Fidel's Flatterers

The U.S. Media's Decades of Cheering Castro's Communism

Field Trip to Fidel's Island "Paradise"

The most laudatory coverage of Castro and his communist revolution’s "achievements" have come when an American news network decides to visit Cuba for an in-depth examination. Invariably, the U.S. networks granted access to Cuba have rewarded the communist government with promotional coverage of both Fidel Castro and the supposed achievements of his revolution:

1988-02-28-NBCRabelIn February 1988, just weeks after the State Department named communist Cuba one of the worst human rights oppressors in the world, NBC’s Today program sent its cameras to the island to investigate. NBC’s conciliatory approach allowed Castro to spew lies about his drug connections and the wonderful achievements of the Cuban revolution. Reporter Ed Rabel was typical: "There is, in Cuba, government intrusion into everyone’s life, from the moment he is born until the day he dies. The reasoning is that the government wants to better the lives of its citizens and keep them from exploiting or hurting one another....On a sunny day in a park in the old city of Havana it is difficult to see anything that is sinister." (MediaWatch, March 1988) (With WMV video/MP3 audio)

1988-12-08-CBSTMSullivanIn December 1988, CBS This Morning spent two days reporting from Cuba. CBS all but ignored the totalitarian nature of the Cuban regime, only alluding in passing to the human rights violations, the lack of civil liberties, and the disastrous economic condition brought on by the communist system. Co-host Kathleen Sullivan was enthusiastic about the benefits of Castro’s revolution: "Half of the Cuban population is under the age of 25, mostly Spanish speaking, and all have benefitted from Castro’s Cuba, where their health and their education are priorities." In a second report, she touted Cuba’s socialized medicine: "Of all the promises made by Fidel Castro in 1959, perhaps the boldest was to provide quality health care free for every citizen. Did he deliver? In many ways the answer is yes!" (MediaWatch, December 1988) (With WMV video/MP3 audio)

1989-04-03-ABCJenningsIn April 1989, ABC anchor Peter Jennings went to Cuba and provided his own optimistic report card on Cuban communism: "Castro has delivered the most to those who had the least," declared Jennings on the April 3 World News Tonight, "and for much of the Third World, Cuba is actually a model of development." Jennings also fell for the state’s line on health care: "Medical care was once for the privileged few. Today it is available to every Cuban and it is free. Some of Cuba’s health care is world class. In heart disease, for example, in brain surgery. Health and education are the revolution’s great success stories." Jennings concluded by repeating the words of a Cuban woman: "For me, he [Castro] is God. I love him very much." (MediaWatch, May 1989) (With WMV video/MP3 audio)

In February 1992, NBC’s Today returned to Cuba for a two-day visit, and held up Castro’s communist approach as a model for the U.S. Co-host Joe Garagiola began: "Among Cuba’s successes is its health care; it's progressive and it's free." Correspondent Robert Bazell continued without dispute: "Cuba’s health care system is world class. In a neo-natal intensive care unit; on a burn ward; or in a clinic to treat epilepsy one can find equipment and procedures equal to those in the U.S. and only a few other countries....The quality of care remains high and it is free. Health, a guarantee of socialism, billboards proclaim. The Castro government has always been obsessed with health, starting with improving sanitation." (MediaWatch, March 1992)

1993-03-04-ABCSawyerIn March 1993, ABC’s Diane Sawyer traveled to Cuba to interview Fidel Castro for Prime Time Live, but only once did she raise the issue of human rights abuses and political prisoners. Upon the dictator’s denial, she dropped the matter completely. The remainder of the interview had the coziness of a People profile: "He grew up a first-rate baseball player and lawyer who married once, divorced. But was mainly driven by his burning desire to crush Cuba’s American-supported dictator Fulgencio Batista. It began with a daredevil attack on the military barracks. Jail. His exile. Then a death-defying two-year fight in the mountains of the Sierra Maestre. He and his small band of soldiers endured and won only because of Castro’s invincible certainty of their destiny."  (MediaWatch, April 1993) (With WMV video/MP3 audio)

