented congressional hearings as American as apple pie. Now, they are presented as partisan thumb-screwing sessions which achieve nothing, even when this administration covertly plans a raid on a private residence. Has the nature of congressional oversight changed so dramatically since House and Senate majorities changed hands? Or is this double standard proof that the so-called disease of partisanship is just as infectious in the news judgment of the national media as it is at party headquarters?