1993-11-03-CBSFernandezIn November 1993, CBS This Morning reporter Giselle Fernandez spent three days in Cuba delivering what she admitted was a "pretty postcard" view of the communist island: "Welcome to Fidel Castro’s playground, Cuba’s Caribbean paradise few have seen, a Cuba the commandante is now inviting the world to enjoy. It’s the promised land Cuba is hoping will guarantee a promising future. In the last two years alone, Cuba and its sultry island beaches has become a major vacation hot spot...While tourism may be changing the landscape of Cuba’s Caribbean shores, Fidel Castro is banking on it to save his workers’ paradise from becoming a paradise lost." In three days of live reports, Fernandez devoted exactly one sentence to Castro’s human rights abuses. (MediaWatch, December 1993) (With WMV video/MP3 audio)

ABC’s Peter Jennings traveled to Havana to report on Cuba’s May Day celebration in 1996. "There was a boisterous enthusiasm that went on for several hours," Jennings intoned on World News Tonight. "We were invited to the reviewing stand to hear President Castro in person praise Cubans for standing up to American pressure. This is the man who nine U.S. Presidents have tried unsuccessfully to influence. The President [Castro] said the Helms-Burton was brutal and inhumane....‘I must watch my people now,’ he said, and turned back to the parade." (CyberAlert, May 2, 1996)

1996-07-18-CBSRatherIn July 1996, CBS’s Dan Rather traveled to Cuba for a CBS Reports prime time documentary, The Last Revolutionary. Rather and Castro hiked together in the mountains where Castro plotted to overthrow the Cuban government. "We walked the paths he’d walked before," Rather announced. "This is the Cuban Revolution’s holy land. From these mountains, Castro’s guerrilla army took a dream and gave it life, made it known in every village, made it real in every home across Cuba." Rather gushed about Cuban schools: "The educational system is a jewel in the society his revolution has built....It’s a source of great pride for the President, as is Cuba’s literacy rate — virtually 100 percent." But he also confronted Castro about his wretched record of oppression: "There are people in my country who say to me, ‘Dan Rather, you’re being fooled,’ that when the history of Fidel Castro is written it will be like Stalin was in the Soviet Union." Castro said there was "zero possibility" of history rendering such a judgment. (With WMV video/MP3 audio)

In June 2001, Cuba granted NBC’s Andrea Mitchell an exclusive follow-up on Elian Gonzalez one year after the Clinton administration sent the young boy back to the Communist-controlled island. Reporting for the NBC Nightly News and Today, Mitchell mentioned none of the drawbacks to life in the socialist dictatorship, instead, painting Elian’s hometown in quaint Rockwellian colors: "Cardenas, a small fishing village two hours from Havana, where people still get around by horse and carriage." Granted a three-hour interview with Castro for Today, Mitchell allowed the dictator to brag about how his resting pulse rate is like that of a professional athlete: "Approaching his 75th birthday this August, the world’s longest surviving leader also believes he is politically strong, partly as a result of that struggle over a seven-year-old boy." (Media Reality Check, June 28, 2001)

2002-05-13CNNSnowIn May 2002, CNN sent correspondent Kate Snow to anchor an hour-long prime time Live From Havana, timed to the visit of ex-President Jimmy Carter. Snow fretted about the "hard line" policies and views of President Bush and exiled Cubans in Miami while hoping Carter’s visit might "moderate" the Cuban-Americans. She also touted the "successes" of life under Fidel Castro, admiring how, "according to a United Nations study, Cuba’s regular schools rank at the top in Latin America" and how "every Cuban has a primary care physician" who gets "to know their patients and even make house calls." She conceded that "Cuba may not have the nicest facilities or equipment," but she noted in praising the socialist ideals, "everyone has access and the concept of paying is completely foreign." (CyberAlert, May 14, 2002) (With WMV video/MP3 audio)

2002-10-11-ABC2020WaltersIn October 2002, ABC’s Barbara Walters traveled to Cuba for an exclusive interview with Castro. She fawned, "For Castro, freedom starts with education. And if literacy alone were the yardstick, Cuba would rank as one of the freest nations on Earth. The literacy rate is 96 percent." The quote "won" Walters first prize in the "Media Hero Award" category of the MRC’s Best Notable Quotables of 2002: The Fifteenth Annual Award for the Year’s Worst Reporting. (With WMV video/MP3 audio)